David Sedaris is one of those writers that has me laughing uncontrollably while I’m reading, even in public places. In fact, I recommend not taking a drink of anything while reading Sedaris lest you end up spitting, choking or having liquid come out your nose.
Not every essay in When You Are Engulfed in Flames made me laugh out loud and some didn’t even make me chuckle silently. Sedaris can be perverse, gross and even mean, and sometimes his subject matter doesn’t appeal to me. However, since I’ve read that he is an avid roadside litter collector–something I would like to be more avid about, especially since I often find cash while I’m picking up trash–I give him the benefit of the doubt.
The following are the essays that I particularly loved:
Buddy Can You Spare a Tie is about clothing and the section called The Feminine Mistake, is especially hilarious. It is about how his almost as famous and funny sister, Amy, subtly steers him to the women’s section of a department store and the wardrobe mistakes he’s made while shopping with her.
Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool is about art, specifically about when Sedaris’ parents started buying art. As a home organizer, I’ve encountered many people like Sedaris’ parents who think their lithographs and Fisherman’s Wharf gallery paintings will increase in value when in fact they hardly retain their purchase value. (For some reason, post Covid the art world seems increasingly ridiculous, like fashion. I used to be passionate about both but now I wonder if I will ever wear anything other than a black t-shirt and jeans or bother to walk into a museum again.)
April in Paris is about anthropomorphising animals and insects and Sedaris’s pet spiders.
The very long last essay is titled The Smoking Section and is about Sedaris’s history with smoking and finally giving it up. He uses a move to Japan, where he and his husband lived for a while, as the divide between his smoking life and his non-smoking life and it worked. The essay is filled with funny observations about how increasingly difficult it became to smoke until finally the negative health aspects and the annoyances of trying to have a cigarette in a public place drove him to quit.
This is the first humor book I’ve blogged about and I’m finding it really difficult to write about humor without writing out the specific jokes. Really the best I can do is say, “It made me laugh,” and after Trump, a divorce, a few horrific wildfires and a pandemic, it feels really good to laugh.