When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of those writers that has me laughing out loud while I’m reading, even in public places. In fact, I recommend not taking a drink of anything while reading Sedaris lest you could end up spitting, choking or having liquid come out your nose. I couldn’t stop myself from laughing while I tuned into a comfy chair at the BMW dealership, waiting for my car to have its oil changed.

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, however, something I do when I am walking or if I have a bag and gloves in my car and time to stop, 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 equally 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, the art world seems increasingly ridiculous post-Covid, 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.)

April in Paris is about anthropomorphising animals and insects and Sedaris’ pet spiders.

The very long last essay is titled The Smoking Section and is about Sedaris’ 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.

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow

A reader of this blog might know that my profession is organizing homes and offices. When I first began organizing I worked with a few hoarders–people who had accumulated so much stuff that their lives are unmanageable and several rooms in the house are unable to be used for their intended purpose. I stopped working with hoarders when I realized that much of the disorder and compulsive shopping or saving of stuff is due to a mental illness and, even with therapy, is very difficult to “cure.” Organizing a true hoarder is a Sisyphean task and far more intimate (dirty undies) and gross (garbage smells, pet feces) than I signed up for. Still, it is fascinating and often the first thing people ask me about when they find out what I do. E.L. Doctorow’s novel based on hoarders Homer & Langley Collyer crosses the organizing, novel and biography categories in my library.

Continue reading “Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow”

Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli and Me by Patricia Volk

I ended up loving everything about this book, yet when I first drew it from my library and looked it over, I thought it might go into the give away bag without a retread and blog entry. The gorgeous, heavy and sort of shagreen-pebbled dust jacket, in shocking pink of course, convinced me to at least give it a try. It had been a long time since I read it and didn’t remember it at all. It hooked me immediately.

Continue reading “Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli and Me by Patricia Volk”

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

It’s been a while since I’ve chosen a book from my library for this blog. Virus and fire have put the fear of angry Mother Nature into me and my thoughts have been mostly short term and skittish. I haven’t experienced such an undercurrent of dread since I listened to the Beatles Revolution #9, forwards. (I was too scared to listen to it backwards and besides, didn’t want to screw up my turntable.) I’ve been longhand journaling, but on sadly mundane topics like home projects, workouts, finances and what I’ve been putting into my mouth. Food, mostly.

Continue reading “If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland”

Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass

Over the last seven or eight months, the man I’m seeing and I made a pact to incorporate some spiritual growth activities into our couples life. We started meditating in the mornings, which we have been very diligent about, and have tried to read spiritual literature aloud to each other in the evenings, which we have been less diligent about. Somehow in the evenings, especially after many months of Covid-19 situational stress, we end up zoning out with an episode of Sons of Anarchy instead. Continue reading “Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass”

Picasso by Norman Mailer

Yo–el Rey. I, the king. Pablo Ruiz y Picasso wrote that three times on a self portrait painted when he was just 19 and about to leave his native Spain for Paris, where he became something more than a king. The funny thing about a grotesquely outsized ego is that very occasionally it is actually representing an equally legendary and outsized talent, intellect, beauty or charismatic personality; the deep flaws of entitlement, narcissism and infidelity such an ego sanctions can be overlooked, even forgiven. Continue reading “Picasso by Norman Mailer”

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

It was easy to pull Electric Kool-Aid off the shelf after reading the Grateful Dead biography. Tom Wolfe brilliantly describes Ken Kesey’s Merry Prankster scene, of which the Grateful Dead were a major contributor, in this somewhat novelized, novel-length report. Continue reading “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe”

A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally

A few weeks ago I found out that a man I’d lost touch with killed himself last spring. He’d been a magnificent influence on me in the early 1990s. We wrote for the same magazine, but his writing was many leagues beyond my work horse prose. Where he would wax romantic, I would wane maudlin, and he wasn’t afraid to tell me so. But he was kind. One late night in his office cluttered with rock specimens, empty bottles of great wines and hundreds of books, he let me recite “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in its entirety. I was nervous, so he handed me a stress ball to squeeze. That’s a good friend. I’d forgotten his kindness. Continue reading “A Long Strange Trip by Dennis McNally”

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain & The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

I read The Last American Man and Kitchen Confidential back to back, which wasn’t planned, it was just that I craved these biographical short books as ┬átransitional material after five volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. I tried to start My Struggle Volume Six, but my brain revolted. What I needed was an all-American male palate cleanser, make that two, and these books served the purpose well. Continue reading “Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain & The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert”

My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Brene Brown, author of the two self-empowerment books Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, must love Karl Ove Knausgaard. My biggest takeaway from this six volume, 3,500 page autobiography is how brave Knausgaard is, how naked. The books are like a grove of winter trees, dour, stark and beautiful, and, at 3,500 pages, it took at least a grove of trees to produce them. Continue reading “My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard”