The 100 Books Project: When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

First off, a big Thank You! to Tracy for the subscription! Welcome aboard! I look forward to reading some of your posts, too!

And now, to the review:

It sometimes helps to remind myself that not everyone is like me. Not everyone writes things down in a notebook and then transcribes them into a diary. Fewer still will take that diary, clean it up a bit, and read it in front of an audience.

“When You Are Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris

I have always enjoyed David Sedaris, be it from the one other book of his I’ve managed to get to reading (Me Talk Pretty One Day) or from listening to him on This American Life; I’m also experiencing a very odd sense of de ja vu writing this right now, right down to noting the de ja vu feeling, which is odd. But, either way, When You Are Engulfed in Flames is just another installment in humorous antecedents from Sedaris’ life, ones that teach, ones that make you laugh, ones that cause you to scratch your head and a few that leave you pretty convinced he probably made that up…right?

The book consists of 22 little vignettes, with no particular plot or timeline to tie them together, just little drops of life as Sedaris has lived an experienced them. They include his attempts to quit smoking while living in Japan, some of his experiences while living in Normandy, the tribulations of flying, being naked in a waiting room, scaring birds with album covers, and trying to buy a human skeleton for his boyfriend. The title is gleaned from a section where Sedaris reveals some of his favourite examples of Engrish. There is a rambling quality to Sedaris’ writing sometimes, but he almost always brings it back around to a small little life lesson or observation, tying up all the directions he’d drifted. That’s what I like about him: I’d always like a little more, but he never leaves me unsatisfied.

Part of the reason I think I’m so fond of Sedaris’ stories, too, is because I can relate to them so much. Well, not completely. I’m a far cry away from a Greek-American gay man pushing into his fifties, but, sometimes, I do wonder if perhaps I have the soul of a Greek-American gay man pushing into his fifties. His relationship with his boyfriend Hugh I think is one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve ever seen. They’re not perfect, Sedaris is constantly annoyed with him and vice versa, but they work well together, they do things for each other, and the fact that they didn’t meet until their thirties gives at least me hope that, even though I had a relationship like that before, there’s a good chance I still have some time to be lucky enough to find another. And, while Sedaris doesn’t write fiction so much as memoir, his journey through writing makes me feel a little bit better about mine, as well. Whenever I’m stuck for something to write about, here is a man who just carries around a notebook with him to take observation of what’s around him. It’s there that the most bizarre and interesting things can happen. Here is a bestselling author who got to where he was mostly by saying, “Let me tell you about this funny thing that happened to me the other day,” or simply by elaborating on the eccentrics that make up for the building blocks of anyone’s life.

I just find him such an inspiration, which is funny, because I’m sure if he saw that I felt that way, the only thing he’d have to say is, “….Why?”

This makes only the second of Sedaris’ books I have read, but I’m pretty confident I could recommend any of them and be sure they’d be a good read. Besides, I just like how his stories make me think, “Okay. I can do this. I can be an interesting person; I can be a writer. If this guy can do it…I can do this, too.”

Books read: 21 out of 100.


  1. Seems like a good read. But I’m confused what is all about, is the book filled wit short stories made up from his experiences? The cover looks creepy <_< Reminds me of skeleton back in high school laboratory, only without a cigarette.

    PS: I noticed you haven't participating in this event It would be good for you since you are always active.

    Keep it up!

    • They’re not short stories so much as David Sedaris recounting his experiences, telling stories about things that have happened to him, lessons he has learned, observations he has made. He has a really dry humour and a great attention for odd, quirky details, so they can be really great.

      High school labs were exactly what I thought of with the cover, too, and then art class, since it’s done in charcoal.

      And thanks for the link to the event! That’s just the sort of thing I’m always getting myself into (and usually failing, ha!), so maybe I’ll keep an eye on it and hop on in when the next one starts! I sort of have something like that going personally with my “30 pages of novel a month” thing going on, but it’ll be fun to challenge myself with this and to be able to connect with others doing it, too. This’ll give me plenty of time to figure out what I want my goal to be when the next one starts, even though June 23rd seems pretty far off, so maybe I’ll just see if I can think of something by next Wednesday’s check in.

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