When You Are Engulfed in Flames

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

by David Sedaris


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"David Sedaris's ability to transform the mortification of everyday life into wildly entertaining art," (The Christian Science Monitor) is elevated to wilder and more entertaining heights than ever in this remarkable new book.
Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths. Culminating in a brilliant account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris's sixth essay collection is a new masterpiece of comic writing from "a writer worth treasuring" (Seattle Times).

Praise for When You Are Engulfed in Flames:

"Older, wiser, smarter and meaner, Sedaris...defies the odds once again by delivering an intelligent take on the banalities of an absurd life." —Kirkus Reviews

This latest collection proves that not only does Sedaris still have it, but he's also getting better....Sedaris's best stuff will still—after all this time—move, surprise, and entertain." —Booklist

Table of Contents:

It's Catching
Keeping Up
The Understudy
This Old House
Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?
Road Trips
What I Learned
That's Amore
The Monster Mash
In the Waiting Room
Solutions to Saturday's Puzzle
Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool
Memento Mori
All the Beauty You Will Ever Need
Town and Country
The Man in the Hut
Of Mice and Men
April in Paris
Old Faithful
The Smoking Section

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316154680
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 06/02/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 137,834
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Sedaris is the author of the books Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Holidays on Ice, Naked, and Barrel Fever. He isa regular contributor to The New Yorker and Public Radio International's "This American Life."


London, England

Date of Birth:

December 26, 1956

Place of Birth:

Johnson City, New York


B.F.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1987

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When You Are Engulfed in Flames 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 479 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Now, while I have heard a number of good things about David Sedaris' books, I have never actually read one before. Despite this, I was pretty excited about reading 'When You Are Engulfed in Flames', and I was not disappointed. Sedaris' newest book is a very funny collection of essays about ordinary everyday events in his life, or at least ordinary for him. All the stories in his book feel almost intertwined, possibly because they all to build up to a realization, almost like lessons he learned over time. Whether it is his realization that country spiders don't survive well in the city, or Sedaris eventually learning what makes one of his neighbors tick, Sedaris is very good at building a story over time. He can look at a number of events at different times and places, and see how he came to a better understanding because of these seemingly unrelated events. He also tends to make the simplest things seem more fun and exciting, such as quitting smoking. Not many people would decide to temporarily move across the world just to quit smoking. I think, in the end, David Sedaris is just skilled at comedy and story-telling in general. After all, isn't comedy just making the mundane amusing?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maybe because I've read all of his other books I found this one a little disappointing. I only laughed out loud until I cried while reading one of the stories, while in the past much more frequently. But I will still keep reading whatever he writes, as I do enjoy his skewed way of looking at life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love David Sedaris, but this book is a DISASTER. It's hard to believe that he's the author. There are few things worse than looking forward to a new book by a favorite author and instead being sold a pile of garbage. It's not funny, it's not insightful. This book reads like Sedaris gathered up all of the stories he'd thrown away over years of writing- the ones too awful for anyone else to see, and then had them published to see if any of us were dumb enough to read them.
Novel_Me More than 1 year ago
Ok, I am an avid reader, but I had never heard of David Sedaris before. A friend loaned me this book she had picked up at a second hand book store, said 'read it, it is hysterical'. I was up to the challenge. Never have I read a book as funny and mocking on the top layer, but acknowleding the sad and ugly things just under that surface. He says the things that we all think, and some that we hadn't thought of yet. He is a master with words and I am defintly going to purchase my own copy of 'when you are engulfed in flames' so that I can have one all my own (with the dust cover) to read over again. My favorite line in the whole book was on page 233 "Sometimes the sins you haven't commited are all you have to hold on to." pure, dark, and simple. love it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Sedaris offers yet another compilation of humorous life essays that are a pale comparison to other hilarious books he's previously written. The younger Sedaris sharing family stories is far funnier than this newly reformed wiser man attempting to filter out impure unhealthy habits. Always a pleasure to read his stories, but this is not his best.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a good book to read when you're looking for a light funny read. The author helps you not to take life so seriously. I¿d recommend it for all adults.
Jimskins More than 1 year ago
A few months ago, a friend loaned me the audio book of Sedaris' earlier book DRESS YOUR FAMILY IN CORDUROY AND DENIM. I listened to most of it in one sitting on a long drive between Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. The next time I had to make the drive, I walked into B&N and with the firm knowledge that I wanted another Sedaris audiobook. I was already aware of his writing from his contributions to THIS AMERICAN LIFE (just about the best thing on broadcast radio). Listening to these audiobooks has been like nursing an exotic and decadant dessert that never makes your teeth ache. If you are the kind of person who enjoys essays and memoirs, I would definitely recommend Sedaris, and WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES particularly. If you don't mind that the author is not always entirely likeable, Sedaris will be a good fit. In some ways I've enjoyed him as much as Augusten Burroughs (RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, DRY, A WOLF AT THE TABLE), although Sedaris does not come across as mean as Burroughs can. I'm a little compulsive and definitely a completist. I will probably read or listen to everything that David Sedaris has published over the next few months. I will then loan all these to my friends and family. I will then be bewildered when they are not as wildly ecstatic about him as I have become. That's the way it is with me. I'm weird. If you are the kind of weird who enjoys Augusten Burroughs (memoir), Sarah Vowell (essay), and Chris Moore (absurdist humor), then I feel reasonably confident that you will be in love with the writing of David Sedaris.
Wanderluster More than 1 year ago
I've also read "Naked" and "Me Talk Pretty One Day," and of the three, this is by far my favorite. Sedaris does an excellent job of taking somewhat different tales and weaving them together so that the book in its entirety is not disjointed. I kept finding myself thinking, "I've thought/experienced exactly the same thing and could never articulate it as well as he does." He says the things that we are too polite to discuss out loud, with riotous results. A page-turner worthy of a second read.
KewlNerd More than 1 year ago
Although I've read all of Sedaris' books, I continue to anticipate the next one as if it is something new. "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" does contain several essays found in his previous books, however, they still have the same LOL results. I would highly recommend "Holidays on Ice" for Holiday reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mr. Sedaris is a great essay and memoir writer. I must confess that this book does not hold up to the hype of his previous books, but this book holds a sense of togetherness in the life of Mr. Sedaris until now. I would recommend this easy read to other readers who enjoy simplicity with a dab of twists and turns that Sedaris always has in store for the audience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this latest collection, David Sedaris provides literary proof for the cliche 'going to the well once too often.' I couldn't escape the feeling of 'been there, read that' while perusing these essays. True, Sedaris has always relied on the subjects of family, language difficulties, his relationship, and his love affair with smoking for his work, but he usually provides some new percptions that catch the reader off guard. Not here. Make no mistake, even repetitive, derivative Sedaris can be droll and amusing. And if he is going to be derivative,there are worse sources then his ownn writings to use as a source. Not bad, but I had hoped for better.
alyssama121 More than 1 year ago
I have never laughed so hard in my life than when I listened to this. Seriously, whenever I’m having a bad day or I know something stressful is coming up, I listen to these essays. Sedaris takes weird stuff that happens in life and turns them into hilarious and insightful pieces that entertain and give a whole new look at the absurd situations life frequently contains. It’s hard to give a long review of this, because they’re composed of non-fiction essays, so there isn’t really a long plot line to critique or character development to discuss. I will just say that this collection will have you laughing out loud and will make you look differently at weird situations that arise in your own life. Note: The reason why I put the audiobook information down is because I highly recommend listening to his essays rather than just reading them. Hearing them in Sedaris’s own voice with his intonations really sets the tone and adds to the comedy.
bell7 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
David Sedaris' latest collection contains 21 essays and a final, longer essay, almost a novella of its own. In this audiobook read by the author, some of the essays included are live readings. His deadpan delivery enhanced the humor in his stories, so I enjoyed this more than the first book that I read, Dress Your Family in Corduroy in Denim. On the other hand, having the live readings made me feel a little strange when I wasn't laughing along with the audience. He was funny, sure, but every line wasn't as funny as they seemed to think.While I enjoyed it overall, I don't really feel the need to seek out more of his books. I've been wondering to myself why I don't like his stories more. He writes about his life and family in such a way that comes across as self-deprecating and funny rather than narcissistic or whiny. What it comes down to, I think, is just too much information. I just don't need to know everything he shares, like about a worm coming out of Hugh's leg when he was a kid. So while I could see myself recommending his works to the right reader, I'm not planning on reading any more myself.
les121 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my first experience with an audiobook, and I quite enjoyed it! Some of the stories are interesting, some are a little boring, and some are downright hilarious. A few times I laughed so hard my stomach ached! I also love that it¿s narrated by the author and that a few of the recordings are from live events. Overall, I would definitely recommend this essay collection, either in print or audio.
sweetiegherkin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is heartening to find an author whose work improves with each subsequent publication. Some of Sedaris's stories take a more serious turn this time around, but rather than wrecking a humorous tale, these moments have a way of adding to the overall enjoyableness of the essays -- probably something akin to the well-roundedness public schools are always trying to achieve in their students. Meanwhile, Sedaris' humor is still spot-on, and at times I found myself literally laughing out loud. The couple of fiction samples thrown into the mix showcase an improvement in Sedaris's writing in this department as well, although I am still not the hugest fan of his fiction. Even Sedaris' vocal impressions and inflection have risen a notch (no pun intended), for those listening to the audio version. Overall, a good read -- quick enough to read in one or two sit-downs, but also (especially since it is written in essay format) perfect for short (and complete) reads here and there.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I find David Sedaris absolutely hilarious when he appears on This American Life, but when ever I read one of his books, it leaves me with a profound sense of malaise. His written word just doesn¿t work for me. It was with this knowledge that I tried the audiobooks of ¿When You Are Engulfed in Flames,¿ in hopes that I just needed Sedaris¿ delivery to enjoy his book. Happily, this was indeed the case. I found ¿When You Are Engulfed in Flames¿ to be a very enjoyable collection of essays. I¿d say that the title essay, which was the last one and by far the longest, was probably my least favorite. Sedaris does have a tendency to ramble, which is usually mitigated by the short nature of his essays, but it became overly apparent in the long essay. I would forget for long periods that his whole Japan adventure began with his attempt to quit smoking. A bit slow at the end, but overall the David Sedaris audiobook was a very enjoyable experience.
thelittlereader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
this was my first Sedaris book and although not totally blown away, it was definitely entertaining and good fun. i listened to the audio version, which is narrated by Sedaris himself and although this is not an old book (pub. 2008), the dry sarcasm and tone of his voice was reminiscent of an older style of stand up comedy.the book is written in short stories of various happenings in Sedaris's life, including babysitting experiences of his younger days, what it what like going public about being gay, his crazy neighbors (which i can completely relate to!) and a more recent effort to quit smoking. there were definite highs and lows in the stories, with some absolutely hysterical laugh out loud moments in between. some stories held my interest more than others, notably That's Amore and The Smoking Section, but regardless, it was worth the time spent and i would probably pick up another Sedaris book someday.
Canadian_Down_Under on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was my first David Sedaris book and it won't be my last. I can't remember the last time a book had me laughing out loud. David Sedaris writes in an intimate and conversational manner that had me wishing I could invite him to my house for dinner so that I could laugh with him over his stories.
bogopea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am not a laugh out loud type of person but he makes me laugh out load, over and over again. Great book to pick up and put down, most stories just a few pages.
ofthehands.com on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was intensely entertaining, as Sedaris's essay collections tend to be. The only downside I could name for the collection is that multiple essays felt like they ended abruptly. This was not the case with all of them, but it often seemed as if Sedaris had an anecdote or two that he wanted to create an essay from, but he was never quite able to flesh it out into something entirely coherent and incisive.That isn't to say the anecdotes don't tend still to be entertaining and well worth a read, if you're a Sedaris sort of person. And there are moments of lovely insight and affecting honesty. This just--as an overall work--is not quite up there with the best of the best, in the world of David Sedaris.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A friend continued to tell me how much he thought I would love Sedaris' works. He was right! If you are looking for an incredibly well written, laugh right out loud book, then this is for you!I loved it!
Periodista on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I snickered out loud several times and I'm a tough audience or readership.Of course you have to have a taste for his humor. In this one, he wades fearlessly into a morgue, mental illness, a disabled pedophile Normandy neighbor, skelton shopping, African worms living inside human legs, a lecherous truck driver, a pustulous boil on his backside ... and always has his humorous cockeyed perspective on it. Death is often around the corner or across the hall.Maybe I missed it in one of his previous works, but how about his oh so offhand reference to 20 years of nightly drinking? Not to mention daily pot smoking. How did he ever accomplish anything? Apparently less of a problem to quit alcohol than cigarettes.I must say that the zillions of you that have lived in Japan will be disappointed in the very long section in which he goes to Japan for 3 months to quit smoking, especially since his good friend David Rakoff (Fraud), who speaks Japanese, should have prepped him. Sure, it's interesting to see that Japan has slightly turned the screws on. But are there still billboard and TV ads? Smoking banned on the train platforms? Japan really is such a rich fund of oddities yet he doesn't seem to have stumbled on anything outside the realm of 80s travel articles. Didn't he ever go to a public bath? Noticed the influx of dark-skinned people and the Japanese attitude toward them? Enter a Japan home? I wonder if he has a touch of agoraphobia. He's staying for 3 months in an apartment in Minato-ku; if there is any doubt, when he describes all the appliances and electronic stuff in this apartment, you know this is a very upper-class neighborhood. Or where expats are put on by their companies on medium-lavish expat benefits. It probably even has heat! He is right about how ugly Tokyo can be, how crowded the buildings .. but if he had gone into any of his acquaintances' homes--how about those of his schoolmates?--he would have realized how they and thus so-called middle-class Japanese really live. It's not pretty.Attending language school always seems to be a dull subject, especially because I suspect here that he's not as tongue-tied as he is projecting. His comments on his French neighbors or, say, their attitudes to drinking are much more specific and funny. Speaking of which, odd that he didn't notice the abundance of alcoholics, outdoor pissing and commuter train barfing in Japan. If you get on a commuter train after 10 or so, be prepared for the aroma of vomit. Which Jay McInerney says that the smell of vomit reminds him of cherry blossom viewing season. Alas, that's what the parks smell like during those few weeks.So: Something akin to agoraphobia?Enough carping. The rest is more odd and funny than most can produce and I'm happy that he's locked till death do us part with patient, loyal, monogamous, non-squeamish partner.
crazy4novels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, there is only one way to read this book, and that's with your ears. Sedaris' most recent collection of stories is an absolute gem that glows even brighter when narrated on compact disc by its author. Sedaris is a master of verbal pause and nuance, and his unique voice -- thin, reedy, and whimsically childlike despite the fact that he is now in his fifties -- bestows a gentle quality that softens his sharper observations and brings a smile to the listener's face even in the absence of obvious humor. Do yourself a favor and go audible on this one.Sedaris' childlike voice notwithstanding, this book is his most mature collection of stories yet. He takes on some sobering subjects -- illness, death, the joys and burdens of monogamy, the unpredictable nature of life -- and treats them with a deepening sense of humanity that has always underpinned his humor, while making the listener laugh all the while -- an amazing feat, when you contemplate the subject matter.Young writers, on the whole, tend to be more brash and judgmental than older ones, and the arc of their craft usually bends one of two ways: they become more prickly and acerbic in their later years, or they mellow with age and decide to make peace with humankind and all of its (and their) foibles. Sedaris has chosen the latter path, as best exemplified by one of my favorite stories in this collection: "The Understudy." In "The Understudy," David's parents go on an adult vacation and leave him and his young siblings in the care of Mrs. Peacock, an overweight, unkempt woman from "across the tracks" who proceeds to tend her young charges by sleeping all hours of the day in a darkened bedroom, downing every bottle of Coca Cola in the house, and occasionally cooking up a skillet of sloppy joes when the kids resort to howling in desperation (9 p.m.: "If y'all was hungry, why didn't you say nothing? I'm not a mind reader, you know"). Worst of all, she insists that the children take turns scratching her back with a long plastic rod that ends in a miniature, fingernailed "hand" resembling an arthritic monkey paw. They gag in disgust as she lays on the bed, stomach down, her tattered, soiled slip pulled down to her waist, sighing in ecstasy as they scrape the vile paw across her oily, pock-marked back. When one of them can't resist commenting on the hairs between her shoulders, she retorts "Y'all's got the same damn thing, only they ain't poked out yet."Just at the point when Sedaris's caricature of Mrs. Peacock borders on merciless, he pivots. Mrs. Peacock packs the kids into the car and makes a trip to her house (the beloved back scratcher has been broken and must be replaced with a backup model). The siblings realize that Mrs. Peacock's house, an obvious shack to them, is a subject of great pride for her. The backyard garden is beautifully tended, albeit filled with plastic gewgaws and garden gnomes, and she cautions them not to touch her beloved doll collection ("They's my doll babies") as they enter the back door. She shows them her collection of miniatures, and points out two little troll dolls, each sitting in a house slipper by her bathroom, their hair combed back as if blown by a stiff wind: "See, it's like they's riding in boats!" Sedaris' ability to connect the listener with Mrs. Peacock's sense of individuality and self in the face of obvious poverty is powerful; he simultaneously portrays her as an object of comedic derision and a human being deserving of sincere compassion. I laughed until I had tears in my eyes while I listened to "The Understudy," and yet I'll never look at the denizens of Walmart again without wondering whether they, too, have their own version of a doll baby collection at home, or a carefully tended plant collection on their disintegrating back porch. Sedaris ends the story with an adult observation that Mrs. Peacock was probably clinically depressed the entire time she tended him and his siblings, thus the naps, poor hygiene, etc.Sever
klarsenmd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable. Made me chuckle to myself many times!
eleanor_eader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the first time I¿ve read any of Sedaris¿ autobiographical essays / stories. It¿s not quite my first encounter with his work, though, having heard him read something, sometime (brilliant memory, what?) and having his name stick in my head as worth following up on. I didn¿t misremember that, anyway, because I enjoyed his humour (sometimes caustic, sometimes so subtle as to be a thing of beauty) and observational wit. I did find his self-contemplation a bit overdone by the end of the book, but that may simply mean that a collection such as this is better enjoyed in between other reading, rather straight through over a two-day period.Rating this is tough; my main problem, I think, is that I am not used to digesting autobiography in chunks of this size and randomness, and it¿s pure difference that is making me indecisive. I felt that, overall, that this book was a three(ish) star work, although two of the earlier essays, Keeping Up and The Understudy were easily deserving of five stars, as was the enjoyable The Solution to Saturday¿s Puzzle, these and a couple of others keeping me reading through some that didn¿t excite my interest at all; a few felt as though material was being created out of the thinnest of provocations, and being over-extended for a shot at profundity. Then there were those ¿ That¿s Amore, particularly ¿ that were of undeniable skill and interest but which left me feeling either depressed, or uncomfortable, or both, the author¿s humorous edge notwithstanding. The last and longest essay The Smoking Section began well, but my interest fizzled out; this I think due to a cultural difference between this reader and a man who can afford to go and live in Tokyo as a distraction while he quits smoking. Anything he suffers is, by default, invalidated by this chasm. And yes, that¿s 90% a fault in my reading attitude, but if he¿d been writing to the standard of some of the earlier entries, he¿d have breached this chasm easily.With that minor quibble out of the way, I¿m going to play fair and give When you are Engulfed in Flames the four stars it probably deserves. I strongly suspect, though, that one of his earlier collections will provide greater satisfaction. I¿ll let you know.