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When You Are Engulfed in Flames

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It's early autumn 1964. Two straight-A students head off to school, and when only one of them returns home Chesney Yelverton is coaxed from retirement and assigned to what proves to be the most difficult and deadly - case of his career. From the shining notorious East Side, When You Are Engulfed in Flames confirms once again that David Sedaris is a master of mystery and suspense.

Or how about...

when set on fire, most of us either fumble for our wallets or waste valuable time feeling sorry for ourselves. David Sedaris has studied this phenomenon, and his resulting insights may very well save your life. Author of the national bestsellers Should You Be Attacked By Snakes and If You Are Surrounded by Mean Ghosts, David Sedaris, with When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is clearly at the top of his game.

Oh, all right...

David Sedaris has written yet another book of essays (his sixth). Subjects include a parasitic worm that once lived in his mother-in-law's leg, an encounter with a dingo, and the recreational use of an external catheter. Also recounted is the buying of a human skeleton and the author's attempt to quit smoking In Tokyo.

Master of nothing, at the dead center of his game, Sedaris proves that when you play with matches, you sometimes light the whole pack on fire.
(front flap)

323 pages, Hardcover

First published June 3, 2008

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About the author

David Sedaris

125 books24.5k followers
David Sedaris is a Grammy Award-nominated American humorist and radio contributor.

Sedaris came to prominence in 1992 when National Public Radio broadcast his essay "SantaLand Diaries." He published his first collection of essays and short stories, Barrel Fever, in 1994. Each of his four subsequent essay collections, Naked (1997), Holidays on Ice (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004), and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008) have become New York Times Best Sellers.

As of 2008, his books have collectively sold seven million copies. Much of Sedaris' humor is autobiographical and self-deprecating, and it often concerns his family life, his middle class upbringing in the suburbs of Raleigh, North Carolina, Greek heritage, various jobs, education, drug use, homosexuality, and his life in France with his partner, Hugh Hamrick.

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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5 stars
75,699 (37%)
4 stars
80,405 (39%)
3 stars
37,468 (18%)
2 stars
7,502 (3%)
1 star
3,213 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,309 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
January 3, 2018
In our present culture, we sometimes write "LOL" meaning laugh out loud to recognize something is funny, but this is usually just a smile or an acknowledgment of a humorous situation.

I can sincerely type LOL, or even ROFL, or LSHIS (laughed so hard I snorted).

This is funny.

Sedaris has a rare gift of relating a hilarious story or by simply telling a commonplace occurrence in a funny way.

So why just three stars? In between the laughs is the not altogether likable persona of Sedaris. He may impart self deprecating humor, or maybe he is personifying a satire on our culture, or both, but many times in the narrative, organized into short essays or vignettes, I had to admit that I did not like my narrator.

Other times, to be fair, he repented or showed a generous, open mindedness; but I could not shake the image of an unapologetically selfish person who, sadly, may reflect modern Western culture all too well. That said, really funny book.

Profile Image for Dusty Myers.
57 reviews24 followers
July 11, 2008
Here's my take on Sedaris, or maybe my take on Sedaris before I listened to this book: Naked is easily his best work because it's his most thorough, his most unencumbered by his own fame. If we were to compare his oeuvre to MTV's The Real World, Naked is the original New York season (despite not being Sedaris's first book). In New York, the cast members were people already living in the city (with the Alabama exception) and trying to make a living; the whole "be on TV" part of it was something they dealt with in the name of free housing. Now, of course, teens run at the chance to go live in some other city just to "have their lives taped," just for the fame it might bring, and what they actually do on the show is dull as a result. Naked is the masterpiece because the essays therein are longer and more satisfying; the whole thing is memoir in its finest form of sifting through the past to let someone understand how life (or maybe just a life) gets lived.

Then he got wildly famous and was able to publish any old essay in any old magazine. This, I recognize, is a factor of his talent both as a writer and a humorist, not a factor of his name. Still, even as "far back" as Me Talk Pretty One Day, I left much of the essays with a sense of incompletion. "Picka Pocketoni"? Why wasn't this narrator doing anything? It wasn't enough just to stand there and report, I felt.

A lot of WYAEiF is about how wealthy and glamorous Sedaris's life is, and how wealthy he was growing up, which is something I'd never really sensed before. He talks about the cork-lined dining room at his parents' house with the (at the time) contemporary Danish modern furniture. He talks about the $20K he spent to quit smoking by moving to Tokyo for three months. He mentions an $8K first-class ticket he bought. He mentions a lot of airplane rides; I think at least three of the essays have their roots in something that happened to D.S. while flying across the Atlantic. This smacks to me of a writer who's run out of things to write about; and yet there are essays about old neighbors ("That's Amore", one of the collection's best), so it seems Sedaris still has enough memories to last a few more books.

I heard that in some interview somewhere, Sedaris confessed that he was getting to the point in his life where he'd act in a scene explicitly for the purposes of creating something to write about. Maybe Sedaris has a history of this (I can't imagine he just wanted to up and go to a nudist colony on his own; clearly, he saw great material in the exercise) but something about the heft of those earlier essays ("Santaland Diaries", too) makes them seem more honest. In the interview, Sedaris was talking specifically about the decision to cough so hard on a plane that his throat lozenge would be expelled from his mouth. He thought, Let's see what happens, and coughed. This action begins one of the essays in this book, and it's never revealed as constructed.

I'm not aligning myself with that camp of Memoir Exposers For The Truth. My complaint isn't that Sedaris makes things up. It's that at one time, behind the essays, was this guy David Sedaris, or as close to the guy as we could get, and now it seems that behind all these essays lies "The Writer David Sedaris". I'm not making myself clear.

(Which, incidentally, is one thing I can't fault Sedaris for. His timing in writing is impeccable and his descriptions apt and lovely in places. Oh and funny. The book in just incredibly, unendingly funny. In short: get the audiobook.)
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,795 followers
May 6, 2020
Yep, pogo-stick time! Leave it to Sedaris to send me bouncing!

Okay. Imagine this: You end up in a waiting room in France in just your underwear, all because you uttered “I agree” in French. Or, how about if you coughed so hard a lozenge flew from your mouth onto the lap of a nasty passenger sitting next to you on a plane? Seriously, these things happened to Sedaris, and man can he make every little detail hilarious. I’m grinning just thinking of the pickles he had to wriggle out of!

Sedaris is my new hero. He’s hysterically funny, a player of words, full of dark humor, and sometimes gross. And he is tuned into the absurd in a big way. I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled me out of my pandemic funk and gotten me to laugh for a little while. My favorite kind of funny is when someone describes an absurd moment and runs with it. Sedaris gallops. He puts himself front and center and becomes all tangled up in the absurdity. Whether he witnesses something bizarre, has a strange conversation, or experiences some odd person or ailment, I’m all in. His stories remind me that truth is often stranger than fiction. It also stirs up memories of absurd things that happened to me, and I love going down memory lane. It’s a treat to clutch onto memories of funny right about now.

I was late to the party. I tried reading a Sedaris book ages ago, and I couldn’t get into it. But I read Calypso when it came out a couple of years ago, and I was a goner. How did this happen that I went from bored to ecstatic? Anyway, this book is right up there with Calypso, and both live on my All-Time Favorites list.

In most collections, there are some dud essays. Here, there are just two, and they’re short. The worst I can say is that they’re a little bit boring (one is about art pieces and it’s a snooze), but their presence didn’t make me knock my rating down even a fraction of a point. (When you’re in love, you push the bad aside.)

The only flaw—and again, Sedaris can do no wrong, so this is a baby flaw—is that occasionally he wanders off the subject to tell another story. He always brings it back to the main story, but it sometimes feels like he’s a bit disorganized and that his editors should have used their eyeballs better.

It’s all I can do not to describe more of his hilarious stories; they’re still spinning in my head. But better to let the master tell them himself because I’m sure I won’t do them justice. I want to say, “Look, just look at this!,” as I shove a page under your nose, demanding that you read this because I just know you’ll laugh. But then, who knows if you have the same funny bone as I do.

As a tease, here is a taste of his funny:

“I can’t make out the list of ingredients, but they taste vaguely like penis.”

“The document was in Thai, a language that looks like cake decoration to me.”

“I remember lying in bed and thinking with shame, My mom coughs like a man.”

“I don’t think of myself as overly prissy, but it bothered me to find a finger on my bedroom floor.”

“It is not unpleasant to hold someone else’s warm teeth in your hand, and before returning upstairs, I paused, studying the damp plastic horseshoe that served as Helen’s gum.”

“She slid the dentures, unwashed, back into her mouth, and it was like popping the batteries into a particularly foul toy.”

“A bow tie announces to the world that you can no longer get an erection.”

Check this book out (yes, I’m still pushing it under your nose!). It’s just what the doctor ordered. Oh, and thanks, Julie, for sending this title to me on a list of things to help out with the Pandemic Blues.
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,624 followers
October 21, 2018
Oh, David Sedaris. I'll always love him for rescuing me from the bog-of-eternal-stench which is A Little Life. I survived my weeks-long recovery from that epic torture session by reading Sedaris' hilarious Me Talk Pretty One Day. He earned lifelong gratitude from me, reminding me books don't have to include dozens of sexual assaults, or a multitude of self harm shower scenes, in order to be great. They can actually make you LAUGH. OUT LOUD. IN PUBLIC. Or, in my car, in endless Montreal traffic, where God knows I desperately need something to chortle about. They can involve pedestrian things like, oh I dunno, poop, or furniture, or struggling through a language class.

Anyway, if I had wondered that my admiration for David Sedaris was a result of his taming my PTSD from a god-awful book, now I know that isn't true. I mean, he DID tame my PTSD, but that was incidental. The guy is simply brilliant.

He's like the Greek, gay, literary Seinfeld, with a womanly sounding voice. He takes incidents that many people would just move past, and manages to extract the humour and the pathos in a very self-depreciating, honest way. Much is about himself, but somehow it doesn't come across as self-absorbed, something that is very difficult to accomplish. Somehow I loved to hear how he, David, coughed a lozenge onto the crotch of the sleeping woman next to him on the airplane, who had earlier called him an asshole for not trading seats with her husband at the bulkhead. I loved hearing how he quit smoking, and how much of it had to do with his hotel snobbery rather than cancer risk. I loved the story of him sitting in his underwear in a French waiting room, a result of him saying "d'accord" when he didn't understand the nurse's instructions (to put on a robe, of course).

Not all the essays in this collection are strong. But there were a few, at their conclusion, that made me think, that was just PERFECT. How beautiful that I can be touched, eyes pricked with threat of tears, about a story which at the onset seemed to be about furniture. Bravo, David Sedaris. Thank you again for the laughs.
Profile Image for Majenta.
294 reviews1,289 followers
December 27, 2017
4 1/2 stars.

"The houses looked like something a child might draw, a row of shaky squares with triangles on top. Add a door, add two windows. Think of putting a tree in the front yard, and then decide against it because branches aren't worth the trouble." (Page 27)

"...I referred to him as Sir Lance-a-Lot. 'Once is not a lot,' he said. This was true, but Sir Lance Occasionally lacks a certain ring." (Page 238)

Thanks for reading!
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 24, 2021
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

Collection of essays so uproariously funny and profoundly moving that his legions of fans will fall for him once more.

Sedaris tests the limits of love when Hugh lances a boil from his backside, and pushes the boundaries of laziness when, finding the water shut off in his house in Normandy, he looks to the water in a vase of fresh cut flowers to fill the coffee machine.

From armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds to the awkwardness of having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a sleeping fellow passenger on a plane, David Sedaris uses life's most bizarre moments to reach new heights in understanding love and fear, family and strangers. Culminating in a brilliantly funny account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking.

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی روز بیست و سوم ماه اکتبر سال 2015میلادی

عنوان: وقتی شعله‌ها شما را در بر می‌گیرند؛ نویسنده: دیوید سداریس؛ مترجم: نادر قبله‌ای؛ ویراستار احمد کدیو��؛ تهران، مروارید، سال1393؛ در267ص؛ شابک9789641913030؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده ی 21م

این کتاب نخستین بار در سال2008میلادی منتشر شد؛ «سداریس» در این کتاب با هنرمندی توانسته اند رویدادهای ساده و همیشگی زندگی را به سرگرمی و لذت بدل کنند؛ رویدادهایی بسیار دل انگیز در این کتاب بازگو میشوند: از زندگی در مناطق روستایی «فرانسه» و درست کردن قهوه با آب گلدان گرفته، تا یادمانی شرم آور، اما بسیار خنده دار انجام معامله در خانه ای متحرک در «کارولینای شمالی»، و سفری هیجان انگیز به «توکیو» برای ترک سیگار؛ کتاب ششمین سری از نوشتارهای «دیوید سداریس» به شمار میآید

نوشتارهای «دیوید سداریس» را در «ایالات متحده آمریکا» با نوشتارهای «وودی آلن» سینماگر و طنزپرداز، برابر هم می‌نهند؛ «سداریس» داستان‌های خویش را به سادگی بازگو می‌کنند، و «وودی آلن»، انگار کنید گمشده‌ ای در این دنیا باشند که خوانشگران خود را به چالش و اندیشه وامی‌دارد؛ طنز «سداریس»، شاید از سویی برای زندگی کردن ایشان بین ملت‌های گوناگون، و از سوی دیگر، برای پیشینه ی فرهنگی «یونانی‌» بودنش باشد، ایشان هرگزی در نوشتارهای خویش گم نمی‌شوند؛ و دیگر اینکه تفاوتی که طنز «سداریس» با «آلن»، دارد، رک‌گویی و جسارت «سداریس» است؛ «سداریس»، از خودش نیز فراتر می‌رود، و بدون رودربایستی، خانواده‌ اش را هم از دم تیغ بران طنزش می‌گذراند؛ همین رک‌ بودن است که داستان‌های «سداریس» را، در بین آثار دیگر طنزپردازان، برجسته کرده است؛

داستانهای «وقتی شعله‌ها شما را در برمی‌گیرند»، «بخش سیگاری‌ها» است، که بیشترین بخش کتاب را اجاره کرده است – نزدیک به هشتاد صفحه - و داستانی است که «سداریس» درباره ی سفرش به «ژاپن»، برای ترک کردن سیگار می‌نویسند؛ ایشان در این داستان با نازک اندیشی درباره ی خودش می‌نویسد که از روزی دو پاکت سیگار کشیدن، رسید به جایی که دیگر نه‌ تنها سیگار نکشید، بلکه هر جا ته‌ سیگاری روی زمین می‌دید، آن را برمی‌داشت؛ ایشان در این داستان می‌نویسند «وقتی سیگار کشیدن در رستوران‌های نیویورک ممنوع شد، دیگر بیرون از خانه غذا نخوردم؛ وقتی آن را در محل کار ممنوع کردند، کارم را ترک کردم، و وقتی قیمت یک پاکت سیگار به هفت دلار افزایش یافت، اسباب و اثاثیه‌ ام را جمع کردم و به فرانسه رفتم، آنجا، پیدا کردن سیگار خودم سخت بود، ولی اهمیتی نداشت...»؛ و داستان ترک سیگارش را همچون سفری به دور دنیا، همراه دشواریهای فراوان و چالشهای فرهنگی را شرح و بازگشایی می‌کنند؛ نکته جالب‌ توجه داستان‌های «سداریس»، موقعیتی است که شخصیت اصلی آن، یعنی خود نویسنده، در آن قرار می‌گیرد، و طنز، فکاهی و شوخی، ناخواسته از همین موقعیت است که آفریده می‌شود؛ «سداریس» از سویی دست روی نقاط باریک فرهنگی مردمان کشورها می‌گذارند، و از سوی دیگر خوانشگر هیچگونه بی‌احترامی‌ در طنز او احساس نمی‌کند؛ او خود به‌ عنوان ناظری بیرون از گود می‌نشیند، و با چشم‌هایش، همانند دوربین، ماجرایی را که پیش‌تر برایش رخ داده، برای خوانشگر خویش می‌نویسد؛ ایشان این رویدادهای فرهنگی را استادانه در ذهنشان ثبت می‌کنند، و با اغراق‌ گوییهایی که یکی از مهم‌ترین ویژگی‌های طنز ایشان است، آن را روی کاغذ یا مانیتور می‌آورند؛ ویژگی مهمی که داستان‌های «سداریس» دارند، با وجود اینکه همانند نوشتارهای کوتاهی نگاشته می‌شوند، شخصیت‌های آفریده شده ی ایشان با مهارت ناباورانه ای پردازش و درخشش یافته‌ اند؛ ایشان، در داستان‌های خویش به رویدادهایی که در دوران جوانیش افتاده، یا در زندگی خانوادگی‌، تحصیلات، رودررویی با فرهنگ‌های دیگر کشورهای جهان، مشکلات داخلی آمریکا، روابط انسان‌ها، برخورد آنها با مرگ و ...، نیز می‌پردازند؛ «سداریس»، برای سفرهایش به کشورهای گوناگون جهان و گاهی با سال‌ها زندگی کردن در آن کشورها، مردمان آن کشورها را وارد داستانشان می‌کنند، و خوانشگران را وادار می‌کنند، بدون دانستن پیشینه‌ ای از آن مردمان، و یا پیشینه ی فرهنگیشان، به آنها بخندند

نقل از متن: (وقتی سیگار کشیدن در رستوران های «نیویورک» ممنوع شد، دیگر بیرون از خانه غذا نخوردم؛ وقتی آن را در محل کار ممنوع کردند، کارم را ترک کردم و وقتی قیمت یک پاکت سیگار به هفت دلار افزایش یافت اسباب و اثاثیه ام را جمع کردم و به «فرانسه» رفتم؛ آنجا پیدا کردن سیگار خودم سخت بود ولی اهمیتی نداشت؛ دست کم دوبار در سال به «ایالات متحده» برمیگشتم؛ هر کارتن معاف از مالیات فقط بیست دلار بود، و من پیش از اینکه سوار هواپیما بشوم، پانزده کارتن میخریدم؛ سیگارهایی را هم که دوستانم برای کریسمس یا عید پاک برایم میآوردند به آن اضافه کنید؛ از آنجا که همیشه آمادگی امکان آتش سوزی یا دزدی را داشتم، در بهترین حالت سی و چهار کارتن داشتم، که در سه جای متفاوت تلنبار شده بودند؛ به آنها میگفتم «سیاهه موجودی» و میگفتم «تنها چیزی که بین من و فروپاشی کامل روانی وجود دارد همین سیاهه موجودی است.»)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 01/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Brian.
689 reviews332 followers
January 1, 2020
“How different life looks when people behave themselves.”

"When You are Engulfed in Flames" is a more mature and serious work from Mr. Sedaris. Just like the rest of us, he is growing up. Death, the comfort and security of old relationships, and the humility of age are all thematic elements in this text. However, that is not to say that Sedaris has lost his inimitable sense of style and humor. “Flames” is a seriously funny book, but it has more pages between the laugh out loud antics of some of Sedaris' earlier works.
I am still amazed at how quickly Sedaris can change emotions so completely and perfectly in the same sentence. His essay in this collection "Adult Figures Charging toward a Concrete Toadstool" is an excellent example of this ability. It is a nice piece about art collecting, which ends as a touching tribute to his family.
The essay “Of Mice and Men” seems to acknowledge that we all embellish facts with our own versions of the “truth”. Sedaris is quite good at turning that critical eye on himself, and the rest of us at the same time.
Overall “When You are Engulfed in Flames” is a solid collection. Although the essays vary in quality, none are bad and there is not a miss in the bunch.
Besides being entertaining, Sedaris is a seriously good writer who holds up to critical scrutiny. Enjoy. (You will)
Profile Image for James.
117 reviews48 followers
July 3, 2008

That’s my review: eh.

With maybe a shoulder shrug.

Someone better read than I recently remarked something to the effect of, “Once you’ve read one David Sedaris book, haven’t you read them all?”


And Kurt Vonnegut.

And several others. But that’s neither here nor there.

Sedaris’s recent book makes such a dismissive comment truer than ever. For readers familiar with Holidays on Ice, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and Me Talk Pretty One Day, there is little Funny and Original to enjoy from When You Are Engulfed in Flames. And especially for readers of The New Yorker like myself, where most of the essays in this publication were initially published, there is a lot to be desired.

A few highlights include an explanation for why Sedaris does not believe in God: “Because I have hair on my back, and a lot of other people, people who kill and rob and make life miserable, don’t. A real God wouldn’t let that happen.” And his prediction that, “It’s safe to assume that by 2025, guns will be sold in vending machines, but you won’t be able to smoke anywhere in America.” With the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on D.C’s gun ban, Sedaris’s prescience is foreboding.

But what I found most interesting about When You Are Engulfed in Flames was the About the Author: “David Sedaris’s half-dozen books have been translated into twenty-five languages, including Estonian, Greek, and Bahasa. His essays appear frequently in The New Yorker and are heard on Public Radio International’s This American Life.”

It was the first sentence that intrigued me. There’s a good David Sedaris essay to be had from that line. Did David Sedaris himself write it? If not, but the editor did, why the importance on Estonian, Greek, and Bahasa and not the other 22 languages? Does translation into these three languages indicate a literary achievement of some sort? Is it a big deal for Estonians, Greeks, and Indonesians to be reading David Sedaris? While Microsoft Word’s spell check wants Bahasa to be Bahamas, Bahaman, Batas, Balas, or Banana, Bahasa is in fact spelled correctly. It is the native language of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, and therefore one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. So for David Sedaris to be available in this language is no small feat. Why then Estonian and Greek? And what are the other 22 neglected languages? Why are they less special?
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,449 reviews7,561 followers
April 11, 2014
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

The funniest collection by David Sedaris that I’ve read so far. There just aren’t words to express how happy these books make me. Sedaris is by far my favorite humorist/essayist/columnist/whatever-ist you want to call him. His writing can turn my frown upside down and always leaves me laughing like a lunatic.

My infatuation actually began with another Sedaris – David’s sister Amy. Anyone who looks like this:

But prefers to get paid for looking something like this:

Is someone that I want to hang out with.

When I discovered her brother, I found there was enough love in my heart for multiple Sedaris-es.

Sadly, as much as I love dear David, it will most likely always be from afar. I have a huge phobia that if I meet a famous person I adore, they will end up being an asshat. I find myself each year sitting at the computer, hand hovering over the PayPal button, but always failing to purchase a ticket to one of his book readings/signings. Not only am I fearful David will be a jerk, but that he will also discover I’m a huge nutter. Ours would be quite the ill-fated meet/cute with me screaming things like "why won't you love me????" while he runs away responding something along the lines of "because I'm gay, you crazy bitch, which you should be well aware of since you've been my borderline stalker for years now!" In addition, I would be forced to stand in line with a bunch of strangers mouthbreathing their germy breath on me – or even worse, having the gall to engage in small talk. Just UGH!

My David and I may never meet, but I will continue to stalk love him and shout my praise of his hilarious books from the rooftops.

Sidenote: This was my final selection for the Kansas City Public Library's Winter Reading Challenge. "Stop Me If You've Read This One" was the theme this year and encouraged patrons to read books that might make them laugh. By completing my 5 books, I got a lovely little coffee mug that Mitchell promptly declared as his.

For those curious of my funny book choices for this challenge, they are as follows:

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen
In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks by Adam Carolla
Man Up by Ross Mathews
When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris (duh)
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I figure I'm probably on some Federal watch list anyway, so why not mix it up a bit and let them think there might really be something to be scared of ; )
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,839 followers
March 8, 2016
3.5 or maybe 4 - rounding up because I was entertained. Not my favorite Sedaris. This one seemed to be darker and more serious than the others of his I have read (includes some artsy filler stories). There were some of the usual amusing tales - most of which in this book took place in France or on an airplane. The last 1/3 of the book (or so) was a cross between what it is like to live in Japan and being a smoker from start to finish.

I don't think I would recommend that someone start here if they want to try Sedaris, but if you have read and enjoyed him before, this will be a good one to read.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
386 reviews327 followers
May 29, 2020
When you are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris was a much needed reprieve from a miserable previous book. I was after something to lighten the mood and make me laugh. Well, Sedaris did the trick – I downloaded it onto my Kindle around 10pm, sullen, miserable and crestfallen. Halfway through the first chapter of my new book, I was laughing out loud.

”It was just a Guinea Worm, people get them all the time” Hugh’s (David’s Boyfriend) Mother explained regarding a worm she previously had growing out of her leg when she lived in Africa. Fair to say though, the worm in her son’s leg was a bit shorter. BAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

I just love the relationship David has with Hugh. The descriptions of the arguments are just hilarious. Hugh seems like such a clever fellow – cooks, plumber, handyman, artist. On the other hand David seems like a Woody Allen type, worried, concerned, emotional – it’s a great mix.

David’s father seems constantly unimpressed by his son. For example, when David was looking for external validation when wearing a bow tie, all his father could say was ”A bow tie announces to the world that you can no longer get an erection”. That comment totally caught me by surprise, and my poor dog, sleeping next to me, was woken up again. The essay on the way his parents take up collecting art is very funny indeed.

As a self-confessed Ornithophobe (I love birds but am scared of them, I’ve even been chased by chickens), The author believes birds aren’t as carefree as they’re cracked up to be – he says ”Take the crows that descend each winter on the surrounding fields and pluck the eyes out of newborn lambs. Are they so hard up for a snack that they have to blind an international symbol of youth and innocence, or are they simply evil?”. As someone who has been swooped by Magpies, for no real reason, I take the evil option. But I just love the way he observes and relays his thoughts to the reader. It is very, very funny.

The book is a collection of short essays, and it’s really refreshing to start a new adventure just as you’re ready to move on. The only problem I have with this book is the mammoth last chapter, which is essentially about him giving up smoking. For me this went on way, way too long – and to be frank I didn’t find that part (a big part) all that funny.

This author observes ordinary life brilliantly, just mundane stuff he makes funny. We all know there is humour and absurdity everywhere. The skill is to find it and distill it into words, skillfully enough to make others laugh.

This book did the trick, I love this author – a very funny bloke

4 Stars (rounded down to 3.5 for the long last chapter)
Profile Image for Kon R..
236 reviews102 followers
September 7, 2022
While not Sedaris' most popular work, it's the best one I've listened to so far. Yes, listened. Sedaris reads his own work and it's the equivalent of stand up comedy. I'm not really sure why there's a laugh track during certain sections, but that's a reoccurring theme across the books. It's not as distracting as it may sound.

It's hysterical from start to finish, whether he's talking about getting in trouble for laughing at flatulence at the dinner table as a kid or his relentless love for cigarettes. A lot of what is said can be a bit controversial especially for those that hold political correctness close to their hearts. My favorite example of this is when he brings up the fact that black people were once referred to as soul brothers. Not only a really cool term, but also funny as hell.

This thing screams of wittiness and charm like only David can write it. I was actually a bit sad when it was over. That's just a sign of a good performance. As far as comedic memoirs go, this one is a shining star.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,228 followers
April 23, 2014
When You Are Engulfed in Flames continues David Sedaris' cataloguing of the awkward moments of his life in humorous, memoir-like essays.

Herein are more of his usual daily-life topics: getting to know the neighbors (I.E. the local child molester), his fascination with creepy shit, the annoying people that enter his life, relationship issues (poor Hugh comes in for it in this one!), his pet spider and a mish-mash of other stuff.

Sedaris is very open about his personal issues. He has some OCDs and while it's surely hell to live through, he kindly plucks out the funny bits for our amusement.

The writing is getting a little bit too meta at this point for me. His daily life over the last few years, due to his own fame and fortune, has become less relatable for us commoners. Thus his material that finds him flying about the world, living in Paris and Tokyo, etc., while still humorous, does not hit the same funnybone as his past works.

The regional idiosyncrasies of the travel-related pieces are good for a few laughs, but they just don't elicit the same home-grown guffaws that sprouted naturally from the stories of his middle class American family's upbringing of him and his many siblings.

Still though, I've enjoyed this a couple times and would again.

Rating: 3.5

Recommended: For people that prefer observational humor and would rather steer clear of his highly personal anecdotes. (Trust me, they get even more personal than this!)
June 26, 2021

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I'm doing this project where I'm revisiting books that I really enjoyed during my adolescence. One of my favorite memoirists of my youth was David Sedaris. He was so wickedly funny and I liked how he balanced his cutting observations on society at large with self-effacing humor. After reading ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, I immediately leaped into one of his follow-ups, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES.

WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES follows a very similar formula to Sedaris's other works. Some of the stories are excellent, like the one about his awful baby-sitter from hell, Mrs. Peacock, and his racist neighbor, Helen. Other essays are less compelling, like his fanciful essay on Princeton and family murders and the essay on Japan, where his crowning observations are "all cities in Japan look the same" and "wow, Japanese is hard to learn."

This collection felt a bit "edgier" than ME TALK PRETTY. He uses the R-word, the F-word for gay people, and makes a number of observations that involve slurs. As other reviewers have noted, he's just as harsh on himself as he is on other people, but this is definitely not a PC memoir. Who knows if Sedaris would write it the same way if it were published today?

Overall, I would say that the bulk of these essays are quite humorous but there were way more misses in here than in his earlier works. I would not recommend this one as a starting point.

3.5 to 4 stars
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews111 followers
January 10, 2012
You know, Montambo is right, this is Sedaris' best book. While earlier in his career the author seemed to go for easy laughs (Look at my brother! What an ass!) or convenient self-loathing something seems to have clicked this time around that transforms the work from magazine article quality to literature. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Sedaris sounds like a real writer in this book; the essays flow unforced and genuine insight accompanies the punch lines. Sedaris doesn't seem to be writing for performance here as much as writing for the page; that's a welcome change, in my eyes. I enjoyed When You Are Engulfed in Flames and heck, I'd read it again.
Profile Image for Julie G .
884 reviews2,755 followers
September 17, 2013
This collection of personal essays is not for everyone. My grandmother, who died three years ago at the age of 87, would've been hospitalized by the third chapter. My 70-year-old father, who is alive and kicking, wouldn't crack the cover.

That's okay. I get it. The musings of a white, gay, affluent male with an extensive drug past aren't for everyone.

But, I couldn't stop laughing. To be specific, I chuckled, I chortled, I giggled, I guffawed. I tittered behind my hand, I fell forward with deep belly roars. It's the most exercise I've had in months.

Somehow, David Sedaris and I share the same parents. Well, almost. And, his parents apparently used the same parenting guide book that my parents used. . . as in, don't get involved, don't stop the children from beating one another until they arrive at the emergency room, don't ask questions. It's not necessarily funny as you're living it, but it's funny reading it in this book.

His essay "The Understudy," about the house-sitter who comes to stay with the six kids for the week had me laughing almost uncontrollably. I read and re-read particular paragraphs to my husband and my teenaged son, who could not even imagine these people.

I also loved "The Smoking Section," where Sedaris makes it clear that he did not become a smoker because of peer pressure at school, low self esteem, ads, or depression. He became a smoker because he loved smoking. How refreshing!

Despite an abundance of potty language and some sexual descriptions I could have lived without, I responded, almost immediately, to his honesty and humor and look forward to reading more.
Profile Image for Antigone.
500 reviews741 followers
August 29, 2019
I find humor particularly difficult to review. Even if I like a work, what sparks my smile may leave you cold. So much depends upon a shared sensibility - which is, in actuality, the bedrock of the craft.

The art of comedy lies, for the most part, in guiding a mind to merge with yours for a moment to rejoice in the ridiculousness of reality. It's not enough to know what's funny, not if you plan to take this act on the road. Because as much as an audience may want - or even need - to get the joke, it's still up to the comedian to build the bridge to deliver it. And that means maintaining a fairly accurate fix on the current cultural zeitgeist. Which is some days east, some days west, and some days smack in the center of Weehawken, New Jersey.

The bridges built by David Sedaris in Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day spanned those waters for me. This one not so much. And I think the reason just might be that, at some point in the interim there, my sensibility moved. It packed a bag and hit the road, pulling up stakes for a different locale. So it's entirely possible this is not on him. Or me. But Life.

Which happens. (And, like humor, is particularly difficult to review.)

Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,564 reviews2,312 followers
March 20, 2019
When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris and narrated by author is a book I picked up from the library. I enjoyed this book so much! The first story had me laughing so much!!! He has a way of telling a basic story but making it extraordinary and either heartwarming, thought provoking, or hilarious! I could relate to many of his characters! I think I have seem them all he listed. Love his books!
Profile Image for Calista.
3,884 reviews31.2k followers
September 19, 2019
David totally brought the funny in some of these stories, but overall, this was not my favorite collection of his. I list all the stories at the end.

The Understudy had me in stitches. Oh, so funny. Town and Country was pretty funny. Oh, In the Waiting room had me rolling. I almost had to pull over for that one. Solution's to Saturdays puzzle had me laughing uncontrollably also.

So there are some gems in this book. It was well worth reading. I felt like the last story about Japan and him wanting to quit smoking was long and smokers would appreciate it more than a non-smoker.

Still, a 3 star for David Sedaris is a funny book. When comparing it to his own work, I have other favorites. Yet, the stories I mentioned above, I would listen to those anytime. They are some deep belly laugh stories.


It's Catching - A work on Hugh and his mom
Keeping Up - David trying to keep up with Hugh, who walks too fast
The Understudy - Memories of a bad white trash babysitter.
This Old House - David moves into a boarding house.
Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie? - David's recollections on various bad clothes and "accessories"
Road Trips - Being picked up by a driver who wants a blow job.
What I Learned - Talking about Princeton
That's Amore - A rude neighbor named Helen
The Monster Mash - David's fascination with corpses.
In the Waiting Room - Language barriers and the consequences
Solution to Saturday's Puzzle - David's throat lozenge falls onto a bitchy airplane seatmate
Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool - His parents collecting art
Memento Mori - Buying a skeleton for Hugh
All the Beauty You Will Ever Need - Making coffee without water and his relationship with Hugh
Town and Country - A cabbie in New York who talks about his sex life
Aerial - Using album covers to scare away birds
The Man in the Hut - A neighbor in France who was sent to prison for molesting his wife's grandchildren
Of Mice and Men - About icebreaker conversations
April in Paris - About interacting with animals and David's recollections of a spider
Crybaby - David sits next to a grieving man on a plane.
Old Faithful - Hugh lances a boil on David's backside
The Smoking Section - David tries to stop smoking in Japan
Profile Image for Anne .
443 reviews361 followers
April 28, 2020
In my binge listening to Sedaris lately, looking for laughs and something to lighten my day I didn't find this selection of essays as humorous as the 3 previous books. I even went through it a second time to be sure. There were definitely some funny moments and some chuckles to be had and the trademark Sedaris take on people and awkward situations. But there were more than the usual number of characters in this selection that were acerbic and unlikable and some of the essays just fell flat for me. I must blame myself entirely in terms of my high expectations and need for escapist fun during these trying times because Sedaris isn't only about escapist fun. So if you are a Sedaris fan you may want to ignore everything you just read and give this one a try.
Profile Image for V. Briceland.
Author 5 books65 followers
October 14, 2016
Dear Mr. Sedaris,

First off, I understand that you live in France. With your boyfriend. In France. Where they speak French, because it's France. Thank you for reminding me you live in France, with your boyfriend, where they speak French, with funny French accents, and funny funny French words, with their French ways, every ten to twelve pages. Else I might have forgotten you live in . . . wait, where was it again?

No, seriously, I'm glad you have an army of NPR-head fans to squirm with delight at your every little bon mot. it must be pretty gratifying. As a former fan, however, I'm a little distressed at the direction you've been moving over the last several years, especially in this volume.

I understand that your legions of fans love it when you collect eccentrics like some eBay addicts collect Precious Moments figurines. It seems to me, however, that even as you celebrate the grotesque in every essay, you seem less in touch with the real, the good, and the positive.

If it doesn't belong in a freak show, the material seemingly doesn't belong in your book. For example, it seems as if you have a (very patient) boyfriend who cares for you, but you show precious little evidence of returning the affection as in your essays you toss aside the flowers he buys you, mock his musical enthusiasms, and generally diminish his role in your life. You recoil with horror when a friendly cabbie offers to help you find companionship in a strange city, but you lovingly recall for several long pages the memory of looking at photos with your sister of a woman copulating with a horse.

Oh, I'm all for celebrating oddities. Good for you. The mainstream gets enough attention. The fussy, grandmotherly way in which you gather them to your sides and cultivate them, however, lately borders less on comedy or insightful reporting, and more toward outright pathology. It seems a shame, as I know you're a much more capable writer than your adoring fans want you to be.

--A friend

P.S. We suffered for too many years with your funny French lessons. Please, please, don't do the same with Japanese.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,894 reviews1,927 followers
May 23, 2023
Real Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: It's early autumn 1964. Two straight-A students head off to school, and when only one of them returns home Chesney Yelverton is coaxed from retirement and assigned to what proves to be the most difficult and deadly - case of his career. From the shining notorious East Side, When You Are Engulfed in Flames confirms once again that David Sedaris is a master of mystery and suspense.

Or how about...

when set on fire, most of us either fumble for our wallets or waste valuable time feeling sorry for ourselves. David Sedaris has studied this phenomenon, and his resulting insights may very well save your life. Author of the national bestsellers Should You Be Attacked By Snakes and If You Are Surrounded by Mean Ghosts, David Sedaris, with When You Are Engulfed in Flames, is clearly at the top of his game.

Oh, all right...

David Sedaris has written yet another book of essays (his sixth). Subjects include a parasitic worm that once lived in his mother-in-law's leg, an encounter with a dingo, and the recreational use of an external catheter. Also recounted is the buying of a human skeleton and the author's attempt to quit smoking In Tokyo.

Master of nothing, at the dead center of his game, Sedaris proves that when you play with matches, you sometimes light the whole pack on fire.


My Review
: Very funny guy writes more very funny observational comedy essays. If you like him, you'll love it; if you are irritated and annoyed by his shtik, you won't. Never read his stuff? Start anywhere. They're all much of a muchness.
Profile Image for Brian.
37 reviews6 followers
June 6, 2008
After reading Sedaris' previous collection, I began to suspect that he had mined all of the material he could from his family and the earlier hard times he experienced. It appeared he was now left with the task of finding hilarity and poignancy in the life of a rich, celebrated author. "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" confirms that his days of dressing as an elf, picking apples, and hitch-hiking cross country with an incomplete quadriplegic are long gone. In their place we are left with essays about catching flies, cantankerous car service drivers, and foul-mouthed airline passengers (two essays on this topic in fact).

This would be a real problem if they weren't entertaining (most are), but they lack the quality of desperation that so fueled his earlier work. Add to that the author's note at the beginning of the book: "The events described in these stories are realish. Certain characters have fictitious names and identifying characteristics," along with a recent article from The New Republic revealing him as a serial exaggerator, and I'm left with the impression that his best work is behind him. I hope he proves me wrong.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,469 reviews565 followers
September 11, 2022
Classic Sedaris - I wouldn't call this collection completely hilarious - but the essays are sharp edged and engaging with many laugh-out-loud moments. The perfect escape for me.
Profile Image for Kelli.
850 reviews395 followers
November 10, 2020
Honestly, why even write a review of anything by David Sedaris? I'm pretty sure this book was published twelve years ago or more, and I know for a fact that it is sitting on my bookshelves in the next room, but the only way to really submerge yourself here is the audio version read by the author. There simply is no better way. I have listened to and loved Me Talk Pretty One Day, Naked, Calypso, and now this one. Holidays on Ice did nothing for me but the other four were comedy gold.

Thank you David Sedaris for making me laugh during this pandemic isolation. I hope you are writing about it for your next book. 4 stars
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,288 reviews96 followers
June 19, 2021
A reread sparked by my dear Meg! I think this is the only Sedaris I hadn’t read multiple times 🤔 - that is, aside from Squirrel Meets Chipmunk which was a bit of a fiasco, IMO. As always, his personal essays are the right mix of wit, dark humor, and self deprecation. Absolutely one of my top authors! And van Gogh’s “Skull with Burning Cigarette” is a favorite painting AND book cover.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,137 reviews8,150 followers
January 29, 2016
The reasons that this didn't get a 1 star from me are because 1.) I didn't actively dislike anything about it, I just found it boring and 2.) David Sedaris' narration is great. Actually, his narrating is probably one of the only things I did like about this book.

As an avid listener of NPR's This American Life, I have, from time to time, heard stories from David Sedaris and found them highly enjoyable. So enjoyable, in fact, that I've been driving to work almost in tears from laughter. What I expected from this collection was that. And that is not what I got. Perhaps it was my own false assumption, but these stories were neither funny, nor memorable. If I hadn't listened to the audiobook on my hour-long commute to and from work this week and instead had chosen to read the stories, I probably would've given up after the first few. But Sedaris' companionship during my drive kept me optimistic, hoping that the next story would be better than the last. In the end though, I didn't really love any of them.

I will, however, check out another Sedaris audiobook because 1.) his narration really is great and 2.) I've heard much better things about his other collections.
Profile Image for Nusrah Javed.
263 reviews51 followers
August 10, 2019
Every night before I went to bed, I would read an essay from this collection. The longer ones would take me more than one night, even three sometimes. Every single night though, exhausted from the day of taking care of a 4 month old, work and general adulting, I would go to sleep with a smile on my face. Sedaris's words kept pulling me back from a breakdown so many times; from unbearable exhaustion to a month full of house guests. One particular night I started laughing out loud at one of his essays and my husband was convinced that I had gone hysterical.
These essays were hilarious, yet so poignant. I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. If you have not tried Sedaris yet, I recommend you start here and Not Me Talk Pretty One Day.

I have already bought 4 other essays collections by Sedaris and have them handy in case I need to be saved again.
Profile Image for Shannon.
547 reviews97 followers
February 9, 2009
I don't quite get the people who say this isn't as funny as his other books- I thought it was plenty funny. The comment about having a 400 dollar sweater that looked like it had been thrown to a tiger and thus was already ruined and incapable of being further ruined.. that made me laugh. And saying a cracker tasted like penis. And lots of little one-liners. But what's really awesome about his stuff is that it's MORE than just a bunch of one-liners. He really is a very observant, intelligent, hilarious writer. I think.

Admittedly a few times he seemed to kind of go.. off track, and there were all these little asides that didn't seem to be related to the main theme, or whatever. So, I guess, some of the essays were a bit less cohesive than usual. But, he can pull it off. I could listen to him ramble about anything.

Also I LOVE his descriptions of his relationship with Hugh. It's so awesome that he can complain so much about his partner and yet do so in a way that indicates clearly that he is deeply in love with him. It's adorable.

Oh, and speaking of adorable. I listened to the audio-book version of this, too. If you haven't heard Sedaris read his work, you're missing out. He's excellent..

Also: Because I'm a spaz for Chip Kidd I have to say this: he designed the cover ISN'T IT AWESOME? I think it's really apt for this book, because, besides several literal references to skeletons and smoking in this book.. I think it captures the overall mood.. there is a lot of reference to death, but it's all relatively lighthearted and humorous.. as is an image of a skeleton smoking a cigarette. Kind of awesomely dark and a bit morbid, I think.

Profile Image for brian tanabe.
387 reviews27 followers
July 15, 2008
When I first saw this in a bookstore I thought to myself, can he do it again? Is there more scrapable hilarity clinging to the walls of his interesting life, fit to amuse and entertain his many fans? Sedaris does in fact do it again and apparently there's an endless well of funny stuffy, a font of hilarity, within this man.

This is another great collection, on par with his other works for all the Sedaris fans out there. There is one story in particular (“That's Amore”) -- or rather a character in this story -- I would love to see him write a full length piece on. Helen is too good (or bad) to be true. As with city rats, Sedaris likens her to the “type of creature [he] expected to find living in New York.”

When apartment shopping in New York it was Hugh (Sedaris’ partner) who runs into the 70-something year old first, “[nodding] hello and as he turned to leave, she pointed to some bags lying at her feet.
“'Carry my groceries upstairs.' She sounded like a man, or, rather, a hit man, her voice coarse and low, like heavy footsteps on gravel.
“'Now?' Hugh asked.
“She said, 'What? You got something better to do?'”

As with his other collections Sedaris has a very matter of fact method for transferring his hilarious life musings to the page. And I love of his use of the word “faggoty.” Two thumbs up for anyone looking for something light and a must-read for Sedaris fans.
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