Skip to content

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

July 10, 2008

It’s late, and I haven’t got much to say, but it’s been five days since I posted, and that’s just no good.

I can say that we’re getting a puppy, who will be named Pilot after a character on Farscape. And other than that…I’m just starting to get the hang of this post-graduate life, feel as though I’ve found my equilibrium again. Granted, I’m not working 9 to 5 hours, and still living back at home so that it feels more like summer vacation than the rest of my life, but I’m relatively grounded.

Weeks ago, before I left for Boston, I bought When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I’m not very good at keeping track of new releases by my favorite authors, I don’t refresh their publishers’ websites every day, and I think I like it that way, because then when I stumble across a new book, it’s a pleasant surprise, rather than the agonizing anticipation that comes from knowing the release date months in advance.

Though I had planned to keep it for the plane ride, I caved and started reading it right away. I stopped at the last story, “The Smoking Section,” since it was very long, and I wanted to savor it. Thank goodness I didn’t take it on the plane, or it would have gone the way of the other books I ordered off the internet. I love David Sedaris. I was very lucky to be in Riverside when he came to do a talk and signing at UCR. He signed my copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, “We’ll always have Hogwarts,” after noticing the SPEW button on my bag and asking me what I’d be doing for the release of Book 7.

At that particular reading, he read a story that I fell in love with. I went home and searched for it online without any success. He said it was a New Yorker piece, but there was no sign of it. It wasn’t in any of his books. (Curiously, an abbreviated version of the story is on the New Yorker website, but the full version is so much better.)

So when this new collection came out, I had my fingers crossed. Only problem was, I couldn’t remember the title of the story (which might explain why I had trouble finding it online.) Fortunately, “Keeping Up” is the second story in the new book – unfortunately, David Sedaris was in Los Angeles when I was in Boston, and vice versa. C’est la vie. The story was almost as good as I remembered it – all of his stories are better when he reads them, which is why I love his audiobooks.

Anyway, I finally got around to finishing up “The Smoking Section” tonight so I could type up this impromptu little book review. The more I learn about ‘creative nonfiction,’ the more I analyze his work. Where I used to be simply entertained by his humor, now I can’t help wondering, ‘How much of this actually happened?’ He seems to live a very absurd life, and yet, somehow, I believe that David Sedaris is just a very absurd person. What continues to amaze me, as I struggle to try it myself, is how effortless it seems for him to write these amazing anecdotes. He has what I like to think of as a ‘jelly donut’ method: taking one event, and wrapping it around another. Book-ending it, I suppose.

In the case of “Keeping Up,” the main story would be about his boyfriend Hugh’s apparent attempts to ditch him when they’re on vacation, but he ties it into the tale of his search for dingoes, as well as eavesdropping on conversations had by tourists on his street in Paris. My favorite part (aside from the reaction to finally seeing a dingo) would probably be the end, where it turns into an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie-esque lesson. The whole piece seems so effortless, where I’m sure it’s not. I can’t help envying that.

What I admire most about David Sedaris is how honest he is about himself. And I don’t mean that in the sense that every single word he writes is carved in stone, but that he doesn’t try to paint himself in a flattering light. In fact, sometimes it seems like he does the opposite. I wish I had that kind of bravery. Take it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m working on it.

In every short story or essay collection there’s one or two that stand out, and aside from “Keeping Up,” I’ll probably remember “Aerial” the best, if only because of my bird phobia, and the idea of being bombarded by birds at every window, until all the windows are blocked by faces of seventies rock musicians or terrorists just haunts me.

Quote of the Day:

“Most of Hugh’s and my travel arguments have to do with pace. I’m a fast walker, but he has longer legs and likes to maintain a good twenty foot lead. To the casual observer, he would appear to be running from me, darting around corners, intentionally trying to lose himself.” – David Sedaris, author When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Link of the Day: Various stories by David Sedaris on NPR

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: