Book Review: When You Are Engulfed In Flames

(Review written for The American Book Center)

There are not many writers who I enjoy hearing as much as I enjoy reading them. While seated at a reading, my mind will generally start to wander and I will get annoyed with myself for missing part of what is being said. Or I will get annoyed with the author for not matching the narrative voice I heard in my mind when I read his/her book. But I did not have either of these problems with David Sedaris when he visited Amsterdam a couple of years go, to promote his book Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I had already gotten hooked on in his audio-books a while before meeting him in person at the ABC (The American Book Center) organised event. His voice had preceded him on CD and Live it did not disappoint. There is a dry, wry wit in all his writing that comes across as amplified when read aloud by Sedaris with his typical laconic, laid-back delivery. Sedaris’ new book has just arrived in our store: When You Are Engulfed In Flames. While I read it, Sedaris’ voice whispered into my ear, giving me a private reading. Soon I will have to look up his audio-book version.

For those who don’t know: Sedaris’ oeuvre consists of semi-autobiographical short stories. They are ‘semi’ because he cheerfully admits to fudging some of the facts under creative license, to make for a better tale. The smoking skeleton on the cover is a mash-up of two of the stories from the book. In one a skeleton he bought for his boyfriend Hugh keeps telling him that he is going to die, in another he gives up smoking. Those of you who have read previous books by Sedaris – until recently frequently spotted amidst large clouds of bluish smoke – just gasped at that last bit of information. This story is by far the longest one and also the last one. I won’t spoil the details, but it leads him to Tokyo and to the title of the book. The Sedaris family is on the back-burner this time around and more time is spent in France, where Sedaris now lives with Hugh. If you were curious about the writer’s present as well as his past, this curiosity will be at least partly satisfied.

Apart from the slight shift in attention, not much has changed in regards to the style and structure of the stories. If you loved previous Sedaris books, you will love this one as well. If you didn’t, you won’t. And if you’ve never read Sedaris, then what are you waiting for: come and get some at the ABC!

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