Monday, July 1, 2013

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio book) by David Sedaris, read by the author

When You Are Engulfed in Flames is like all of the other books by David Sedaris I've read/listened to – a series of humorous moments from his life (probably written with a good dose of artistic license). As tends to happen when I listen to audiobooks, I can't remember everything about this particular book, but I'm pretty sure I liked the stories in the second half better than the first.

For me, David Sedaris is at his best when he's writing about being in another country. I absolutely loved the “d'accord” tracks, in which he describes a period early on in his French-learning days, when he decided to respond to everything said to him with “d'accord,” or “I agree.” I also loved the long portion, at the end of the book, describing his efforts to simultaneously quit smoking and learn Japanese while in Japan, a country I don't think he'd ever visited before. This section of the book also demonstrated another thing Sedaris is good at, which is balancing humor and tragedy – his description of his visit to an atomic bomb museum (sorry, I can't remember if he was in Nagasaki or Hiroshima) was chilling and was left completely devoid of any attempts at humor.

This is not an audiobook to listen to if you are sensitive to swear words. Swearing is integral to a couple very funny parts of the book. My favorite of those involved Sedaris and a taxi driver who spent the whole ride talking about his own and Sedaris' sexual habits and preferences. Sedaris can come across as being very conceited, so another thing I loved about this particular part of the book is that it showed Sedaris taking himself down a peg – the line at the very end, after he visited with his sister, was wonderful.

Parts of the book are read by Sedaris in a studio, while other parts are performed in front of an audience. I liked him best when he was performing, rather than reading – I enjoyed how he reacted to the audience.

Probably my least favorite part of the book was the bit that research tells me was a commencement speech he gave at Princeton. Sedaris' humor is sometimes a little too over-the-top for me, and this was one of those times. I can't remember the wording, but he basically talked about his own college days like so: “Back when I was a kid, dinosaurs ruled the earth and we made our own toys out of sticks and rocks.”

All in all, this made for some great work-time listening, although the language in some parts meant that I'd have had to switch to headphones if I hadn't had an office with a door.

Read-alikes:
  • Running with Scissors: A Memoir (book) by Augusten Burroughs - I haven't read anything by this author, but his sense of humor and strange (and probably embellished, or at least exaggerated) childhood seems similar to Sedaris' - warped and strange.
  • I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (non-fiction book) by Amy Sedaris - For those who are curious about the kind of insane hilarity other members of David Sedaris' family might be capable of, this book might be a good fit.  It's a humorous guide to entertaining, with a few helpful tips mixed in here and there. I think Amy was the sister Sedaris visited after dealing with the taxi driver who only wanted to talk about sex.
  • Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence (book) by Paul Feig - I haven't personally read this one, although it sounds like a great fit for anyone who enjoyed Sedaris' tales of his childhood and his tendency to stretch the truth a bit (one would hope, at least) for comedic effect.  Feig's years in school were apparently horrible, embarrassing, and hilarious to read about.  I think I'll have to put Feig on my TBR list.

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