May 23, 2011

Book 4 of 12: When You Are Engulfed in Flames

For book 4 I somewhat cheated. Those of you with a disgustingly good memory may recall that I wanted to read 12 books this year that I already own but have never read. Well, my spare time being what it is, (fictional) I found time to listen to a book on CD. Since I don't own any books on CD, I listened to this from the library.

I first heard of David Sedaris (the author) in my Creative Writing class. He wrote what became my favorite reading assignment of the semester, the short story "What I Learned," a surreal retelling of his college experience, and quite possibly one of the best and funniest short stories I've read.

While at the library I hunted for some books on CD that I wouldn't hate listening to, such as the last book in the Belgariad that I could finally finish and stop lying about having read them all. Another was a set of short stories/tales written and told by the incomparable Garrison Keillor, someone I grew fond of after serving a 2 year (mostly) honorable mission in Minnesota. In the vicinity of Garrison Keillor I noticed quite a few comedy CDs being passed off as books, as well as other books on CD being passed off as comedy. Among this collection was a familiar name, David Sedaris. Hey, I thought. He's that guy that wrote that story I read that one time, that was funny. I should check it out. So I did and on my way to and from work and school for the last 2 or so weeks I've been among David's captive audience. His writing (and reading, Sedaris reads his own stories) is at once dry and witty and bawdy toilet humor. Self-deprecating to a fault, he manages to be dislikable and lovable, distant and relatable all at once. Now that I sound sufficiently like the back of a book jacket, let me try to sound like myself. David Sedaris is one of the best storytellers I've had the pleasure of listening to. When You Are Engulfed in Flames is a collection of 22 short stories mostly regarding one aspect or another of the author's life. He tells stories about (I won't list all 22, just the 13 or so I found particularly entertaining): a family member who once had a parasitic worm, trying to catch up with his taller walking companion, memories of a hilariously bad babysitter, talking about Princeton (my favorite), a rude neighbor who became a friend, buying a skeleton for his significant other, accidentally being stuck in a waiting room without clothes because he doesn't speak French (it makes (more) sense in context,) accidentally coughing a cough drop into the lap of a sleeping airplane seatmate, his parent's art collection, using album LPs as shields from kamikaze French birds, having a boil lanced from his backside (the title is "Old Faithful,") and moving to Japan on Jon Stewart's recommendation in order to quit smoking.

I would recommend them all except maybe 2, (neither of those are listed above), one story I wouldn't recommend because of it's graphic nature (though I wouldn't necessarily blame the author as it's about his encounter with disgusting people and why I would never hitchhike) and the other I wouldn't recommend just because I tried listening to it about 4 times and couldn't stay focused on it enough to know whether or not it was any good.

But, for what it is, namely recollections and short stories told from a selfish but self-deprecatingly lovable narrator, I can't think of a better read. It doesn't have many hilarious quotes, just because that's not his writing style. His jokes are subtler and more drawn out than a string of quotable one liners, but it makes for a richer reading (or in my case, listening) experience. 4 out of 4 stars. 5 out of 5, whatever my rating system is.

6 comments:

Ross & Amanda Goodman- but mostly Amanda :) said...

I am a firm believer in audio books. We live in the middle of nowhere and have a 20 minute drive to even the grocery store, so I have been reliving old childhood favorites (since my kids generally drive with me) and I love it. Patrick Stewart reads The Last Battle. Fantastic! I plan on suggesting a David Sedaris book for our next book club meeting. Is any of this pertinent to your post? I have been commenting longer than it took me to read the post... Must be a lonely morning of a stay at home mom. . .

Jacob I. McMillan said...

I always get this guy mixed up with the one who wrote Running With Scissors. His name is Austen. I never read that book but the movie was pretty bad. They probably don't have much in common with each other except that they're both memoirists.

I probably have read something by this guy, though, but I can't remember whether it was Me Talk Pretty One Day or something else.

Word verification: mismstfu. As in I wish mism would stfu.

Mark Beckstrom said...

You know I love audio books - I don't count it as cheating at all - in fact, I try and tell myself that I am multi-tasking (listening while driving)

Enjoy.

mostlyprobably said...

I found your blog from Amanda's and felt inspired to click on your link. Sorry for stalking. But I realize that the reason for the inspiration was this post.

David Sedaris is my freaking idol. Read "Me Talk Pretty One Day" for the best of David Sedaris's sarcasm.

mostlyprobably said...

And the only way that I would ever listen to a David Sedaris audio book is if he was reading it himself, so good work on that one. He spoke at Capitol Theater last year and he is the best storyteller ever.

Austin said...

No apology necessary, a stalker is always welcome and quite flattering (in the blogosphere/bloggernacle, that is. Stay out of my bushes!)

I quite enjoyed it and liked Sedaris' voice, though my wife did not.

I echo that any book on tape or CD should be read by the author, or Jim Dale.

Thanks for stalking and hope you continue. ;)