When reading, I tend to avoid reading books by male gay writers because their stories, in one fashion or another, always end up at the same place: the local bathhouse, the bedroom or the local cruising joint. Invariably as well, in gay-writing, there’s always a fellatio scene; it usually occurs in a public place too, in the bathroom more often than not, at the Mall. David Sedaris, I’m pleased to note, rose above these tedious gay themes in When You Are Engulfed In Flames, but just barely.
(Picture of David Sedaris)
When You Are Engulfed In Flames, a series of autobiographical essays by Sedaris, annoyed me at first, but the book turned out to be quite funny and rather good.
The book annoyed because there is something slightly elitist about Sedaris but, maybe, I just feel less privileged than Sedaris and therefore envious(?). As well, sometimes I found instances, here and there, of very (VERY!) pale tones of passive, totally unintentional, racism. Despite the fact that Sedaris smoked Kools himself, the phrase (in the story The Smoking Section) “Kools and Newports were for black people and lower-class whites” is on the surface amusing, but in truth it’s rather judgmental and hurtful, I think. That being said, I’ll be the first to say: maybe I’m taking the phrase too seriously; but, there is a pattern of similiar-like sentiments (lightly peppered through out the book).
(Book cover of When You Are Engulfed In Flames)
The book is a loaner, which is a rare type of book for me because I tend to mark my (own) books with written thoughts, underlines and highlights. I couldn’t do this with this book, as much as I wanted to, because it was a loaner and therefore not mine.
Initially, I wasn’t going to take the book, despite the recommendation and offer from a friend and colleague, but I noticed someone reading the book on the bus one day and for me this was coincidence enough to take up the offer and borrow the book.
There are some essays (stories) in When You Are Engulfed In Flames that stick out above the others, which I note below:
If I recall correctly, there’s a worm in this story.
I don’t remember a thing about this story, unfortunately.
This story marked a turning point for me. After reading this story I couldn’t wait to read the next one. The Understudy is about a baby sitter and it reminded of the children’s book Miss Nelson is Missing! which is about a substitute teacher. The kids in Miss Nelson is Missing! learn to appreciate their regular teacher by the end of the book. A similar moral lesson doesn’t occur in The Understudy.
(Picture of the children's book Miss Nelson is Missing! by James Marshall)
This Old House
This story reminded of Quentin Crisp for some reason. I wonder what Sedaris would think?
(Picture of Quentin Crisp)
Buddy, Can You Spare a Tie?
This story is about fashion faux pas like, for instance, “The Feminine Mistake," which, I'm embarrassed to say, I'm familiar with.
Road Trips falls under the category of tedious gay theme.
What I Learned
I forget what Sedaris learned in this story.
I love That’s Amore. This story is about a grumpy old woman next door, whom Sedaris, accidentally, unintentionally, innocently, fortuitously, inadvertently kills.
The Monster Mash
Death comes in many forms, even a grape, so be happy!
In the Waiting Room
A story like this one is why Sedaris is so popular (and rich).
Solution to Saturday’s Puzzle
I hope this story is absolutely true because it’s about being in very odd and uncomfortable situations, which are always humorous, but only in hindsight.
Adult Figures Charging Toward Concrete Toadstool
I have Sorel Boots, given to me by my mother, which I hate because they are a size (or two) too big but I know, like all mother’s know, after she’s gone (which won’t be for years yet), the Boots will become a cherished item like the concrete toadstool in Adult Figures Charging Toward Concrete Toadstool.
This story is about a skeleton; therefore, logically, in the world of Sedaris, it is also about death.
All the Beauty You Will Ever Need
I’m sure it’s a good story, but I forget the details of this story.
Town and Country
There’s lots of swearing in this story and some pornography.
This story is Sedaris’ version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
(Scene from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds)
The Man in the Hut
Similar to the grumpy old woman next door story noted above (in That’s Amore), this story is about the male child molester next door.
Of Mice and Men
This story is about stories and bad luck.
April in Paris
April in Paris is about camels and spiders; the camel part is funny and the spider part is tragic.
Empathy and sympathy are good human qualities that we, as human beings, should all endeavour to achieve--having said that, the one thing worse than a crying baby on a plane (and on the bus) is a crying man.
Teenagers pop zits; middle aged men pop boils. This story is about middle age men (man).
The Smoking Section
This story is about quitting smoking, in Japan. This story is notable because it has the worse line in the whole text (on page 298): “I can’t make out the list of ingredients, but they taste vaguely of penis.”
When You Are Engulfed In Flames was published in 2008.
(Book cover of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary)
Sedaris’ latest book is called Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary, and was published in 2010. It’s a series of animal related stories and sounds, I have to confess, rather unappealing. I don’t know if I’ll read it yet, but if I have a Sedaris coincidence, of any sort, maybe I will consider putting the book on my reading list.