Public Relations · Writing

David Sedaris: When You Are Engulfed in Flames

When You Are Engulfed in Flames
When You Are Engulfed in Flames

I discovered David Sedaris while feeling really bad for myself in an airport in Columbus, Ohio. I’d just attended my little brother’s college graduation, so I felt old. I’d just had a Bloody Mary at the Ohio State Buckeye café, and since I’m a Michigan fan, I felt guilty about it. I’d finished the newest edition of Cosmopolitan (don’t judge me) on the flight to Ohio two days prior, so I had nothing to do but sit around and wallow in my hang-over.

Then, I’d spotted the books in the back of the airport gift shop. Since I was feeling bad about myself, I browsed the James Patterson/Harlan Coben mystery thrillers first. I thought, well, at least I’m not being murdered…although that may have been better than the cheap beer headache. Next, I moved onto the biography section. There was that new one by Michael J. Fox. Something about being an optimist. Since I’m not an optimist, I thought buying this book would be almost as out of character as me (Michigan) and my Bloody Mary (Ohio State). Finally, there it was—a black and white cover of a skeleton smoking a cigarette. I pounced. Yes, this would be my book of choice. Yes, this felt like home.

For those of you who already know David Sedaris, you know I purchased his newest book that day in the airport—a collection of short essays, entitled When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I’m a big fan of short stories. I first fell in love with ‘em when I read Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual what seems like a million years ago.

After reading King’s collection, I did one of my own, called “Come to Happyland.” I wrote that collection two years ago, but I never tried to get it published. It was twelve stories, written in three months, thanks to inspiration from a bad breakup and an even worse rebound. In this way, many of my short stories feel more like personal essays than fiction. My nearest and dearest know that eventually, everyone in my life ends up in something I write. (My ex-boyfriends have unfortunately learned this, as well.) Perhaps this is why I’ve started a love affair with David Sedaris. I’ve found the accomplished, adult, gay male version of myself, and I can’t wait to devour the rest of his work.

The way I feel about David Sedaris is the same way I feel about Chuck Palahniuk, only Sedaris is better with sentence structure and is not so much of a pompous a-hole. This isn’t to say I don’t like Palahniuk. I DO like Palahniuk. I just realize who he is and how he writes. Sedaris is the softer version. Sedaris is the version to which I can relate.

Over the course of Flames, you’ll come to know Sedaris—the somewhat reclusive, nice guy with a derisive devil on his back. You’ll come to know Hugh, his fast-walking, levelheaded companion. You’ll travel to Japan as Sedaris struggles to give up cigarettes, and then, you’ll go to France, where Sedaris befriends a hungry spider on his windowsill. Warning: You will laugh in public, so if you refrain from embarrassing public displays of giggles, do not read David Sedaris in public. Read him in the comfort of your own home, where squirting Bloody Mary out your nose will not make the foreigners behind you at the airport turn and stare.

It’s not just that he’s funny. It’s that he’s honest. He pulls no punches. His work is self-deprecating and cruel, but he doesn’t make you, the reader, feel bad about any of it. His prose feels like a shrug of the shoulders. Like he’s saying, “Hey, I’m just being HONEST. You can’t get mad.” And you don’t. You love him for it. If I could hypnotize you and make you go buy When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I would do it. It’s a well-organized, well-rounded collection of essays that make you want to write your own essays. So GO. GO BUY IT NOW! Or just go meet David Sedaris at his website:

Speaking of websites, I just started a “Self-Promotion or Death” Tip of the Week for Feathered Quill Book Reviews. Go learn some stuff: If you have questions/concerns, leave me a note at Feathered Quill or send me an email:

And a quick teaser: I’m doing a month-long series for ForeWord Magazine’s Publishing Insider: It’s all about blog tips this time, entitled “We Be Bloggin’ with Sara Dobie.” The first column goes live tomorrow, and I’ll throw up a link once it’s posted.

So. Why are you still sitting there? Go read some Sedaris.

One thought on “David Sedaris: When You Are Engulfed in Flames

  1. We have been addicted to sedaris for several books now and have found another beauty of them: excellent repeat reading value. His stuff works well on audio too, perhaps because he has such a non-threatening voice.

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