The unforgivably corny title of this article is inspired by this anthology of essays written by a humorist (I do not know if it is appropriate to call him this way) and radio jockey David Sedaris.
I was at National Bookstore in Robinsons Pioneer when I chanced upon this oddly titled book When You are Engulfed in Flame and its equally enigmatic cover of the painting Skull With Cigarette (1885) by Van Gogh. The book that went beyond my ceiling for paperback by an author I’ve never heard before is rather pricey. It’s worth mentioning that I did not feel bad when I gave the cashier 400 pesos. So far I’ve never felt bugged by my conscience whenever I buy books not as much as when I buy new shoes or splurge on gourmet food.
The essays contained in this book have no common bond that will give a reader a sense of the whole after wolfing the entire book. But this randomness of the topics made this book a tour de force. The anecdotes in the life of David Sedaris as he moved back and forth Raleigh, his hometown in North Carolina, New York City, Paris, Normandy, and Tokyo are reeking with his funny observations and witty remarks about himself, the people, and life in general.
Not a few times did I find myself laughing inside the MRT on my way to work while reading the book. It’s not the kind of laughter that you force on yourself, it’s the bwahaha kind of laughing that makes you to forget that you are squeezing yourself inside a cramp train filled with passengers who smell like a concoction of garlic, sweat, and some unrecognizable expensive perfumes overpowered by a lot of cheap colognes liberally splattered to the unknowing commuters.
His masterful and truthful way of describing his characters and his mental commentaries while doing this will send you laughing to the point of crying and embarrassing yourself in case you decide to read this in a public venue. Of his essays, his characters who left the most indelible impact on me is Helen, a retiree who was his neighbor in his small apartment in New York he was renting with his boyfriend. She was a complex woman whose words are as interesting as the streets of the Big Apple.
The real-life characters portrayed in his stories seemed too fictional to be true because of their poignancy. They are the same people you meet along the hallway of the high rise you are staying, probably your officemates, or that lady in the concierge of the mall that sells expensive goods you regularly frequent. People you ignore and dismiss as boring but unwittingly became subjects of interesting stories David Sedaris shared in the book.
You will discover in the last essay about his stay in Tokyo to quit smoking why this anthology is entitled When You are Engulfed in Flame, something that an English-speaking tourist visiting Asia always notices.