Sedating Sedaris

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.


4 thoughts on “Sedating Sedaris”

  1. Oh, how did you know me? Sige, I’ll email you. But you literally listed all the canons I’ve been wanting to read but haven’t gotten enough resolve to start reading them.

  2. Fine with me. I already have one book in mind – Labyrinths by Borges.hehe.Have always wondered why Coelho likes him a lot (Not really a fan of Coelho… just remembered he mentioned Borges in one of his books). You won’t have lots of choices though. Usually, I just borrow from friends. You might find any the following interesting (unless you’ve already read these…which is highly likely): A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway; Plot Against America and Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth; Fathers and Sons, Turgenev; Sophie’s Choice, Styron; The Jungle,Sinclair; The Good Earth, Buck; The Rachel Papers, Amis; Enduring Love, McEwan; Haven’t read some of these myself. I usually buy when they’re on sale.

    Just email me (mas mayo Fev kon indi mo pag-publish ang reply nga ni kay gina-avoid ko ang junk emails).

  3. No way! You want us to swap our books? I’ve asked National Bookstore if they have other titles by Sidaris, but to no avail.

    Just leave a message here if you are amenable to that.

  4. Same can be said of Sedaris’s Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (which I got last week from NBS for only (unbelievable!)50 pesos) …haven’t laughed as hard since reading Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.

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