HeidiTown loves David Sedaris

Sedaris Engulfed in FlamesA review of,

“When You are Engulfed in Flames”

a book by David Sedaris.

I first heard of David Sedaris at an airport bar in Portland, Oregon. My flight to Denver was delayed so I decided to have a glass or two of wine while waiting, and I quickly struck up a conversation with a friendly woman at the bar. We started talking religion, yes, religion.    

I can’t remember exactly why we were discussing religion, except I think she was trying to convince me that I would like the Universalist Church, a church sounding as if it belongs aboard the Starship Enterprise. As  we talked she mentioned she was reading David Sedaris, and after hearing some of my personal views on faith and religion, she thought I would really enjoy his books.

I didn’t think about Sedaris again for several years, but recently I heard him on NPR and decided I had to find one of his books. I just finished “When You are Engulfed in Flames,” and I’m now onto another Sedaris book, “Naked.”

“When You are Engulfed in Flames,” (2008), is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. For some reason, I relate with Sedaris, a Greek-American, gay, humorist. Go figure. It just goes to show how alike we humans really are, despite glaring outward differences.

This book is a collection of essays with themes of death and dying, guilt, raising spiders, smoking, family, air travel, France, and more. Sedaris writes exactly what is on his mind, and that is what makes this book so funny. He shows his inner “mean,” that side of our personality most of us hide. We think “mean” thoughts, but we don’t air them in public, and neither does Sedaris, though he does write them down, and in doing so, he makes me feel a little better about my own sometimes malicious ruminations.

I suppose I just revealed my inner “mean,” to all of my readers, and if you’re thinking, “she seems so nice,” I’ll tell you right now, if I could have one super power, it would be to make bad drivers spontaneously combust inside their cars. So there.

My favorite chapter in this book is called “April in Paris.” In this essay, Sedaris reveals his love affair with a spider he discovered living in the windowsill of he and his partner’s French country home. Sedaris begins feeding the spider, and names it “April.” When the couple returns to their home in Paris, Sedaris decides to take April with them, as if she is a dog or cat who will be unable to fend for herself in an empty cottage in Normandy full of nothing but flies.

As it turns out, Paris doesn’t have many flies and Sedaris has to scour the dumpsters in the alley in order to feed poor April. This may not sound funny, in part because my wiki-resume does not include the word “humorist,” but let me assure you, this is one of the funniest essays ever to be written, and I dare say, the only essay ever written about a spider named April that is relocated from her Normandy home to a flat in Paris, by a rather OCD gay humorist.

The chapter in which Sedaris chronicles his attempt to quit smoking is also hysterical. The entire book is quite amusing, although I’m not sure his dry wit will appeal to everyone, I  love it, and can’t wait to read the rest of Sedaris’ books.  

HeidiTown Tip:   David Sedaris will be performing at the Buell Theater in Denver on October 26, 2009.


  1. I read “flames” on a biz trip. I pick it up at the airport hoping for an easy read. Sedris thoroughly surprised me. I was not expecting much but found it completely entertaining. Blunt honesty is what I found most amusing along with a writer’s eye for the environment around us. This is not the obvious book for me to identify with either. I think he does readings for NPR as well.


  2. Your endorsement encourages me to read this latest publication by Sedaris. My introduction to his writing? I was looking for CD’s to take on a car trip and I stumbled upon his “Holidays on Ice: Stories” at the library. We laughed across many miles, and even drove around the block to finish listening to a segment; too funny. I read his “I Talk Pretty One Day” at the urging of a friend watching me try to learn German when we lived there. Equally amusing. Sedaris is authentic; he sees humor in the mundane stuff of every day.


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