March 2017 Book of the Month: WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES by David Sedaris

I read another collection of essays by David Sedaris this month, and of course I loved it.

Specific essays stand out to me:

“The Understudy” offers a poignant comparison of how we view people as children and our eventual opinions of them once we grow up. In this essay, Sedaris specifically speaks about a nanny named Mrs. Peacock, who he saw as trouble “the moment her car pulled up.” Later, when Mrs. Peacock takes the kids over to her house, obviously trying her best to be a good hostess, Sedaris says,

“. . . I wished she would stop. My opinion of her had already been formed, was written on paper, even, and factoring in her small kindnesses would only muddy the report. Like any normal fifth grader, I preferred my villains to be evil and stay that way, to act like Dracula rather than Frankenstein’s monster, who ruined everything by handing that peasant girl a flower.”

As kids we see the world in black and white, the way I saw my neighbor 4 doors down as a witch, simply because she yelled at me once for throwing a ball into her nice rose bushes. But she wasn’t a witch at all; she just wanted to keep her roses looking nice.

EngulfedinFlames_hiresI also liked Sedaris’ perspective on embarrassment in “In the Waiting Room.” Even when we find ourselves in our underwear in a crowded waiting room, as Sedaris does in this essay, to think that is the only thing people will remember from that day is almost pompous. Embarrassment is so personal that we very well might be the only ones who remember that cringeworthy experience the next day.

There is something more that I really love about Sedaris. He writes with such particular detail, that it is impossible to read his essays without identifying with them in some way. A minor phrase can bring on a whole onslaught of memories I didn’t even realize I still had.

For example: Sedaris mentions a cameraman filming a nature documentary in New Guinea, “where the people used to wear sexy loincloths, but now stand around in T-shirts that say ‘Cowboys Do It With Chaps’ and ‘I Survived the 2002 IPC Corporate Challenge Weekend.” While it’s not the most sensitive description, it reminded me of a photo of a teenager in a similar country wearing a most likely mass-produced T-shirt with a major typo on it. He either had no idea what it said, or simply didn’t care. A shirt was a shirt.

Strangely enough, that memory led me to think about another. When I was in 4th grade, I saw one of my oldest friends wearing a T-shirt that I also owned – one that I received at a cheer camp I attended over the summer. I knew my friend had not attended this camp, but there she was, wearing the shirt. I asked her where she got it, and she replied that she received it from a friend who bought it at a second hand thrift shop.

I liked the shirt. I had earned that shirt, and was proud of it. So it bothered me that my friend was wearing it simply as a fashion statement. It didn’t mean anything to her. I was also bothered by the fact that someone would even buy a shirt from a cheer camp they never attended in the first place.

I hadn’t thought that about that in years; maybe not even since it happened. But my brain stored it away for some reason, and David Sedaris fished it out again.

But that’s just what he does best.

My Rating: ★★★★

One thought on “March 2017 Book of the Month: WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES by David Sedaris

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