this project where I'm revisiting books that I really enjoyed during my adolescence. One of my favorite memoirists of my youth was David Sedaris. He was so wickedly funny and I liked how he balanced his cutting observations on society at large with self-effacing humor. After reading ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, I immediately leaped into one of his follow-ups, WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES.
WHEN YOU ARE ENGULFED IN FLAMES follows a very similar formula to Sedaris's other works. Some of the stories are excellent, like the one about his awful baby-sitter from hell, Mrs. Peacock, and his racist neighbor, Helen. Other essays are less compelling, like his fanciful essay on Princeton and family murders and the essay on Japan, where his crowning observations are "all cities in Japan look the same" and "wow, Japanese is hard to learn."
This collection felt a bit "edgier" than ME TALK PRETTY. He uses the R-word, the F-word for gay people, and makes a number of observations that involve slurs. As other reviewers have noted, he's just as harsh on himself as he is on other people, but this is definitely not a PC memoir. Who knows if Sedaris would write it the same way if it were published today?
Overall, I would say that the bulk of these essays are quite humorous but there were way more misses in here than in his earlier works. I would not recommend this one as a starting point.
3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars