I've read a couple of Sedaris' books and I think When You Are Engulfed In Flames is now one of my favorites (previously, it was Naked). As always, it's a collection of essays about the author's life, but this time I finally got why he selected these specific stories in this order. In some of his other books I haven't understood how the different stories were connected, but in this one it somehow made sense. Perhaps this was because I read them in a more spaced out period. Most of his books I read straight through, but this one really took me about a month. I would read one essay and then come back to the book a few days later. That's the one plus to reading essay-style books: You don't have to worry about losing the momentum of the story if you put it down for a few days.
While I had read a number of poor reviews of this book and I think that may have been part of the reason it took me so long to get through it, I personally enjoyed the book. I envy Sedaris his ability to find humor in everyday interactions with people. I particularly liked the last section of the book when he described his stay in Japan. His accounts of the Japanese people were not cliche and I felt he was able to really give a glimpse of what life would be like there.
Toward the end he describes a scene that unfolds one day when he's riding the train with his boyfriend, Hugh. A Japanese couple is riding with their young child, who insists on standing up to look out the window. The mother removes the child's shoes and places a towel on the seat where the child will stand. The child proceeds to leave handprints and smears all over the window as it looks at the scenery. But rather than leaving the window all smeared up at the end of the ride, the mother cleans the window before leaving, puts the child's shoes back on and folds up the towel. It's this respect for other people that I think Sedaris conveyed well in his stories about Japan.
And, of course, I'm always a sucker for his stories about Paris and Normandy. I love that Sedaris doesn't sugarcoat his experiences in France the way many authors do. He acknowledges the Parisians' disdain toward him and his accented French. His realistic stories of living in Paris give readers a taste of what it would be like to be an expat. And I love that Hugh is often in these stories. He's one of my favorite characters to show up in Sedaris' books.
If you're a Sedaris fan, you've likely already read this book. If you haven't picked up one of his books before I'd suggest this one or Naked. I enjoyed them both.