When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris
Let me start off by saying that I am incredibly late, probably the last one, to the Sedaris party. I read his Christmas book a couple of years ago and was mildly unimpressed. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t feel the need to run out and buy his back catalogue.
Now I do.
I read the excerpt posted by Borders on their website. Then I went to the bookshop and leafed through it, landing on the essay where he talks about how his partner, Hugh, always walks 20 paces ahead of him, as though he’s trying to run away from him. And I was hooked. I said Tony Hawks was good at being likable despite our differences, well, I think I am about as different as is possible to be from David Sedaris and not only do I like him, I find myself identifying with him. Nodding my head and thinking ‘Yes, your experiences hitchhiking, quitting smoking, and observing the differences between spiders in your house in Normandy and your apartment in Paris are just like mine!’ (Those of you who know me will know that I’m being facetious here as hitchhiking is too scary, I don’t smoke, and I would certainly never willingly get close enough to a spider be it in Normandy or Paris for long enough to observe anything about its nature.) But somehow, I get what he’s trying to say, what the hitchhiking, smoking, and spiders are stand-ins for in my life.
At any rate, without knowing it, David Sedaris’ writing is what I think everyone who does this sort of writing (Sloane Crossley, Tony Hawks, Bill Bryson, and certainly anybody who has a blog) is aiming for. Certainly some of them come very close – Bill Bryson in particular – but after hearing Sedaris’ voice, you realise ‘Oh, that’s what they were going for.’ He has the perfect mix of humor and observation and poignancy and message to the point where it’s almost subliminal. You’re just reading, laughing, and then when it’s over, you find yourself in an oddly pensive mood and you think ‘But I was just laughing, that was really funny, wasn’t it?’ And it turns out it wasn’t.
Except that it totally was.
So, yes. Go read it. And then start a blog to see if you can recreate his voice. I dare you not to.
My rating: A+