David Sedaris — When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Reading David Sedaris while eating has made me almost choke to death several times. You’d think I would have learned—once it’s time to move masticated yet still relatively solid matter into my throat, the same pipe I use to gather air so I don’t die—put down the funny book.

Whether it was my first taste of his writing, a slim, non-airway obstructing volume called Holidays On Ice, or one of the meatier collections like Naked or Barrel Fever, each time—almost dead. I’m not talking about a graceful exit from this plane, either. Oh no. To die by Sedaris is to go out blowing milk out of your nose, pounding the table, and upsetting the apple cart (if you happen to live in the foothills where they still have that sort of thing).

That said, there were fewer truly life-threatening incidents in When You Are Engulfed in Flames, and more (how shall I say it?) mature musings on life. Maybe it’s because he’s getting older. In this book Sedaris faces his own mortality upon turning 50, something that never slowed him down before. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. I read WYAEF in an admittedly piecemeal fashion while having my own slow-motion nervous breakdown (I’ve started teaching high school). Maybe it’s because this is the first Sedaris book he’s put out since I’ve had my very own subscription to the New Yorker and I had already involuntarily aspirated all the beverages I was going to for about half of these stories.


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