Sunday, October 18, 2009

120 (2009 #45). When You Are Engulfed in Flames

written and performed by David Sedaris

This is my fourth Sedaris audiobook. I liked this 2009 Audie Award winner (for narration by an author) better than Holiday on Ice, but not as much as Me Talk Pretty One Day or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.

I thought the cover art was some modern graphic design, but it’s actually Van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette. It’s reflective of some of the themes (smoking, death) and stories in this book, particularly “Momento Mori,” a live performance about Sedaris’ attempt to buy a skeleton in France as a gift for his partner Hugh. The last two discs (out of eight) are all one long essay, "The Smoking Section," about Sedaris quitting smoking at the same time he and Hugh make a three-month trip to Japan. The stories in this essay about Sedaris taking Japanese language classes felt repetitive of similar stories about taking French in France in Me Talk Pretty One Day. The title of the book comes from this essay - about instructions in a Japanese hotel room telling guest what to do in emergencies - one of the sections being titled "When You Are Engulfed in Flames."

The travel theme also runs throughout the audiobook, with one of the funniest stories being another live recording, “Solutions to Saturday’s Puzzle.” This is about Sedaris accidentally sneezing a throat lozenge into the lap of a plane seatmate whose husband he refused to exchange seats with, because he didn't want to sit in the bulkhead. He begins filling in his crossword puzzle with words of unspoken response to this crabby woman, whether they fit the clues or not.

His mother's death from lung cancer after years of smoking is also an undercurrent, but there is less of Sedaris’ family of origin in this book as compared to the other ones. Sedaris is apparently about my age, as he says he'll be 68 in 2025 as I will, and his themes seem to be getting more mature. However, this audiobook is definitely not for prudes – there is sex and lots of foul language. Good sound effects (especially for smoking - matches striking, paper burning, etc.) and acoustic bass interludes performed by Tommy Harron intersperse the essays."In the Waiting Room" and "Town and Country" are also performed live, which is David Sedaris at his best.

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