engulfed-in-flames My mother in law lives in the state capitol which is about 7 hours’ drive from the town I live in or a mere half an hour by plane. Recently, with my father in law and my wife’s other siblings, they drove all the way over.

“I really enjoy the drive,” she said. “Especially when we stop at all the little towns that line the route. We get down, have a drink and then drive on leisurely to the next town and so on.”

I guess David Sedaris’ “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” is a bit like that. It is a book I thorougly enjoyed from start to finish. There is no plot or storyline, just a beginning and an ending – like the beginning of the drive and the end of it. Along the journey, there are humourous paragraphs mostly unrelated bits and pieces about the mundane things in life we all take for granted but now see in a funny way, thanks to Sedaris’ keen observations.

He writes about his relationship with Hugh, his partner. His time in Normandy, France, living in Japan and learning to speak Japanese.. about trying to quit smoking, about his neighbour, Helen, and almost anything and everything – including the Stadium Pal (tell you more about it later below). sedaris

My favourite passage in this book is the one about Helen the feisty foul-mouthed arrogant pushy fascistic seventy year old neighbor:

While in France, I’d brought Helen some presents, nothing big or expensive, just little things a person could use and then throw away. I placed the bag of gifts on her kitchen table and she halfheartedly pawed through it, holding the objects upside down and sideways, the way a monkey might. A miniature roll of paper towels, disposable napkins with H’s printed on them, kitchen sponges tailored to fit the shape of the hand: “I don’t have any use for this crap,” she said. “Take it away. I don’t want it.”

I put the gifts into the bag, ashamed at how deeply my feelings were hurt. “Most people, most humans, receive a present and say thank you,” I told her.

“Not when they get garbage like that, they don’t,” she said.

In fact these things were perfect for her, but Helen wouldn’t accept them for the same reason she wouldn’t accept anything: the other person had to owe and be beholden. Forever.

I picked up the bag and headed for the door. “You know what you have?” I said. “You have a gift disorder.”

“A what?”

“It’s like an eating disorder, only with presents.”

“Take that back,” she said.

“My point exactly.” And then I left, slamming the door behind me.

I got to the end of this book very quickly – too quickly, and even checked the pages in the middle to make sure I hadn’t skipped any. All in all, it was a fun read, light and humourous – I found myself chuckling a few times on my own. The funny parts were good enough to read over and over again, and that I did aloud to my wife to share the jokes with her.

Yes, recommended light reading. Totally funny and enjoyable.

I end this post with a video of Sedaris at a bookreading for this book where he reads the passage on the Stadium Pal. Hilarious!

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