THE BOOK REPORT: When You Are Engulfed in Flames

When You Are Engulfed in Flames
David Sedaris
(Little, Brown and Company)

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I’ve been recommending David Sedaris’s When You Are Engulfed in Flames to all of my friends who are trying to quit smoking. Not only will his most recent collection of short stories perhaps distract the addict in withdrawal from lighting up, the final story is actually Sedaris’s account of how he quit—by moving to Japan for three months.

It’s the best story in the collection, offering hilarious insights on Japanese culture and learning a foreign language (“In terms of stress and its connection to smoking, language school is probably not the best idea in the world”). Sedaris’s anecdotes fall somewhere between off the cuff and highly crafted to produce the most comedic punch. As all good storytellers know, hyperbole makes a story that much better, or, in this case, that much funnier.

However, I completely believe Sedaris when in the final chapter he resists picking up smoking again due to a fantasy about the luxury of the non-smoking rooms at the Four Seasons hotel in Santa Barbara, California. Not for personal health or because his mom smoked (and died of cancer) does Sedaris quit, but for the material comforts of a hotel room. It’s just the sort of ironic, yet deeply human quality that one expects from Sedaris, and that makes his writing so funny.

Miranda Ganzer

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