When You Are Engulfed in Flames

David Sedaris

Essayist extraordinaire David Sedaris—comfortingly familiar to New Yorker readers and listeners of Public Radio International’s This American Life—has put together a new book that is as screamingly funny (and poignant) as any of his previous work. Readers of such undeniable classics as Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim will be more than pleased with this latest Sedaris fix (named after a line from a Japanese hotel safety pamphlet Sedaris mentions in “The Smoking Section,” a lengthy essay on his love affair with cigarettes). Sedaris’ character study of his New York neighbor Helen in “That’s Amore” is nothing short of genius. “Her hair was dyed the color of a new penny,” he writes, “and she wore it pulled back into a thumb-sized ponytail. This put the focus on her taped-up glasses, and on her lower jaw, which stuck out slightly, like a drawer that hadn’t quite been closed.” “In the Waiting Room” finds Sedaris in Paris, near-naked in a hospital waiting room, thanks to his limited understanding of the French language. “Of Mice and Men,” “April in Paris,” and “Old Faithful” are other pieces that put the crazy Sedaris spin on familiar-sounding titles.