When You Are Engulfed in Flames

While I certainly won't call When You Are Engulfed in Flames the best David Sedaris collection that you can purchase for yourself, I will say that any David Sedaris is worth reading. Via Goodreads, I say four stars, but via LibraryThing, I say three and a half. (Come on, Goodreads, get with the half-star program.)
The observation I have for this collection is that with Mr. Sedaris giving up drinking, drugs, and smoking... his stories seem to be a bit more tame. Much more focus on his boyfriend Hugh or stories tinged with a bit of melancholy. The NY Times mentioned the story about his parents' art collection, which is perhaps one of the better crafted stories. My favorite, however, is called "Keeping Up" -- which talks about couples arguing on vacation and features Mr. Sedaris rehearsing his "I'm leaving you" speech to his boyfriend after Hugh's fast walking leaves Sedaris lost and alone in a zoo in Sydney.
In general, it's nice to see Hugh making more of an appearance in Sedaris' stories. Sedaris' previous volumes have focused so much on his siblings that when you realize how long he and Hugh have been together, you're a bit surprised that it's taken Sedaris this long to mine his significant other for material. In the past, he's popped up every now and then, but he's a much more substantial figure in this collection. As with Sedaris' other works, though, one can't help but wonder how his friends and relatives deal with having details of their lives published and sold. Unlike his parents and sisters, though, Sedaris consistently paints Hugh in a good light and one can't help but wonder how Sedaris can function without Hugh at times in this collection.
In any case, while you might want to wait to purchase a paperback version, this collection does have several good chuckles. I might not have been struggling for breath as I have once or twice in the past ("Six to Eight Black Men" comes to mind), but I still think that anyone who enjoys Sedaris should not miss this most recent offering.


The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness in Africa

With all due respect to my book club's selector this month, I must admit, I wasn't gung-ho about this book when I agreed to it. When I went to purchase it, I even hoped that the little bookstore in my neighborhood wouldn't have it so I could buy myself an Agatha Christie novel for that weekend instead. But it was there and so I bought it... and I quickly realized that I had underestimated this book and the author. Josh Swiller did a great job with this. It wasn't necessarily the events in his story that kept me going at a steady pace, but the narration of the author.

You know the story will be heartbreaking and you know that Peace Corp volunteers are often thrown into situations where they're expected to make a difference in the face of incredible odds. But really made the book for me is the fact that you just really like Josh Swiller. He has a wonderfully snarky sense of humor. Born and raised in Manhattan, Josh lost pretty much all of his hearing by age 4. But rather than surround him with a deaf community, his parents didn't really discuss it much and he (and one of his three brothers) went to regular schools, relying on lip-reading and hearing aids. He didn't even meet many deaf people (again, besides his brother) until he was in his twenties. He fights with his brothers (particularly Zev) and he admits that he might have used the sensitive soul angle to get laid in college, but after attending Yale, he wasn't sure what to do with himself. So he signed up for the Peace Corp... and he was shipped off to a small village in Zambia.

If only for his style, I recommend this book. Unlike some people who write memoirs of going to Africa and having their lives changed or being deaf, Swiller is first and foremost a guy you can relate to, and it's only on the second level that he happens to be deaf. He articulates his experience as a deaf person in ways that I have never encountered. Perhaps the most interesting point is that he finds his deafness minimized in Africa. People make a point of speaking directly to this important white man in their community, so he can read their lips with greater ease. Otherwise, he's just another white guy in Africa who realizes that he doesn't know how to achieve his lofty goals and so he's got to adapt to the situation and do what he can.
So I say "Well done, Swiller," and thanks to this month's book club selector for making me read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and wouldn't have otherwise picked up.


The Eyre Affair


Alright. I'm leaving the five star ranking. I've been waffling back and forth to changing it to four, but really, for the creativity alone, this book deserves notice.

The Eyre Affair is Jasper Fforde's first novel, and what a novel it is. For starters, this is a dream for the average person who calls themselves a book lover... a literary fantasy where the boundary between the world in books and the "real" world is decidedly thinner than we think. For instance, in this novel, Thursday Next (our intrepid heroine) fights the forces of evil (archvillain Acheron Hades). Why is he evil? Well, with the use of a prose portal (developed by Thursday's own uncle), Acheron plans on entering the original manuscripts of beloved novels and murdering characters from within, thus removing them from all published versions of those works. That might be the gist of it, but that doesn't even touch on how interesting this world is... and so I've also pasted here whatever was printed on B&N:

The word "unique" is overused and frequently misused. Here, however, is an instance where it truly applies. But to call The Eyre Affair a unique first novel featuring a fearless fictional adventurer barely begins to tell the story. When asked to summarize his creation is a single sentence, Jasper Fforde described it as "a literary detective thriller with romantic overtones, mad-inventor uncles, aunts trapped in Wordsworth poems, global multinationals, scheming evildoers, an excursion inside the novel Jane Eyre, dodos, knight-errant-time-traveling fathers, and the answer to the eternal question: Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays?" Swindon, a traditionally tranquil English town, is the ironic setting for most of these oddball characters and peculiar goings-on; the year is 1985. Fforde spins his wildly imaginative crime caper in language every bit as ingenious as the madcap plot; his devilishly clever turns of phrase take the form of verbal puzzles, anagrams, and literary and cinematic in-jokes.

Long involved in the movie-making business, Fforde gives a starring role to Thursday Next, a captivating sleuth whose respect for literature matches that of her creator. The essence of Thursday's quest is the capture of Acheron Hades, a wily cad whose dastardly crime is murder of characters from the classics.

If that hasn't gotten you hooked, I don't know what to tell you. It's a really fun book to read. I'm going to keep re-reading the sequels now.


The first time I read this book, I was on a plane flying home from my freshman year at college for spring break. Aside from the fact that it was the first bit of reading I had selected for myself in quite a while (and let me tell you -- buying a hardcover book in college when it isn't for a class is a big deal), it was intelligent and creative and I remember looking up repeatedly and wondering why other other passengers on the plane weren't asking me why I was unable to contain my giddiness. "It's this wonderful book," I would have answered, showing them the cover but not relinquishing my hold.

Now I'm a little older and wiser, but while home this weekend and without a new book to read, I opted to re-read this one and I haven't felt disappointed by that decision yet. It may not be as mind-blowingly delightful as when I first discovered it, but I'm still thrilled with Fforde's incredibly original plotline.