What I’m Reading: “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris.
This man needs no introduction obviously, so why it took me so long to find his work is beyond me. Given to me by my friend Gina, as a must read book, I picked it up and instantly fell in love.
Because Sedaris writes short stories, there is no commitment! Yet, here’s the thing: I always wanted to come back for more. I’d read a story, laugh out loud, finish it and then want more. His books are to readers what cigarettes are to smokers, which is ironic because he spends about forty pages talking the pains of kicking his smoking habit.
The way he tells stories is unlike anything I’ve ever read. They’re personal, feel candid, and are always really funny. There is so much to admire in his work, but the thing I really walked away with was that it was him. Every facet and nuance of the book was Sedaris himself and whether the way he writes is really the way the thinks, doesn’t matter because either way he makes for a very compelling character.
As a writer one of the things I noticed was that he often times starts his stories by just diving in. His prose isn’t flowery or overly complicated, he sticks to the story and stays focused. He doesn’t spend four paragraphs talking about what Paris looks like or what Japan looks like. It’s all folded into the story itself. If I know what the trains in Tokyo are squeaky clean, it’s because he’s telling me a story about a woman taking her sons shoes off, and laying down a cloth before he’s allowed to stand on the seat and look out the window.
Admittedly, I’m quite jealous of his life. To quit smoking he spent $20,000 on a 3 month trip to Japan. He’s lived in multiple countries and has been all around the world giving talks. Just thinking about his lifestyle makes my mouth salivate. And yet, I get the feeling from his writing that he’d be just as happy writing without the money. So I guess herein lies the lesson.
Pay attention to the world around you because it’s full of fruitful ideas and images that will be useful when writing your novel whether it be fiction or non-fiction. Do things, take classes, stay active as a member of society even if it gives you anxiety, because those experiences are what make up a lot of the humor in Sedaris’ work. “It’s funny because it’s true,” as my friend Mikey would always say.
I’ve never heard Sedaris speak, yet somehow there are vocal intonations in the way he writes and now I know what it means to find your voice as an author. It doesn’t mean you have to fill the book with large vocabulary, or make every sentence move to the beat of a tune, it means being authentic as a writer and of course staying in character as you immerse yourself into the people you create within your stories.