Even if you’d never read his work, a glance at the titles of his essay collections-Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Me Talk Pretty One Day-would give you a sense that Davis Sedaris isn’t the most serious writer around. You’d be right. Of course, chances are you’ve read his stuff already, or heard him on NPR, talking about the job he once had as a Christmas elf at a department store. If you heard Sedaris read at the Arlington with Sarah Vowell last year, you might remember some of the essays that are now published in his most recent collection of cynicism and silliness, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
Among the anecdotes, tales, sketches, and musings in this latest collection is an incident where the author catches crabs from a pair of thrift store pants, an episode involving an obese babysitter and a backscratcher, and the trials of trying to purchase a human skeleton in Paris. The reader is treated to visions of the author sitting in a doctor’s waiting room wearing nothing but his underpants, spitting his cough drop on the woman next to him in an airplane, and organizing his life around the needs of a pet spider.
Part of what makes Sedaris so fun to read is that he’s so bad. Nobody is spared his taunts: not the French, the Americans, nor the Japanese, not the fat, the unhappy, nor the lonely, not the white, privileged, middle-aged, and gay. In fact, Sedaris really is at his funniest when he’s making fun of himself.
He book ends with a relentless, 83-page essay called “The Smoking Section,” the literary equivalent of a long, vicious tickle torture session: equal parts funny and painful. “Just after she started chemotherapy,” Sedaris writes, “my mom sent me three cartons of Kool Milds. ‘They were on sale,’ she croaked. Dying or not, she should have known that I smoked Filter Kings.”
For those who like their humor on the sardonic side, Sedaris will return to the Arlington on Saturday, October 25, at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.