When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No one enjoys waiting. While PSPs and Nintendo DSs whip the minutes or hours to move faster, the lesser techie, more scholastic, or 10,000 peso-deprived, would prefer a novel as a handheld companion. And a funny, opinionated and perceptive companion makes time fly, which are traits of David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

Author: David Sedaris
Released: June 3, 2008
#1 International Bestseller
#1 New York Times Bestseller Non-Fiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames is a collection of essays, on almost anything under the sun. Topics would come from the author’s childhood up to his present day-to-day encounters. Here are certain essays that I really enjoyed:

Ø  It's Catching – Hugh’s mother, 76, does house chores, which are considerably herculean for her age, while her leg worm deeply bothers David.
Ø  The Understudy – At the time when Americans discriminate against blacks, David and his sisters condemn their white babysitter.
Ø  Road Trips – A truck driver straightforwardly asks for a blow job, implying his personal advocacy that oral sex should be casual.
Ø  Solution to Saturday's Puzzle – An unreasonably demanding airplane seatmate. Enough said.
Ø  All the Beauty You Will Ever Need – David tries to make coffee without water. Again, enough said.
Ø  The Smoking Section – How quitting smoking brought them halfway around the globe, and halfly speaking Japanese. A necessarily extensive journal on the hardship of quitting cigarette smoking.

Reading Experience
Funny and witty. These two adjectives are perhaps enough to sum all the essays in When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Even the title itself was captured from a Japanese brochure on what to do during a fire.

Readers are lucky for Sedaris to have shared his funny experiences in this book. As this is a collection of essays, you won’t be daunted by the number of pages you need to finish. It’s not something you can finish, or would want to finish, in one seating. You would want to read it in the waiting room before a dental appointment, in the bus during rush hour, or during an uninteresting class. You can simply pick one essay, read it at a coffee shop while waiting for a friend who’s beyond 30 minutes late.

Sedaris’ perspective is not only entertaining but also interesting, hitting the mark from a different angle, since most of the essay topics are not entirely foreign or unheard of.

But his delivery is on a higher level, it is a unique, fresh and perceptive presentation of opinion and outlook. There is liberal use of metaphors to further expound a point and the often cause of hilarity. Furthermore, a reader is bound to feel he is conversing with the author rather than just reading his thoughts.

In Conclusion
For those who are already reading a certain title with a convoluted plot or weighs heavily on drama, then this is a good side dish. It would detoxify you and serve as refreshment for the current hardcore novel you’re reading. For the rest, you won’t be making a mistake by taking this off the shelf.


The Last Time I Saw Mother by Arlene J. Chai

Monday, April 12, 2010

A rendezvous of fact and sufficient fiction, The Last Time I Saw Mother can rightly take its place on the realism shelf. It is easy to mistake this novel for a biography when immersed in its pages. Arlene J. Chai effectively placed Philippine history and Caridad’s tale in concurrence. And a plot in synch is every reader’s underlying demand.

Author: Arlene J. Chai
Published: 1995

Living a quiet happy life in Australia with her daughter, Marla, is enough for Caridad. Despite an insistent void, a gap she couldn’t grasp, or felt she needed to, Caridad has long settled for how things were. But the obscure gap’s presence strengthens after her mother, Thelma, uncharacteristically took the time to send a letter only to beckon her home.

Alarmed by her mother’s odd action, she calls her cousin, Mia, expecting an urgent predicament. But Mia did nothing to reduce her anxiety. Mia knows something, but kept mum, reiterating Thelma’s request to come home. Because Thelma has something to say, something that no letter or phone call can effectively relay.

Reading Experience
It is not surprising to easily relate with The Last Time I Saw Mother. There are major boosts contributing to such a fine quality.

One is precise Philippine history synchronized with Caridad’s personal history. The struggle of the majority during the Martial Law isn’t misplaced. Moreover, Chai conveyed the general predicament by magnifying the dilemma of one family, and its impact on their lives.

The characters would be the second and most vital contributor to the novel’s relevance. They were given specific voices and identifiable personas. They are everyday people, minding their own lives. Readers might identify with them, or know someone like them.

However, finishing the book is a bit of a challenge. The story was told from perspectives of the deeply involved characters, which enhanced personality establishment. But this is an ambiguous trait. Telling it from different points of view necessitates focus shifting.

There were certain shifts that caught me off-guard and reduced my interest. Of course, cliffhangers are welcome but some were quite disarming, which can make the reader put the book down.

Perhaps the novel’s most notable feat is its presentation of a family secret; its elusive quality, its simple existence, the ease of its acceptance, and significance. Foolish to classify as either good or bad, but undeniably harsh for anyone to shoulder. To put it simply, the plot is an exploration of the gray area.

In Conclusion
This is one definitive example of realism. Accuracy with history and effective chronological plotting are both trademarks of this novel. Paired with great character development, readers will easily identify with the characters. It may not be fast-paced but undeniably a good addition for any reader’s reading selection. 


About Me

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I'm a young professional working in a call center; a licensed nurse who's not practicing the profession, out of choice; gay, and proud to be; sporty with an active lifestyle filled with badminton and running; a reader who easily gets lost in a well-written story; a wannabe-author and wannabe-successful. But more importantly, I'm a writer with a hunger for life.

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