Works such as this are hard to categorize, as indeed was the case with the author’s previous work, ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED IN KINDERGARTEN, a book that remains high on the best-seller list. On the one hand, Robert Fulghum has served as an ordained Unitarian minister, and thus his essays abound with a theological orientation which is often inspirational. At the same time, his employment history is rather varied, to say the least, and his experiences diverse and occasionally bizarre. Yet, to assume that Fulghum is a narrator of the humorous and the ridiculous in his capacity as a careful student of the human condition is to diminish the impact of his insight and his compassionate consideration of those with whom he shares this planet. Perhaps it is best to consider him as a helpful neighbor whose mastery of the essential trivia of life makes him truly invaluable.
IT WAS ON FIRE WHEN I LAY DOWN ON IT is rather uneven work. Some of the essays are so profound as to elicit careful reflection. Others are so commonplace as to cause the reader to question if the paper used in the production of the book might have been better employed elsewhere. Still other pieces provoke laughter so infectious that one is compelled to follow the author’s instructions to read the book aloud. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that anyone could read his description of a particular wedding without rushing immediately into the next room to enlighten and amuse anyone who is available.
The range in quality in these essays, from quite good to quite bad, suggests that Fulghum himself is not sure what he is doing or why he has struck such a responsive chord in so many readers. Given his success, though, he is sure to do it again.