written and narrated by David Rakoff
David Rakoff is one of those writers whose every word makes me wish I were a better writer. He dashes similes across the page with Raymond Chandler’s gusto, and his reading voice is downright heavenly. The only thing one can complain about is that the cost of his erudition must be speed, as he publishes far less than the other writers I put in his category: your Sarah Vowells, your David Sedarises, and so on. That said, Half Empty is another triumph. Some thoughts:
- While Rakoff skewers everything from neo-Nazi humor to cancer survivor language with the same dry, self-loathing wit that we’ve come to love, I didn’t find this book as funny as Don’t Get Too Comfortable. I suppose it’s hard to write a funny book when one is going through one’s second bout with bad-odds cancer. That said, his cancer essay at the end of the book is stunning.
- I am also quite enamored of his paean to thoughtful intellectualism written about the U.S. reaction to 9/11. Rakoff blends an amusing bit of self depreciating humor into the discussion of our country’s anti-intellectual “kill ’em all” mentality in the months following the attack on the World Trade Center. He makes his way into the discussion via a scientific article that suggested pessimistic people are just as effective at all the key kinds of thinking as optimists are, so we should have listened to the pessimists who said things like “Maybe they won’t greet us as liberators.” Sarcasm works wonders.
- The essay “Juicy” focuses on Rakoff’s experience as a short, easily confided-in man who had become more and more depressed at the way gossip so easily became schadenfreude, and how little his own efforts to stem the tide of delight in others’ misery offered.
It’s hard to find much more to say, except that I can’t get enough of his writing style, his quick turn of phrase that reveals the thing we’d been avoiding acknowledging about ourselves.