I am 100% optimist. Though I focus my optimism on finding silver linings—rather than convincing myself that wonderful things are going to happen—and I try my best not to foist my optimism on others, I have a suspicion it drives some people crazy. I've never met him, but I imagine David Rakoff would be one of those people, as his book of essays, Half Empty, is presented as a call against optimism.
In his essays-- focused on the topics pessimism at the turn of the 21st century, Rakoff’s unsuccessful attempt at an acting career, the musical RENT’s romanticized view of the lifestyles it presents, and the recurrence of Rakoff’s cancer (among others)-- Rakoff warns of the dangers of positivity. However, he was not too heavy handed with the anti-optimism, rather, it served as a thread to connect all of the book’s essays.
Rakoff is an excellent writer. His prose is somewhat heavy, not allowing for decent skimming, but it is worth it to take the extra time and read Rakoff’s sentences slowly. Rakoff’s humor sneaks up on you—he isn’t broad, but I found myself reading a sentence and laughing aloud on more than one occasion. Though a few of the essays moved a little slowly (the first one was actually the hardest one for me to get through), all are worth reading.
The final essay in the book, “Another Shoe” is absolutely phenomenal, and if you don’t have time to read the entire book, it’s worth buying or borrowing just for the single essay. It takes the reader through Rakoff’s discovery of a tumor in his arm, his fears that the arm will need to be amputated, and his thoughts on the struggle with cancer. And, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the final sentence of the essay made me look at the entire book in a new light.
I’m giving Half Empty a 4/5. I definitely recommend it.
Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Rakoff
Buy the Book
In the next week or so, I’ll be sending an email to the Daily Show about this blog. Any suggestions of what I should include?