Half Empty
The inimitably witty David Rakoff, New York Times bestselling author of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, defends the commonsensical notion that you should always assume the worst, because you’ll never be disappointed. In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, Rakoff examines the realities of our sunny,  gosh­ everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true. The book ranges from the personal to the universal, combining stories from Rakoff’s reporting and accounts of his own experi­ences: the moment when being a tiny child no longer meant adults found him charming but instead meant other children found him a fun target; the perfect late evening in Manhattan when he was young and the city seemed to brim with such pos­sibility that the street shimmered in the moonlight—as he drew closer he realized the streets actually flickered with rats in a feeding frenzy. He also weaves in his usual brand Oscar Wilde–worthy cultural criticism (the tragedy of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, for instance). Whether he’s lacerating the musical Rent for its cutesy depic­tion of AIDS or dealing with personal tragedy, his sharp obser­vations and humorist’s flair for the absurd will have you positively reveling in the power of negativity.

Half Empty Details

TitleHalf Empty
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 21st, 2010
PublisherDoubleday
ISBN-139780385525244
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Writing, Essays, Humor, Autobiography, Memoir

Half Empty Review

  • David Hallman
    January 1, 1970
    Damn. What a loss.David Rakoff lived and loved, wrote and broadcast, suffered and died — an intense life packed into forty-seven years that ended with his death from cancer on August 9, 2012. The outpouring of grief at this far-too-early passing is testimony to how much he was loved by those who knew him personally and those who only knew him through his work, by his radio listeners and readers of his articles and books, by the literary community and the gay community. Damn. What a loss."Shrimp" Damn. What a loss.David Rakoff lived and loved, wrote and broadcast, suffered and died — an intense life packed into forty-seven years that ended with his death from cancer on August 9, 2012. The outpouring of grief at this far-too-early passing is testimony to how much he was loved by those who knew him personally and those who only knew him through his work, by his radio listeners and readers of his articles and books, by the literary community and the gay community. Damn. What a loss."Shrimp", a reflection on childhood anxieties that Rakoff published in 2006, is placed as the first essay in his book "Half Empty" and includes the trenchant observation, "...everyone has an internal age. A time in life when one is, if not one’s best, then at the very least one’s most authentic self. When your outside and inside are in sync, and soma and psyche mesh as perfectly as they’re ever going to. I always felt that my internal clock was calibrated somewhere between forty-seven and fifty-three years old."Rakoff’s self-defense from the schoolyard abuse that invariably befalls a scrawny and less-than-macho kid was the early intellectual maturation into a smart and acerbic wit. From childhood through to his last days, he used his tongue and his pen to skewer bullies and puncture pretention. And his own foibles were not immune from brutal analysis—that comes, in part at least, from having a psychotherapist for a mother and a psychiatrist for a father. David Rakoff was a humourist who struck a fine balance between on the one hand an anti-romantic clear-eyed realism about the world around him and on the other hand a heart wide open vulnerability to a life whose richness resided most of all in the company of good friends and in the exhilaration of good art.But it was not to be a long and pain-free life for David Rakoff. The last essay in "Half Empty" entitled "Another Shoe" was written in the context of his lengthy disabling battle with cancer and the attendant surgeries that exacted a devastating toll. I read with gut-wrenching sadness as he writes, "…fear lays waste to one’s best reserves. It foments rot in my stores of grain, eats away at my timbers. If I dwell on the possibility that I might be dead by forty-seven, I can’t really find a useful 'therefore' in that."Having lost the love of my life to cancer, I too have written from the depths of that dark place. Sure, there’s the thankfulness for the good times. But that’s not enough.Damn. What a loss.* * *Short YouTube video of David Rakoff giving a poignant reading of one of his last pieces: http://t.co/xEAUUUxrFor information on David Rakoff’s book "Half Empty", see: http://amzn.to/PdosvE For information on my memoir "August Farewell" and my novel "Searching for Gilead", see my website: http://DavidGHallman.com
    more
  • Tricia G
    January 1, 1970
    Hmmm... So can I tag it "read" if I decided to stop reading it and never pick it up again??? I tried really hard for about 15 pages. The premise is very interesting and has a lot of potential, but I can't get into it because of the language/style used by this author. I'm struggling to describe this (and that's probably why I'm NOT an author), but he uses such complex language that your brain is tied up in following the adjectives and pronouns, that you miss the beauty of the story. For example, Hmmm... So can I tag it "read" if I decided to stop reading it and never pick it up again??? I tried really hard for about 15 pages. The premise is very interesting and has a lot of potential, but I can't get into it because of the language/style used by this author. I'm struggling to describe this (and that's probably why I'm NOT an author), but he uses such complex language that your brain is tied up in following the adjectives and pronouns, that you miss the beauty of the story. For example, from the very first page, this is ONE sentence:"Like Edith Wharton's Gilded Age Buccaneers, when titled but cash-poor Europeans joined in wedlock with wealthy American girls in the market for pedigree, there were mutually abusive marriages popping up all over the city between un-moneyed creatives with ethereal Web-based schemes and the financiers who, desperate to get in on the action, bankrolled them."I get it, I understand what he is trying to say, but EVERY sentence is like that...... Maybe I just tried to read it too late at night. If you like this style, go for it! [Maybe you can convince me to give it another try!]
    more
  • Joann
    January 1, 1970
    Kind of like David Sedaris, but even more bitter. And also, Canadian.
  • Reese
    January 1, 1970
    Anyone who knows me would "bet the family farm" that I couldn't ignore a book with the title HALF EMPTY. And I couldn't. But between the beginning and ending chapters of David Rakoff's book, I was surprised to find myself distracted by my inability to answer my own nagging questions. Why am I continuing to read this book? Somewhere in all of these soporific details, is a point being made? If so, am I missing it because I'm reading at "my greyhound speed"? Until I was approaching the finish line, Anyone who knows me would "bet the family farm" that I couldn't ignore a book with the title HALF EMPTY. And I couldn't. But between the beginning and ending chapters of David Rakoff's book, I was surprised to find myself distracted by my inability to answer my own nagging questions. Why am I continuing to read this book? Somewhere in all of these soporific details, is a point being made? If so, am I missing it because I'm reading at "my greyhound speed"? Until I was approaching the finish line, I expected to write a four-paws-down review in which I threw one bone to the author of a one-star book. I would have to thank him for these words: "Writing. . .always, always [italics] only starts out as shit: an infant of monstrous aspect; bawling, ugly, terrible, and it stays terrible for a long, long time (sometimes forever)" (55). I love those words and lament not having them in bygone years. One bone -- that's all? Well, no. Even on a symmetrical track, on a clear day, you may see the finish line and still not see what else is there before you get there. And so it was with HALF EMPTY. What I expected to re-name "Almost Empty" became half full. I had consumed the opening chapter, and I slowly chewed the final one; the meat in this sandwich turned out to be the bread. Note: The three stars = 2.5.
    more
  • Gina
    January 1, 1970
    from Roverarts.com 03.01.2011There is something perverse in reviewing a book called Half Empty when you’re a glass-half-full kind of gal. Maybe I took on the challenge to see the world through the eyes of those friends and family who have often been the negative ions to my annoyingly positive charge. If this seems a tad personal, I am simply proving Rakoff’s theory that “…all research is Me-search.” It’s a reflection of how much Rakoff can annoy while endearing himself to the reader, and how muc from Roverarts.com 03.01.2011There is something perverse in reviewing a book called Half Empty when you’re a glass-half-full kind of gal. Maybe I took on the challenge to see the world through the eyes of those friends and family who have often been the negative ions to my annoyingly positive charge. If this seems a tad personal, I am simply proving Rakoff’s theory that “…all research is Me-search.” It’s a reflection of how much Rakoff can annoy while endearing himself to the reader, and how much this book, with its widely ranging topics, never loses sight of the real – and thoroughly entertaining — subject: David Rakoff.In ten rambling essays that leap from the positive power of negative thinking (expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed) to the Mormon Tabernacle, the secret pleasures Jews derive from bacon, and New York’s first Exotic and Erotic Ball and Expo, Rakoff proves to be a prince in the realm of But-I-Digress. He loves his similes and metaphors and complex sentences that move ideas forward at the pace of, in Rakoff’s words, “cold honey.” And yet, in all but the first entry, “The Bleak Shall Inherit the Earth,” which is so thick with psychological references it numbed me to tears, Rakoff’s wit and dexterity invest his digressions with a certain promise that entice the reader to stay the course. In the end, all roads lead to Rakoff’s acute self-awareness, explained by his belief that “We are disclosing animals, wired for unburdening. It’s what we do as a species.”The youngest son of a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist, Rakoff often refers to being Jewish, Canadian (born in Montreal, raised in Toronto, living in NYC), gay and “…freakishly small” as if this explains his self-deprecating, sharp-tongued, naysayer’s take on reality, totally ignoring Golda Meir’s sage advice that “…pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.”He is at his finest when he is skewering popular belief and then impaling himself for good measure to keep it fair. In “Isn’t it Romantic,” he takes great issue with the popular notion that “artists are artists whether they produce or not,”— as portrayed in the musical Rent. He then details with frightening accuracy the exigencies of being a writer, full of hope and ideas as day dawns and filled with guilty regret as it ends, another opportunity gone as the computer screen goes dark without a single, satisfactory sentence midwifed into existence.In “A Capacity for Wonder” Rakoff is asked, “Don’t you like anything?” to which he succinctly replies, “I like everything… I don’t hate the world. I’m scared of it.” Following this admission, Rakoff undertakes “…a counterphobic campaign to see the handiwork of the men and women who said Yes.” His destinations? Disney’s Dream House in Tomorrow Land, the tawdry gloominess of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the sky-meets-mountains and the Mormon faith of Salt Lake City, “…constructed Edens, all three.” The result is a hilarious deconstruction of the American dream where it intersects reality on the road to ingenuity, fame and faith.The author of two books, a regular contributor to Public Radio International’s This American Life and a host of impressive publications, Rakoff makes every effort to live up to the portrait of a man disappointed by humanity’s failure to see how dangerous is the road ahead. Yet in the final essay, “Another Shoe,” Rakoff tackles the terrors of a second bout of cancer with a stoicism that, notwithstanding his own protests, is a declaration of hope, a belief that no matter what, you must get on with life. After the many laugh-out-loud moments and images that stayed with me for days, I find myself a fan wanting to top off David Rakoff’s half-empty glass.
    more
  • Claire
    January 1, 1970
    Y'know, I enjoy The Daily Show, but I only watch it very sporadically. I am very grateful, however, that I once again stumbled upon an episode with David Rakoff as a guest (still making John Stewart laugh I might add). I thoroughly enjoyed his book Don't Get Too Comfortable four years ago and I was not disappointed by his latest offering.The cover of Half Empty sports the label, "WARNING!!! No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found In These Pages" which is accurate, more like lessons in misant Y'know, I enjoy The Daily Show, but I only watch it very sporadically. I am very grateful, however, that I once again stumbled upon an episode with David Rakoff as a guest (still making John Stewart laugh I might add). I thoroughly enjoyed his book Don't Get Too Comfortable four years ago and I was not disappointed by his latest offering.The cover of Half Empty sports the label, "WARNING!!! No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found In These Pages" which is accurate, more like lessons in misanthropy. Naturally, I felt a tremendous sense of belonging as I read. I recognized so much of my own outlook in his words, have been several of the places he writes about, and grokked most of his references. For me the book is full of "YES!" moments. (This perhaps does not bode well for my mental health, but what are you going to do?)In ten first person essays, Rakoff intelligently covers a lot of territory with wit. How can you not love a chapter title like "The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot"? Or a sentence like, "I am in a canvas that Edward Hopper never felt bummed out enough to paint." Love you, David Rakoff.
    more
  • Lauren
    January 1, 1970
    Like any book of essays, there are some great ones that make the reader extol the genre and the author, and others that feel out of place... Rakoff's opening essay sets the tone for the book: he criticizes the positive psychology movement of the last half-century and tells people to be realistic - things may not get better, things may not change. He moves on to talk about all that is wrong with *Rent* the Broadway musical, his short-lived film career and the drama involved with a book author, hi Like any book of essays, there are some great ones that make the reader extol the genre and the author, and others that feel out of place... Rakoff's opening essay sets the tone for the book: he criticizes the positive psychology movement of the last half-century and tells people to be realistic - things may not get better, things may not change. He moves on to talk about all that is wrong with *Rent* the Broadway musical, his short-lived film career and the drama involved with a book author, his roadtrip in and around Salt Lake City, Utah, his tour of Disneyland's "Tomorrowland" house, his admission that Jews LOVE pork and shellfish, on keeping juicy secrets, and he ends the book with a poignant essay about his most recent bout with lymphoma. The book is filled with some great quotes - and overall, a good read.
    more
  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    A refreshing dose of pessimism and wit. Rakoff talks about his life and life in general which is tragic and our happy face go get em culture. Rakoff uses his acerbic wit to puncture our Blyth feel-good culture and talks about the hard experiences he has had in life. Refreshingly real.
    more
  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    Another Christmas present -- thank you Mom and Dad! This is a collection of first-person essays by David Rakoff, who most people have probably heard of from "This American Life." For a while I was pretty sure this would be a three star book, but the last essay tipped the scales and made it 4. Overall, Rakoff's style can be a little wordy and complicated, but his observations are so keen and honest that I forgave him by the end. (Note: After I criticized him for being wordy, I ended up writing a Another Christmas present -- thank you Mom and Dad! This is a collection of first-person essays by David Rakoff, who most people have probably heard of from "This American Life." For a while I was pretty sure this would be a three star book, but the last essay tipped the scales and made it 4. Overall, Rakoff's style can be a little wordy and complicated, but his observations are so keen and honest that I forgave him by the end. (Note: After I criticized him for being wordy, I ended up writing a long review. Ha ha. If you don't read it all, at least read the quote at the very end. It really got me.)Some of my favorites: "Isn't it Romantic" -- In this essay, he not only articulates exactly what bugs me about the musical Rent, but also explains the biggest struggle about being a writer -- you actually have to write. Who knew? I love this quote from the essay: "Funny thing about words. Regarded individually or encountered in newspapers or books (written by other people), they are as lovely and blameless as talcum-sweet babies. String them together into a sentence of your own, however, and these cooing infants become a savage gang straight out of Lord of the Flies. A sullen coven with neither conscience nor allegiance." Everything about this essay was great."A Capacity for Wonder, #1"In this essay, Rakoff visits the Disney Innoventions Dream Home, where everything in the house is programmed to meet its residents' exact tastes and desires. There's some pretty biting social commentary in this one. And it's funny."Another Shoe"The last and most amazing essay wherein Rakoff discusses his cancer diagnosis. This is one of the most honest things I have ever read about how a person feels and reacts in the face of tragedy/death/illness. He describes everything that goes through his mind when his doctors tell him his arm may have to be amputated. It is grim, funny, wrenching and real all at once. He talks about all the dumb and insensitive things that people say to him and then he says something that I thought was so amazing and profound: "But here's the point I want to make about the stuff people say. Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, 'You f***ing asshole, I can't wait until you die of this,' people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let's all give each other a pass, shall we?" Wow.
    more
  • Brendan
    January 1, 1970
    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 everythin 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.
    more
  • Patrick Gibson
    January 1, 1970
    My first acquaintance with Rakoff's work was hearing him on "This American Life" recite a hilarious take on William Carlos Williams's "This is Just to Say" in his Bond-villain voice. I thought it was delightful and brilliant, but failed to read any further until this book came along. "Half Empty" gives you the opportunity to tag along and listen to this master pessimist as he winds his way through post-lapsarian America. During the brief hours you spend with this book, Rakoff, alternatively fasc My first acquaintance with Rakoff's work was hearing him on "This American Life" recite a hilarious take on William Carlos Williams's "This is Just to Say" in his Bond-villain voice. I thought it was delightful and brilliant, but failed to read any further until this book came along. "Half Empty" gives you the opportunity to tag along and listen to this master pessimist as he winds his way through post-lapsarian America. During the brief hours you spend with this book, Rakoff, alternatively fascinated and appalled, trains his relentless sarcastic searchlight on subjects as diverse as American optimism, the difficulties of writing and cancer, and also visits Southern California, Utah and Walt Disney World's Innoventions Dream Home. If the book tends towards the darker tonalities of the spectrum, you somehow feel that Rakoff never really turns on the full power of his sarcasm, which is tempered throughout by a compassion for the shared human condition. There is, for one thing, the self-deprecation that includes this description of himself as "possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness," which serves as a pretty accurate approximation of the experience of reading his work. There is also the knowledge of our own mortality and the suspicion that perhaps others have to be perpetual optimists for the temperamentally pessimistic to enjoy certain human achievements: "If one's dreams having to come true was the only referendum on whether they were beautiful, or worth dreaming, well then, no one would wish for anything. And that would be so much sadder." While you may deplore the same things he deplores, you end up hoping the world remains as crazy and nonsensical as it is so that the author can continue to reverse-engineer his delectable writing.
    more
  • sleeps9hours
    January 1, 1970
    Best said by Salon on the back cover, “To be sure, Rakoff can issue a withering snark with the best of them. But once his rapier wit has sliced the buttons off his target’s clothing, revealing the quivering, vulnerable mass within, his fundamental sense of decency gets the best of him.”p. 25 As the writer Melissa Bank points out, the only proper response to a tearful "Why me?" is, sadly, "Why not you?" The sunniest, most positive child in Malaysia laboring in a fucking sneaker factory can visual Best said by Salon on the back cover, “To be sure, Rakoff can issue a withering snark with the best of them. But once his rapier wit has sliced the buttons off his target’s clothing, revealing the quivering, vulnerable mass within, his fundamental sense of decency gets the best of him.”p. 25 As the writer Melissa Bank points out, the only proper response to a tearful "Why me?" is, sadly, "Why not you?" The sunniest, most positive child in Malaysia laboring in a fucking sneaker factory can visualize all the good fortune he wants, but without concrete changes in international models of global trade, finance, and educational opportunities along with some very temporal man-made policies, just for starters, guess where he’s going tomorrow morning? (A hint: it rhymes with schmucking sneaker factory.)p.65...she might just be the only person in my entire life about whom I’ve said something purposely, gratuitously injurious and deeply unkind. [a teaser, the comment is revealed at the end of the chapter]p. 70 I once almost let a friend board a transatlantic flight without telling her that she had unwittingly tucked her dress into the back of her panty hose. In the end I took pity on her, but for the brief period before I did, it was exquisite to watch her walk around that way. It turns out to be somewhat less so when it is your ass that’s poking out in the duty-free.
    more
  • Trish
    January 1, 1970
    When we lost Rakoff, we lost someone who could point out our failings with humor and compassion, but also with righteous anger and fury. In this book of essays, Rakoff scoures those whose wealth or celebrity have removed them from the ranks of the commonly courteous, he nails unholy politicians to the cross, and he riffs with a bleak optimism about finding cancer raging when one has thought it has left one in peace. He has a loving voice and he will be sorely missed.
    more
  • Krista
    January 1, 1970
    I am venal and glib and too clever by half.My daughter was just involved in the Sears Festival, an adjudicated presentation of youth plays from area high schools, and we showed up on the night that the awards were to be presented. When my husband and I entered, we saw her with some friends and asked how the plays went that evening. Her boyfriend told us that the first play of the night was really strange: A person would come out and start telling a monologue about how he was feeling and then a d I am venal and glib and too clever by half.My daughter was just involved in the Sears Festival, an adjudicated presentation of youth plays from area high schools, and we showed up on the night that the awards were to be presented. When my husband and I entered, we saw her with some friends and asked how the plays went that evening. Her boyfriend told us that the first play of the night was really strange: A person would come out and start telling a monologue about how he was feeling and then a dancer would appear and start interpreting what he was saying. The lights would go down and then up again, and then there would be another monologue, and another dance, and so on and so on. Zach and the other kids were trying to be respectful and not laugh, but the whole thing was overly serious and melodramatic, and they were especially put off by the fact that it was written by the performers-- it seemed manipulative and self-important. When the last monologue started, the music became even more ethereal and bordering on the satirical, and just when Zach could hardly stop himself from laughing, something happened that made him "feel like a total douchebag": a girl in a wheelchair came out to do the final dance, spinning and turning, and the entire audience was on their feet by the end, a mix of tears and smiles. When the awards were then presented, the Adjudicator announced a special award of merit for the brave young lady who inspired such a moving work, and when she rolled onto the stage to accept the award we could see she was not some pretty teen who had been in a tragic accident as I had been imagining: this was a small and twisted girl, obviously someone who has spent her entire life in the high tech wheelchair in which she now proudly received her certificate. I understood what Zach meant by feeling like a douchebag…and yet, if the play wasn't all that good, does the presence of tragedy mean you're a bad person if you didn't like it? Was that award even appropriate, or was it a bit condescending? Was that certificate the highlight of the young lady's high school career, or is she bombarded with a constant stream of people acknowledging her bravery for dealing with the crappy hand she had been dealt? I really do hope that the play and her participation in it and her dance and its recognition were pure and meaningful experiences for her, just like I hope my own daughter benefitted from her experience with the Sears Festival.And that brings me to David Rakoff: Does it make me a bad person that I didn't love Half Empty, even though I know that he died last summer? I appreciated that it was read by the author-- he was obviously a wonderful storyteller and I am not surprised to learn that he had a presence on public radio. And that's the thing about his voice-- it sounded more like a performance than a friend confiding in me. Rakoff is funny and intelligent, urbane I guess, exactly like a gay Jewish New Yorker who was born an Anglo-Montrealer might sound; measured and slightly bored, his voice cracking on cue at the wriest bits. As for the writing, it's wonderful, really; not quite memoir, but first person essays nonetheless.In “Isn’t it Romantic”, Rakoff explains why he didn't like the musical Rent: For a bunch of would-be artists, the characters in the musical are never shown making art. Unlike Rakoff himself, and even the playwright who created Rent, they are also never shown paying their dues or working at crummy minimum wage jobs in order to support their dreams, and indeed, they decide to stick it to the suits by refusing to pay their rent from then on. As Rakoff notes,". ..hanging out does not make one an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make one an artist. Neither do a hair-trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV - I hate to say it - none of these make one an artist. They can help, but just as being gay does not make one witty… the only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.” I believe that Rakoff paid his dues and suffered for his craft and in the end pushed out art-- and Half Empty is so well-crafted that I admired the words and the sentences and each essay, but I didn't love them. In another essay, Rakoff is introduced to a socialite-type at a party and the hostess mentions that the two guests could have a lively conversation at some point. Looking him up and down, the socialite purrs, "Oh yes, I'm sure we could have all sorts of bitchy fun." Rakoff smiled at the time, a polite Canadian at heart after all, but in his essay explains that he is never intentionally bitchy or catty or gossipy-- and was that what I was expecting, just like the shallow socialite? Was I disappointed that his observations were piercing and smart but never cruel?I heard the quote I started this with while walking along, and it struck me as my chief complaint-- Rakoff comes off as venal and glib and too clever by half-- and I hurried home to type it so I wouldn't forget it. It wasn't until I was looking at the impressions of others here that I saw someone had the entire quote: “I am the furthest thing from a do-gooder. I am venal and glib and too clever by half, I know, but the thrill of the most brilliantly quicksilver aperҫu is no match for the self-interested high I get from having done someone a good turn. You'd think I'd do more good turns as a result, but there you go.”It seems uncharitable of me to have remembered that quote out of context. I'm sure that if I had met Rakoff while he was alive, I would have liked him, and the world is certainly diminished by his absence.The final essay, “Another Shoe”, is an account of Rakoff's second cancer scare and its treatment, and of course that was a poignant experience, listening as I was to him tell the tale from beyond the grave. The title, Half Empty, refers to his philosophy of the positive power of negative thinking : one should hope for the best but prepare for the worst; don't be afraid to leave the house but know where the fire escapes are in the movie theater; expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed. After serving him well in the variety of experiences described in this book, it proves no match for a recurrence of cancer: “The best-laid plans, one's most fastidious contingency strategies have revealed themselves in the cold light of day to be laughably inadequate, no match for the happenstance that seems of late only to promise death, mayhem, poverty, flood. And here you are, having spent all that time protecting your home from the oncoming elements only to find that it has been shored up with crackers." Poignancy aside, I'm going to take a chance and assume that David Rakoff is not perched in the heaven that he didn't believe in, hoping that I'm going to award him a special certificate of merit just because his personal tragedy is attendant to my experience of his art. I hope that doesn't make me a douchebag…This is a very good book in my opinion, although a 3 star experience, and I am looking forward to listening to another collection of his essays that I have cued up next.
    more
  • Dave
    January 1, 1970
    . . . [audiobook via audible.com] . . . my favorite quote is from the essay entitled "All the Time We Have," but since I am listening to this book I am guessing at the punctuation of the following — “Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity, coupled with a relentless hair-trigger humor and surface cheer, spackling-over a chronic melancholia and loneliness (a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self), which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and . . . [audiobook via audible.com] . . . my favorite quote is from the essay entitled "All the Time We Have," but since I am listening to this book I am guessing at the punctuation of the following — “Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity, coupled with a relentless hair-trigger humor and surface cheer, spackling-over a chronic melancholia and loneliness (a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self), which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib comic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract, however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair – then this confirmation that you have triumphed again and managed to gull yet another mark, except this time it was the one person [i.e., therapist] you'd hoped might be immune to your ever-creakier, puddle-shallow, sideshow barker variation on adorable (even though you'd been launching this campaign weekly with a single-minded concentration from day one) – well, it conjures-up feelings that are best described as ‘mixed,’ to say the least.”
    more
  • Lori
    January 1, 1970
    This lovely book is dark and funny, and so very very sad. The final chapter was about the recurrence of cancer that killed him, so of course we read it knowing how it all turned out for him. He was such a lovely and complicated man. Although I highlighted many long passages, some hilarious bits, some poignant bits, and some great word choices, I’ll just share a couple here and hope you read the book.* He was describing the movie “The Other Side of the Mountain,” based on the life of Jill Kinmont This lovely book is dark and funny, and so very very sad. The final chapter was about the recurrence of cancer that killed him, so of course we read it knowing how it all turned out for him. He was such a lovely and complicated man. Although I highlighted many long passages, some hilarious bits, some poignant bits, and some great word choices, I’ll just share a couple here and hope you read the book.* He was describing the movie “The Other Side of the Mountain,” based on the life of Jill Kinmont, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident. I remember watching it when I was a kid (it was released in 1975) and feeling All The Tragedy Of Her Brilliant Life, so this made me laugh, when he wrote: “See it. You’ll cry from beginning to end, especially if you’re ten and gay.”* This tiny little snippet cracked me up. He was describing a Scandinavian short story: “…one day Satan himself visits, along with his great-grandmother–who is, not surprisingly, a total fucking bitch.”But that gives you the wrong impression, those two little snips, because it’s not at all twee and snarky, it’s deeply compassionate and funny and sad. Read it, you’ll be glad.
    more
  • Ryan Mishap
    January 1, 1970
    At last someone to defend those of us charged with the unforgivable crime of Negativity, that violation of the Positive Optimist's Penal Code; the false accusations hurled against those of us who think that maybe things aren't just going to work out if we apply smiley-brain waves or who wonder why there's injustice in the world and what should really matter to us humans. The opening essay begins with September 2001 interviews with dot.com wunderkinds who blather on about the importance of conten At last someone to defend those of us charged with the unforgivable crime of Negativity, that violation of the Positive Optimist's Penal Code; the false accusations hurled against those of us who think that maybe things aren't just going to work out if we apply smiley-brain waves or who wonder why there's injustice in the world and what should really matter to us humans. The opening essay begins with September 2001 interviews with dot.com wunderkinds who blather on about the importance of content and disavow meaning (after all, money is what matters, along with that fickle fiend fame), talks about the positive psychology movement and the pathological optimism of America, and then takes turns personal before that fatal slap in the face on the 11th. The last essay deals with his favorite stories as a child, selfishness, and the recurrence of cancer that may cost him an arm.As with these bookends, the essays in between are smart, entertaining, hilarious, serious, and filled with those magic sentences that employ an expanded vocabulary yet read effortlessly. Don't miss out.
    more
  • Wendy
    January 1, 1970
    There are so many quotable passages in the witty, thrillingly honest, satiric and sweet report from the fields of contemporary urban America, but I'll choose one. In writing about his serious and ongoing bout with cancer, and knowing how difficult it can be for people to say the "right thing" he says:"people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let There are so many quotable passages in the witty, thrillingly honest, satiric and sweet report from the fields of contemporary urban America, but I'll choose one. In writing about his serious and ongoing bout with cancer, and knowing how difficult it can be for people to say the "right thing" he says:"people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let's all give each other a pass, shall we?"I smiled out loud at many passages and there are some good Jewish jokes. As for the of premise of the title, Rakoff posits that seeing the pessimistic side of things should be as value-free a trait as the color of one's eyes. That it has evolutionary value, (as all diversity does) and is statistically not going to affect the chances of a pessamistic person's succumbing to disease. People will just be gladder when we do.
    more
  • Tracy
    January 1, 1970
    I just finished this. I found it really enjoyable especially his chapters on the musical RENT and his comments on Madonna, an unnamed writer (although I did figure out who it was) etc. David Rakoff has a cutting wit and when he is funny he is hilarious. The book gets sadder as it moves along, his final chapter on dealing with his cancer (lymphoma, he nearly lost his arm) is quite heartwrenching. It was fitting that the theme of the book is that there really is no bright side to life that life is I just finished this. I found it really enjoyable especially his chapters on the musical RENT and his comments on Madonna, an unnamed writer (although I did figure out who it was) etc. David Rakoff has a cutting wit and when he is funny he is hilarious. The book gets sadder as it moves along, his final chapter on dealing with his cancer (lymphoma, he nearly lost his arm) is quite heartwrenching. It was fitting that the theme of the book is that there really is no bright side to life that life is just life good and bad and you shouldn't think that things are going to get better because often they don't.
    more
  • Sandi
    January 1, 1970
    I did not think this was quite as good as the first book by the author that I listened to Don't Get Too Comfortable: the Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never- Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems but there were some interesting thoughts on pessimism and health issues. Listened to the audio read by the author.
    more
  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I am having the hardest time getting through this one. I typically love listening to David Rakoff and even wrote Audible.com, asking for this book on audio format. But I'm finding it to be smarmy rather than funny or even interesting enough to get me through a short run. His cynicism and snobbish observations are typically great to listen to - but are overly exaggerated in this book - now he just sounds like a snob.
    more
  • Bonnie G.
    January 1, 1970
    Beautiful personal essays. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and sometime both at the same time. I can't recall being more moved by a book. The audio was read by the author and really worked for me, but I expect this would be as good in written form.
    more
  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    This was goodish, but it was all over the place. The digressions took over the stories and there was little or no flow throughout the book. When he occasionally got to the point, it was startling because I had forgotten he was trying to make one.
  • Ryan Louis
    January 1, 1970
    Rakoff's humor is a slow burn. At first discomfiting, slowly his poignancy burrows its way so deep that, by the end, you're speaking a different language. The world, here, is a little bleaker. But it feels more truthful somehow - as if his insights could only emerge after a reader finally learns to give up the sun in favor of the moon. That is: though it feels a little darker around us, everything is still radiant - aglow in the bluelit world of a troubled yet always provocative realism.All of t Rakoff's humor is a slow burn. At first discomfiting, slowly his poignancy burrows its way so deep that, by the end, you're speaking a different language. The world, here, is a little bleaker. But it feels more truthful somehow - as if his insights could only emerge after a reader finally learns to give up the sun in favor of the moon. That is: though it feels a little darker around us, everything is still radiant - aglow in the bluelit world of a troubled yet always provocative realism.All of this may sound too poetic for a review. But Rakoff is a singular author. He is often lumped amongst the funny, ex-NPR expats like Sedaris and Vowell. And he shares their wry and often acidic wit, to be sure. But his strengths emerge in places where the others are weakest. Whereas Sedaris and Vowell allude to the formidable cracks in the networks between us, Rakoff exploits them, stares at them and then, somehow, makes a joke (often inappropriate or unkind) to remind us that, though they have power, they don't always have to control us.This will no doubt turn off some readers. But, for me, I appreciate the trip over that line sometimes. Rakoff was never a resident of the...over-the-line (despite his growing reputation as a grump), but he certainly loved to visit!In the last story, he tells his personal story of cancer - likely caused by the treatments he received 20 years prior. It is sad, of course, knowing now that it was the disease that killed him. But he, even while probing the malignancies and existential crises growing inside him, is still only looking for truths. Whether he finds any is up for debate. But he does find peace. And after a whole book of poking poignancies, that's something beautiful to behold.Peace for him and, by his example hopefully, a little peace for us.
    more
  • Christina
    January 1, 1970
    This is an interesting collection. There are still definite laugh out loud moments. But the overall tone is darker. You can sense the underlying rage which one can only assume is the product of his knowledge that he didn't have much time left. Truthfully, I would have probably given this book three stars, but the last essay, in which Rakoff confronts the return of his cancer, is surprisingly life-affirming, even with the cover's proclamation that nothing life-affirming can be found therein. In t This is an interesting collection. There are still definite laugh out loud moments. But the overall tone is darker. You can sense the underlying rage which one can only assume is the product of his knowledge that he didn't have much time left. Truthfully, I would have probably given this book three stars, but the last essay, in which Rakoff confronts the return of his cancer, is surprisingly life-affirming, even with the cover's proclamation that nothing life-affirming can be found therein. In this last essay, he discusses how we find ways of living with both anxiety and happiness. There is sadness in ending this, with the knowledge that he would only live three more years. Her should have had more time.
    more
  • Shannan
    January 1, 1970
    I love David's writing and always feel sadness to think he died just a little older than me. He has a methodical cynicism that can be scooped up and applied liberally to the present as much as when he was terminally silenced.This book is a series of essays in the first person. A few have been played on "this American life" and why I hear his voice pitch perfect in my ear as I read. I first encountered David's writing through "Fraud" which is still my favourite.Many of the pieces are about being I love David's writing and always feel sadness to think he died just a little older than me. He has a methodical cynicism that can be scooped up and applied liberally to the present as much as when he was terminally silenced.This book is a series of essays in the first person. A few have been played on "this American life" and why I hear his voice pitch perfect in my ear as I read. I first encountered David's writing through "Fraud" which is still my favourite.Many of the pieces are about being gay, being urban being Jewish and being a runt and some are about being a gay Jewish urban runt of which I am only one but appreciate all.
    more
  • Kitty
    January 1, 1970
    Interesting, funny, and surprisingly touching. I don't think Rakoff meant for this book to be inspiring, but it really is (well, the final essay is, at least). Knowing that Rakoff died before his time makes it all the more poignant.
  • Anne
    January 1, 1970
    I listened to the audiobook, which was read by Rakoff himself. As always, his stories are brilliant, acerbic, and, occasionally (and inadvertently) devastating. Read this if you have finished all of David Sedaris and/or you want something better (imho).
    more
  • Brooke
    January 1, 1970
    I haven't loved a book this much in a long while.
  • Kelly Hager
    January 1, 1970
    I don’t generally read nonfiction, but the description of this book won me over. (When I do read it, it’s either quirky memoirs like AJ Jacobs or snarky essays like David Sedaris.)“In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, David examines the realities of our sunny, gosh-everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true.“ I don’t generally read nonfiction, but the description of this book won me over. (When I do read it, it’s either quirky memoirs like AJ Jacobs or snarky essays like David Sedaris.)“In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, David examines the realities of our sunny, gosh-everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true.“The book ranges from the personal to the universal, combining stories both reportorial and from David’s own experiences: the moment when being a tiny child no longer meant adults found him charming but instead meant other children found him a fun target; the perfect late evening in Manhattan when he was young and the city seemed to brim with such possibility that the street shimmered in the moonlight–as he drew closer he realized the streets actually flickered with rats in a feeding frenzy. He also weaves in his usual brand of Oscar Wilde-worthy cultural criticism (the tragedy of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, for instance.”As someone who has ALSO discussed the shenanigans behind the Walk of Fame, I knew I’d have to read this. (Note: anyone can get a star; you just have to pay for it.)If you like snarky, sarcastic essays, you’ll like this book. It’s incredibly witty (and yes, at times wise and poignant) and I literally laughed out loud several times.But I also liked this paragraph:“But here’s the point I want to make about what people say [after you're diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease]. Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, `You fucking asshole, I can’t wait until you die of this,’ people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?”It’s funny and it’s true. Absolutely recommended. :)
    more
Write a review