Rating: 2 1/2 stars
My first experience with David Rakoff was his guest appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to plug his new book, Half Empty. I found Rakoff to be quite funny, well-spoken and a joy to watch. Half Empty sounded wholly interesting; so I picked up a copy and wasted no time getting my Rakoff on.
Right out of the gate, flags went up; I was having difficulty understanding what I was reading. After finishing the first few pages, all the while wondering if I had finally fried my brain on bad fiction, I took a deep breath and went back to read it again. The first chapter was the proverbial beginning of the end.
Rakoff’s wit and way with words translated onto the page like a stuffy butler with a sense of entitlement. The extensive use of his vast vocabulary only succeeded in drowning any point, meaning or humor in a sea of verbosity. This is not to say that Mr. Rakoff cannot write; quite the contrary, he can write and very well—he just refuses to stop.
Having said that, I can appreciate a book written above the fifth grade level, as well as one that provides reprieve from repetitive and formulaic authors. However, Rakoff’s essays, with all their extravagant verbiage, read like William Shakespeare in a James Patterson world.
To be clear, I am not comparing the works of Shakespeare to Rakoff, just making an analogy—even though they both can be tedious and confusing. Although Mr. Rakoff may put off many readers due to his difficult-to-decipher prose and tangential paragraphs, much of the blame can be put on Mr. Patterson—Patterson (and those like him--yes, I mean you, John Grisham) has ruined millions of literary-palates and anything short of spoon-fed is too much effort.
Despite their disjointedness, once deciphered, the essays were witty, touching and poignant. In the end, I was glad I’d taken the time and endured Half Empty, if only to see how the other half writes.
For those of you frustrated by this book, don’t be too hard on Mr. Rakoff, he still seems like a pretty affable guy. For those of you who breezed through Half Empty and have no idea of the difficulty about which I speak, may I suggest Useful Knowledge by Gertrude Stein.
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (September 21, 2010)