This collection of essays is not, generally, laugh-out-loud funny. It’s thoughtful: Rakoff muses and considers. He shares personal experiences, and the essays feel almost like magazine pieces, if the magazine in question happened to be The Believer. They range from experiencing a private resort to fasting, from becoming an American citizen to foraging for food in the wilderness of
My favourite piece is “J.D.V., M.I.A.” In it, Rakoff describes participating in a scavenger hunt in which one elaborate clue leads to the next; I identify strongly with his relative inability to solve the brainteasers, and feeling out-of-place with those who can. For me, it happens when I try to engage with a cryptic crossword: I might get one or two answers, but my brain doesn’t turn sideways that way. Present in the essay is an admiration combined with a sense of self-recognition and self-awareness that appeals strongly to me.
The pieces are pleasant. They are occasionally sharp and acerbic, but never mean. Rakoff tends to move toward a flatter, more descriptive prose style that lacks emotional content, when he wants to convey disappointment or other negative perceptions of some subject, and that habit gives the book a charitable, polite tone. It’s an engaging read, well-worth the time it will take you.