Tuesday, April 24, 2007

David Rakoff, Don’t Get Too Comfortable, 2005.

I met Rakoff as I met David Sedaris: through listening to NPR’s This American Life. Someday I will recover from my desire to have Ira Glass’s job. Maybe.

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 New York City, and so forth.

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.

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