Friday, September 24, 2010

Half Empty by David Rakoff

David Rakoff has a way of scratching the surface of everyday life to expose the not-quite-so-glittery center. His essays are curmudgeonly, satirical, touching, and funny.

'Like generations of misfits before me, be they morphological, sexual, or otherwise, I decided that I would make theater my refuge. I was a pretty good actor as a child, albeit with the budding homosexual's propensity for schmacting, the overuse of outsized and non-contextual emotion. I could cry on cue and did so whenever I got the chance, which was mainly alone in my bedroom in front of the mirror - great heaving arias of melodramatic hysteria that could burst forth with all the vulgar hoopla of a magician's bouquet.' pg 34

All that only to be asked to leave a high school audition because he was not 'physically substantial' enough. And then, years later, be fired from the set of a star-studded movie, for what? He never really did find out why except that . . . a few days later, the director sent me a kind note that read, "Dear David. I am sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, you just had your reservations on the Titanic cancelled. You should look at it that way too." pg 71. Ouch.

He had me at 'misfit.'

But my favorite essay has to be his description of Disney's Innoventions Dream Home, an interactive exhibit that showcased the latest [1998] technological devices, such as voice activated computers, high-definition TVs, and smart cars. But before Rakoff continues, he takes on (bless him) one of my own pet peeves: the hokeyness of made up words.

While we are on the subject of outsized claims that border on the risible, can we pause for a moment to talk about that term, Innovention? A neologism that, in an effort to turbo-charge meaning, takes two perfectly eloquent and unassailable words and by combining them renders both suspect. It is a word developed by a committee, one that can only be spoken unironically if one is being paid to do so, like menus in chain restaurants that list "Snacketizers" and "Appeteasers." pg 117

Ha! I love these little opinionated explanatory asides. I would like to add my own example here, if I may, (while we are on the subject of corporate committee-speak) that the names of these same chain restaurants are all irritatingly corny and 'down home' - made up by a boardroom full of marketing experts to sound like everyones' best friend's place . . . or something. We're all supposed to believe in the neighborliness of each establishment and forget the fact that headquarters is in another time zone. Er, in the words of Elaine Benes, "Fake. Fake. Fake."

Anyway, back to David Rakoff. I first discovered his books a few years ago when I picked up a copy of Don't Get Too Comfortable and liked it enough to go in search of his first book Fraud, and now his newest book, Half Empty. Although his humor can sometimes be exhausting, his books are still fun, engaging and an antidote to the syrupy phoniness our society wallows in. And that in itself is worthy of a place on my bookshelf.


Anonymous said...


Great review!!

I loved the way it was written and really enjoyed your humor, as well as his...I want to read him now. I sense a subtle shift in your review style...what happened?

Hope you are all well. X Nomad

Trish said...

Thanks, Nomad.

My review style? I don't know. It really depends on the day, and the book, and the strength of this morning's coffee.