on June 19, 2006
My husband and I listened to this audiobook on a car trip last week. We both really enjoyed it (as well as the audiobook for Rakoff's other book, FRAUD), but I do admit to nodding off close to the end. (My excuse was that I'd taken an over-the-counter medication for motion sickness. But, maybe he was sometimes a little bit long-winded. Not all the time, though, because we were often laughing out loud at his turns of phrase.)
I greatly enjoyed his humorous, observant style of writing. He entertained me while enlightening me on what it would be like to go on a late-night scavenger hunt through New York City, for example. Some reviewers seemed to have the wrong expectation about what this book was about. I didn't feel like Rakoff had made it his "goal" to delve into American excess; I just think that this was the general theme that tied these essays together. This wasn't meant to be a thesis explaining "This is why Americans are the way they are." These essays are just Rakoff's observations on the ironic quirks of American culture. I just enjoyed the essays for what they were without expecting him to give me a sociological explanation for what was behind everything he wrote about. People who were expecting that were reading the wrong book.
Some other reviewers have criticized Rakoff's delivery when he read his book for the audio CD. In my opinion, his manner of speaking ADDED to my enjoyment of his work. It helped me imagine him in all of the situations he was in. Because he's gay, he can take a detached, third-party view of the soft-core photo shoot he witnesses at the luxury resort, as well as the Hooters Air flight he takes. He's observing the ironies of these situations, but not distracted by the women's "physical charms." Can you imagine a more macho, "man's man" performance of these essays by a different narrator giving you the same impression of the absurdity Rakoff feels in these situations? No, Rakoff is what he is, and his narration comes off to me as true to how it would sound as an anecdote he'd share when talking to a friend. So, I, for one, hope he continues to be the reader of his own work, for audiobook purposes.
Also, to those who complain that Rakoff shouldn't criticize America because he's Canadian by birth, I think that this gives him a unique perspective that has merit. He had lived (legally) in America for many years before he became a U.S. citizen, and he seemed to consider New York City to be his home. Just because he has complaints about the naturalization process, as well as darkly humorous opinions about the eccentricities of Americans, doesn't mean that he completely regrets becoming a U.S. citizen. I would think that people who give up citizenship in the country they were born in often have misgivings along the way (and afterward) that they might be making a mistake. That's a pretty life-changing decision to have made, and his honesty in feeling kind of like a stranger in a strange land is natural. Especially when you have serious concerns about the politics of your adopted nation's leader.
I look forward to Rakoff's next book, because his unique take on our society can make us think about what seems normal to us, while making us laugh at his turn of phrase at the same time.
In "Don't Get Too Comfortable," a collection of essays by David Rakoff, the author skewers the excesses and abominations of American society. In a chapter called "Love It or Leave It," the Canadian-born Rakoff discusses how his issues with our current administration helped him decide to apply for American citizenship. In later chapters, Rakoff describes a ride on the Concorde, a visit to a secluded tropical isle for the very affluent, a morning spent with the sidewalk groupies on the Today Show, and a consultation with several plastic surgeons to discuss his physical flaws.
Rakoff is a skilled writer, who uses original and sharply turned phrases in his criticism of greed, hypocrisy, heartlessness, rampant materialism, homophobia, and just plain stupidity. He makes fun of Log Cabin Republicans, fans who stand for hours on a New York sidewalk longing to be noticed by Al Roker, rich people who decide to cleanse their systems by fasting, and individuals who attempt to cheat death by having themselves cryogenically and expensively preserved with the hope of someday being "reanimated."
Although "Don't Get Too Comfortable" is often funny and always irreverent, Rakoff's satire sometimes misses the mark. For example, a chapter about foraging in Prospect Park for edible flora is boring and pointless, as is an essay devoted to "Midnight Madness," a silly scavenger hunt on the streets of New York City. Too often, Rakoff comes off as petty and spiteful, someone who complains simply because he enjoys kvetching. However, Rakoff is often self-deprecating, which does take some of the edge off the scorn he directs towards others. Although far from perfect, the essays in this slim volume are worth reading for their style and cleverness. There is enough humor and bite in "Don't Get Too Comfortable" to earn it a marginal recommendation.
on April 29, 2006
I picked up this book right after I saw David Rakoff on The Daily Show. Watching the interview between Jon Stewart and Rakoff, I got the impression (like many of the other reviewers here) that his book would delve deep into the idea of excess and why the world wants more and more of everything. Instead, I found something just as wonderful, but more about the humor than the intellect.
Albeit his essays are witty and smart, I found that they concentrated more on an anecdote than they did an actually comparative study. However, I was less than disappointed.
Some chapters I found dull and devoid of interest, but still, the others made up completely for it.
All in all, a good book if you're looking for something witty and smart. I enjoy his litterary style, a sort of snarky, I-know-I'm-right douchebaggery. And it's true; he's right.
on November 23, 2005
This sharp little collection of essays by David Rakoff is a well executed satire of our hyper-indulged, self-entitled, over-consuming society. Rakoff tosses his articulate, queen-y rants at everything from elitist varieties of salt, to twenty-day fasts and foraging in Central Park. His use of vocabulary is marvelous. At times smug, and at (rare)times self-effacing, Rakoff's humor is acid with a pinch of sugar. "...far from being bobos in paradise, we're in a special circle of gilded- age hell".
on October 29, 2005
How often have we filled out some incomprehensible Government form that we know we have to get right because it's the law. It takes a special mind to look at some of these questions and make it into a catchy essay.
Mr. Rakoff has that kind of mind. It seems he can find a story in almost anything. And that's what this book is, a series of little stories, essays on the human condition in today's downtown New York City for the most part. The stories have a feeling that they were written for something else, one of the magazines for which Mr. Rakoff works pehaps. That doesn't matter, I don't read any of those magazines, so they're new to me.
Like all good stories, these have a small lesson to teach. The point out the silliness of a lot of today's life. In looking at other reviews of this book, some people are more annoyed than amused. To them, all I can say is lighten up, so he doesn't like Bush, most New Yorkers liked the War Protester and the Ambulance Chaser.
on January 24, 2007
Fraud, David Rakoff's first book, was enjoyable, rewarding, and often very funny. This book is not as enjoyable, not as rewarding, and not nearly as funny. The essays in Fraud were so carefully constructed, and so observant, that I found myself going back to reread them over and over. They stood up to repeated reading because, as book nerdish as this sounds, I never tired of the witty, playful language, or the sense of being there, with Rakoff, sharing his experiences. Even the ones that fell flat were still worth reading, if for no other reason than that they had a unique viewpoint and were well-written.
The essays in Don't Get Too Comfortable, like those in Fraud, deal with topics that range from the prosaic to the truly outlandish. Unlike Fraud, the essays here feel unfinished, and frequently lack insight or focus. More than once, I asked myself, What was the point of that? I didn't know if I'd missed it, or if it just wasn't there to begin with.
Take, for example, Rakoff's trip to Arizona to visit the headquarters of a company that specializes in cryonics. It's all very ghoulish, and Rakoff does a good job of capturing the mundane and the bizarre, but it's not terribly insightful. Cryonics being such an easy target, I expected more. And that's the problem with this book, in a nutshell. While there are many easy targets here, and Rakoff tackles some large issues (Log Cabin Republicans, life in post-9/11 New York/America, Bush), he doesn't have much to contribute to the conversation that's new or novel. Which is a shame, given his wit, humor, and considerable talent as a writer.
on November 6, 2005
In "Don't Get Too Comfortable" author David Rakoff shines a light on the weirdness that is life in this modern world. Perhaps because he is originally from another country (Canada), he is able to see the strange in the ordinary. Perhaps he just has very good eyes for the absurd. Perhaps both are true. Regardless, the book is very, very funny.
For some reason, other reviewers have compared him to David Sedaris-perhaps because both are funny, occasionally heard on NPR, and gay. Other than that, I fail to see much similarity. However, out of a sense of duty, I will now compare them for you: Sedaris makes you laugh about his strange life and family, while Rakoff's humor is more about the absurdity of what is now ordinary.
Rakoff's book is quick and entertaining although his prose gets bogged down by the occasional literary pretension of the overly self-conscious. There are lots of chuckles and a few belly laughs. It's a great airplane read. Buy it.
on August 15, 2006
"George W. Bush made me want to be an American." That's the first sentence of the book "Don't Get Too Comfortable" by David Rakoff. In spite of the warning not to judge a book by it's cover, I often do that in making my selections at the local library. The cover tells me something about the tone or style of the book, the call number on the spine tells me whether it is fiction or non-, and the subtitle usually gives a very good synopsis of the book. The subtitle for Rakoff's book is "The indignities of coach class, the torments of low thread count, the never-ending quest for artisanal olive oil, and other first world problems." Not a bad summary.
But for this book it was the first sentence of the first chapter that riveted me. Bush made him want to be an American!?!?
Turns out that is a backhanded compliment for Bush's vision of America which has resulted in imprisonment without trial and deportation without cause simply because the government has deemed a person an "enemy combatant". The war on terror has no easily identified enemy so everyone is suspect and anyone is liable to be caught in the net of "enemy". Rakoff has lived most of his life in America as a Canadian citizen, a legal resident alien. He had been happy with the ambiguities of his life until he realized that Bush wasn't. From this decision he goes on to experience and then describe our pitiful naturalization system.
This is a collection of short magazine-length articles, many of which have already appeared in magazines such as GQ, This American Life, and Harper's Bazaar. They're fun, funny, and mostly light-hearted with some serious undertones. Topics include shopping, Martha Steward, genital origami, Log Cabin Republicans, cosmetic surgery, and the quest for eternal life through cryogenics. Highly enjoyable book.
on January 14, 2006
Pepsi or Coca Cola? ER or Chicago Hope? David Sedaris or David Rakoff? We all have our preferences. I prefer Coke, Chicago Hope, and Rakoff. They all have the right amount of bite for my taste. Rakoff, while sharing many of Sedaris's virtues--wit, self-effacing humor, a take-it-or-leave-it attitude about his being gay--Rakoff's essays are less rambling and have a point. Even though he could be accused of writing soft journalism and doesn't do any heavy duty investigation (he's either a fatalist or just plain lazy), he does hold a mirror up to his readers (presumably mostly middle-class Americans) and asks us to think about what we do (and why), and what our actions say about where our values lie. His essays touch on a swimsuit photo shoot, looking for edible roots and shoots in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, the last flight of the grossly inefficient Concorde, a Yuppie scavenger hunt in Manhattan, penis puppets as Broadway entertainment, serving the beautiful people in a South Beach hotel, tourists who would rather stand in the cold to watch the Today Show from outside the NBC studio than take in New York's many cultural offerings, the Paris rag trade, the futility and inanity of gay Republicans, the ethical dilemmas of cosmetic surgeons, the pettiness of a "fasting guru," and the absurdity of cryonics (those wackos who want to be frozen when they die and revivified when science has figured out how to cure the illnesses that killed them and can reverse the other unpleasant aspects of aging). Rakoff asks his readers to take a good look at themselves and reflect on what they see. As Rakoff himelf says, "I have seen the future and I'm fairly relieved to say, it looks nothing like me" (p. 222). As Americans we have big dreams, high expectations. Maybe it's time, Rakoff seems to be saying, for us to cultivate a little humility.
on January 7, 2006
Perhaps this is just me, but you have to love a book that asks questions such as "What is it about house music that makes gay men want to buy underpants?". Rakoff combines a course, New Yorker's attitude with a good observations of on a diverse set of subjects, that do have the loose connection to the sort of affluence we take in the United States for granted. Rakoff makes plenty of witty observations, and I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times. Plenty of people and things get skewered by Rakoff, but he always seems to do it on the right note, without coming across as mean spirited or bitter.
Rakoff is gay, and as a straight guy, I found his essays involving assignments that would arouse most heterosexual men, such as a Playboy photo shoot or a week of fashion shows in Paris, most interesting. He comes across as some bemused tourist observing some foreign custom in a far away land. The essay on the Log Cabin Republicans was also a highlight, and interesting, at least to me, in the way Rakoff sizes up the male leader of this group the way a date might.
Martha Stewart is an unlikely soulmate for Rakoff in a rambling essay on his enjoyment of crafts, and the book concludes with an essay on cryogenically freezing of dead bodies and heads for future reanimation. Rakoff skewers some easy targets, but also manage to say a lot about life's meaning and human mortality, and it's a great conclusion to the book.
I love these type of essays, and if you do too, give the book 5 stars. However, there were a few weaker essays that for the general audience, I should give it four.