Let's get this out of the way: David Rakoff is not David Sedaris. When you hear him being incredibly smart and funny on This American Life, you invariably think, "Oh, it's David Sedaris." But if you listen closely, you can tell the difference. Rakoff, while no less witty or nasal, is a little more disappointed. In his first collection--a series of pieces for public radio and for various magazines--he positively revels in his world-weariness. Whether he's investigating the Loch Ness monster, attending a comedy festival in Aspen, Colorado, visiting a New Age retreat hosted by Steven Seagal, or just, you know, playing Freud in a department-store window at Christmastime, Rakoff tends to get comically depleted. Watching the comic Dan Castellaneta, for example, he writes, "It's a bad sign when I start counting the unused props on stage. Only two wigs, one stool, an easel, and a dropcloth to go. I begin to pray to an unfeeling God to please make Castellaneta multitask." In a piece where he attempts to climb a mountain (well... a very short hill), Rakoff immediately nips any Sierra Club fantasies in the bud: "I do not go outdoors. Not more than I have to. As far as I'm concerned, the whole point of living in New York City is indoors. You want greenery? Order the spinach." But in the end, what makes him such a terrific writer is that he's not only onto everyone else, he's onto himself. No wonder his visit to a kibbutz becomes the occasion for some supremely self-conscious amusement: "I know I sound like the Central Casting New Yorker I've turned myself into with single-minded determination when I say this, but the main problem with working in the fields is that the sun is just always shining." --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
A talented new humorist springs onto the scene: Rakoff has a rapier wit, slashing in all directions with slice-of-life insights and cutting remarks, sometimes nicking himself with self-deprecation in his dexterous duello with the American experience. Rakoff is a public radio personality, and his first collection contains his material from public radio's This American Life and from Outside and Salon, as well as a few new pieces. Assigned to visit a New Age retreat for a Buddhism workshop led by Steven Seagal, to look for elves in Iceland, to attend the Aspen Comedy Festival and to train at a wilderness survival camp, Rakoff endures urban dweller misadventures with a spin that occasionally remind one of Fran Lebowitz, such as during his hike up a New Hampshire mountain: "If only the mist would part to reveal a beautiful, beautiful parking lot, I will get through this." Outstanding is "Lush Life," a look at the delusions and despair of low-paid NYC editorial assistants, "complicit believers in the mythic glamour of a literary New York" yet forced to subsist on "salmonella-friendly" free snacks in "unhappening bars" where they can avoid former classmates with six-figure incomes. Rakoff can be as funny as Dave Barry or George Carlin, but he adds a touch of pathos, peeling away poignant layers unexplored by other humor writers. The author's woodcut illustrations are barely adequate, since the book cries out for Ralph Steadman art. The book cries out, period. (May 15)Forecast: With national print advertising and a national author tour in the offing, plus his radio exposure, Rakoff will quickly find his readership and they him. The crude pink marker scrawl of the title will make the book an eye-catching item in store displays.
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