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Fraud: Essays Paperback – April 23, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767906314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767906319
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Rakoff wrote the bestsellers Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable and Half Empty. A two-time recipient of the Lambda Literary Award and winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, he was a regular contributor to Public Radio International's This American Life. His writing frequently appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, Wired, Salon, GQ, Outside, Gourmet, Vogue, and Slate, among other publications. An accomplished stage and screen actor, playwright, and screenwriter, he adapted the screenplay for and starred in Joachim Back's film The New Tenants, which won the 2010 Oscar for Best Live Action Short. He died in August 2012 at the age of 47, shortly after finishing his novel entitled Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die; Cherish, Perish.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Lee Kessler on March 5, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Other reviewers have invariably used David Sedaris as the benchmark to measure David Rakoff against. The two do, after all, share some qualities--they're both radio contributors to This American Life, they're both gay, and, most importantly, they're both wonderful writers.
The comparison between the two Davids is appropriate, but only to a point. Sedaris's genius stems from his ability to make you see things from his warped perspective. Rakoff isn't quite as eccentric, but he is just as observant, and his writing is always elegant, interesting, and often plain funny. My favorite parts of Fraud were a handful of travel essays--accounts of trips to Tokyo, Northern Scotland, and to New England for a Christmas Day mountain climb. I thought some of Rakoff's essays were better than others, but in the abridged audio version I listened to, there's not a weak one in the bunch.
For most people, I suspect, Rakoff is easier to identify with. When he tells you in a touching essay about his experiences as a 22-year-old cancer patient, you feel like you understand, even if you've never gone through such tragedy yourself. (As big a David Sedaris fan as I am, I simply can't relate to, say, his adolescent desire to sing commercial jingles in the style of Billie Holiday.)
So give Rakoff his due. Fraud is an interesting, literate collection of essays that deserves to be recognized in its own right--and not just as a book by that other gay This American Life contributor named David.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Kirk on August 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
Reading the reviews here, it looks as though the people who enjoyed this book have moved on to other things in their lives while the naysayers are having the last word. This is unfortunate, because David Rakoff is a very funny and perceptive writer. Although not every one of these essays is a polished jewel, the best of them - his encounter with Steven Seagal, his appearance on a popular daytime soap opera, his report on a Tom Brown survival training course --- stand up as quality humor even after repeated readings.

Most of the negative reactions come from a common disappointment that Rakoff does not write precisely like David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs. What can you say to that? Either expand your range or wait for those writers' next books to be published.

Other criticisms seem to gather around Rakoff's tendency to use multisyllabic words, when a "simpler" vocabulary would have sufficed. While there are many comic writers today who write using everyday vernacular, what is unique about Rakoff is that he reaches for something more profound than a simple comic setup. Getting there, he does risk coming off as pretentious, and he does indeed use big words, which for some people will call for a dictionary.

In his first collection, Rakoff provides us with good anecdotes, shows solid comic timing, and yes, his big words pass the dictionary test.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By W. Heape on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Oh my gosh! I love this man.
I've read many humorists after falling in love with David Sedaris's "Barrel Fever". I've clicked on "If you like David Sedaris you'll love...." links all over the web. Strangely enough someone handed me a copy of "Fraud" at the pool one day and never made the famous comparison. Of course I figured it out soon enough but was overtaken with the difference. Rakoff's essays have much more meat to them. I felt as if I'd learned more at the end of each one, much like a good short story. Alice Munro perhaps...crazy comparison but something about his endings reminded me of her. Oh Canada!
I do agree on one thing however. Whether Rakoff is a linguistic genius or a Dictionary-Thumper, I could have done without the impressive display of vocabulary. None of us know people who use these words and if we did we certainly wouldn't invite them over for dinner. Still, it's a small price to pay.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By sally barry on August 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Never heard of David Rakoff until I saw him on a recent talk show, and as I'm always in the mood for observations on society, etc. by a smart gay man, spent a warm afternoon or two with this often amusing book of essays. Subjects include a trip to Iceland, a wildnerness survival/tracking course, a visit to a New Age mecca, and climbing a mountain somewhere in New England. Mr. Rakoff isn't as funny as David Sedaris, there is a strong undertone of melancholy, and he is self-deprecating in the extreme. He actually admits - twice! - to wearing black plastic shoes, which information astonishes me. I plan to look up his previous work on the internet, and look forward to any future books with great anticipation.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Valerie Frankel on June 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
David Rakoff sees the sham in nearly everything. The success of his book, however, is no fraud. The writing (deft, limber, ambitious)! The settings (Scotland to Iceland; ice cream parlors and cancer wards)! The charming self-pity that makes the reader love him! I'm sure there will be comparisons to David Sedaris, but the two writers have different goals. Rakoff shows us that, despite all the lies, a true (if achingly lonely) heart keeps on thudding.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Beaudry on December 16, 2004
Format: Paperback
I promised myself that I wouldn't compare this book to the writings of David Sedaris, however, after numerous references to "My friend David", or "The play written by my friend David and his sister Amy", and even a front cover quote from David Sedaris himself, I found it impossible not to make comparisons.

David Rakoff starts out very strongly with "In New England, Everyone Calls You Dave", but seems to stall with many of his other stories, and seems to exude less wit, and more whine. While Sedaris points out other people's shortcomings in a humorous and almost omniscient manner, Rakoff wears thin rather quickly, and comes off more bitter and self-righteous than humorous. Rakoff is obviously very well read, but his love of the thesaurus tends to make his writing seem pretentious, even when he's trying to be an Average Joe. His observations just don't have the immediacy of someone seeing someone/something, but rather seem to be boiled down and carefully picked through like an overcooked stew. This takes most of the humor out of the stories, and what you're left with is rather flavorless.

There are several funny stories later in the book, but it takes such an effort to get to them that it may not be worth it. Overall, an okay effort, but I'd rather stick with Sedaris.
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