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Half Empty Paperback – September 6, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this sardonic collection of essays, Rakoff (Don't Get Too Comfortable) plays the role of a naysayer who tries to convince the reader, with humorous asides and sarcastic one-liners, that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and the nerds and geeks will someday be the globe's financial and political tyrants. His topics are a hodge-podge lot that covers hopes and dreams, the meaning of a Jew who eats pork, optimism, a stunted childhood, and the New York City Exotic Erotic Ball and Expo. While his wise-cracking humor isn't always on target, he shines when discussing the acceptance of grief and mortality in "All The Time We Have," and "the bohemian myth" of artists and Rent creator Jonathan Larson's demise the day before his popular show opened, in "Isn't It Romantic?"
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this, his third, compilation of essays, Rakoff invites into the ring Positivity, that plucky, perennial champ, and takes down the old grinner one forlorn blow at a time. Maintaining his signature and singular charm (Fraud, 2001; Don’t Get Too Comfortable, 2005), Rakoff analyzes the heck out of common- ( and not-so-common-) place culture: the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Salt Lake City, a New York porn convention, to name names. Rakoff is so keenly observant and dead-on with his criticism, you get the impression most of our eyes would cross and cartoon birds fly above our heads before we could make it halfway to the elegant, smart conclusions he draws. Calling into question some of the institutions we hold closest to our hearts, and peppered with guilty, nose-crinkling laughs, this is a verbose, grandiose stockpile of sour grapes—a writerly collection to make giddy even the most erudite lover of words. An undisputed KO for negative thinking. --Annie Bostrom --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767929055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767929059
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,953 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

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By P. Mann VINE VOICE on August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
David Rakoff's "Half Empty" consists of ten essays, which range from the bitingly sarcastic to the surprisingly poignant. The book begins with "The Bleak Shall Inherit," a few-holds-barred rant about what Mr. Rakoff sees as ubiquitous and unrepentant (and unjustifiable) optimism. "Isn't It Romantic?" skewers Rent and is probably both the best crafted and the funniest essay of the lot. In "A Capacity for Wonder," the author presents a mini-travelogue, taking us to the Disney Innoventions Dream House, Hollywood Boulevard, and Salt Lake City, Utah. The final two essays, "All the Time We Have" and "Another Shoe" are the most somber contributions, dealing as they do with the death of the author's therapist and the author's experience with cancer, respectively.

When I first started reading this book, one thing became apparent immediately: Mr. Rakoff can write, most of the time. Yes, he sometimes seems to go on, allowing sentences to continue far past the point at which they should have died had nature been allowed to take its course, but there was, for me, a clear sense of someone with great skill with words at work here. This is not, as William Tapply called it, invisible writing. Rather, the writing itself is part of the pleasure of the book. I am certain that I did not catch all the allusions, but I like writing that challenges, that sometimes goes beyond what most readers are able to absorb easily.
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53 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Reading David Rakoff's new collection of essays, "Half Empty" reminds me of this Czeslaw Milosz quote: "In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." Rakoff is so good at pointing out the truth in a way that clobbers you over the head with the realization of how blind you've been.

Rakoff is my favorite contrarian. And I have a soft-spot for those who admit to being a dilettante - being a bit of one myself. I adore his cynical pessimism and his struggles with his dark nature, and boy do I love his wit! Right off the bat in the first essay, "The Bleak Shall Inherit", Rakoff paints a vivid picture of pre-9/11 society with the bubble millionaires and a "self-help" book that MIGHT expose the inefficacy of eternal optimism. Of course, things don't turn out. For Rakoff, they never do.

And much as I love the musical "Rent", thanks to Rakoff's, "Isn't it Romantic" deconstruction, I'll never be able to look at it/hear it quite the same again. I love the way he cuts to the heart of the cultural views of "art and artist" and right through the BS. Another essay is a hilarious explanation of the complicated relationship between Jews and pork.

The middle set-piece, "A Capacity for Wonder - Three Expeditions", has Rakoff striving to show that he isn't allergic to adventure by exploring three places of "wonder": First it's the Disney House of the Future - basically a trade-show with a creepy fake family. Rakoff exposes it as the "dog-pile of consumerism" it is. Next Rakoff walks the Hollywood Walk of Fame - Hollywood is easy pickings for a satirist but he brings us FRESH hypocrisies at which to marvel.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By booksy on September 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I thought this book was going to be an argument against the "positive thinking" movement, but I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It's a series of autobiographical essays loosely based on the theme of disappointment, pessimism or failure. Rakoff tells varied life stories about going to see the "World of Tomorrow" house, his very short stint as a minor character in a chick flick, and his visit to a fetish ball, among other things. All of it is told with a biting, wry humor that really endeared himself to me. The end of the book is surprisingly moving and serious, but fits in with the overall theme and was satisfying in a poignant way.

Rakoff's writing style is very dense and may put some people off. He goes off on many tangents within his paragraphs, and I found myself having to re-read pages several times, but the payoff was worth it for me. I like to read prose that is not dumbed-down for me, that requires some effort to get to the heart of it, and Rakoff exemplifies this style. His work is slightly similar to the writer David Sedaris, but with a more detailed and finely-wrought hand rather than Sedaris's broad stroke.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By R. DelParto VINE VOICE on September 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Half Empty takes a satirical look at life's serious moments meshed with the not so serious moments from the perspective of David Rakoff. From first glance at the book cover and page after page of the contents of his narrative, this is indeed a journey of nonstop humor that flows with a stream of consciousness like no other, a stand-up comedy skit, or merely snapshots of Rakoff's memorable moments as told in little over 200 pages. But at the center of his personal quagmire, having to confront and deal with mortality and taking the light-hearted approach by first looking at all things from a negative point of view.

Rakoff's narrative reads like a long conversation with his audience, curious readers who have never read his previous works or long-time fans. Indeed, each chapter is a string of ten essays that look at the big picture of how negativity affects those who encounter it, including himself, that appear a little less myopic and narrows towards a microcosm of his own experiences of possibly why he wrote the book. And one word describes the series of references that he makes throughout his stories, popular culture, or he holding the television remote control that switches from everything that he has taken in from childhood to the present, from literature, gender issues, history and science, to philosophy that has been embedded within his memory; not intensely metaphysical but comprehensible for any reader to digest.

There is no doubt that Half Empty is a laugh a minute type of book. For readers who are familiar with other satirical writers, David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and Bill Bryson, there is plenty of kick in your pants commentary and underneath it all, Rakoff provides a unique form of contemplation with the old adage that laughter is the best medicine.
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