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Half Empty

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  3,374 ratings  ·  498 reviews
The inimitably witty David Rakoff, New York Times bestselling author of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, defends the commonsensical notion that you should always assume the worst, because you’ll never be disappointed.

In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, Rakoff examines the realities of our sunny, gosh­ everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
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David Hallman
Damn. What a loss.

David Rakoff lived and loved, wrote and broadcast, suffered and died — an intense life packed into forty-seven years that ended with his death from cancer on August 9, 2012. The outpouring of grief at this far-too-early passing is testimony to how much he was loved by those who knew him personally and those who only knew him through his work, by his radio listeners and readers of his articles and books, by the literary community and the gay community.

Damn. What a loss.

"Shrimp"...more
Joann
Kind of like David Sedaris, but even more bitter. And also, Canadian.
Reese
Anyone who knows me would "bet the family farm" that I couldn't ignore a book with the title HALF EMPTY. And I couldn't. But between the beginning and ending chapters of David Rakoff's book, I was surprised to find myself distracted by my inability to answer my own nagging questions. Why am I continuing to read this book? Somewhere in all of these soporific details, is a point being made? If so, am I missing it because I'm reading at "my greyhound speed"?

Until I was approaching the finish line,...more
Tricia G
Hmmm... So can I tag it "read" if I decided to stop reading it and never pick it up again??? I tried really hard for about 15 pages. The premise is very interesting and has a lot of potential, but I can't get into it because of the language/style used by this author. I'm struggling to describe this (and that's probably why I'm NOT an author), but he uses such complex language that your brain is tied up in following the adjectives and pronouns, that you miss the beauty of the story. For example,...more
Lauren
Mar 21, 2011 Lauren rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lauren by: NPR
Like any book of essays, there are some great ones that make the reader extol the genre and the author, and others that feel out of place... Rakoff's opening essay sets the tone for the book: he criticizes the positive psychology movement of the last half-century and tells people to be realistic - things may not get better, things may not change. He moves on to talk about all that is wrong with *Rent* the Broadway musical, his short-lived film career and the drama involved with a book author, hi...more
Gina
from Roverarts.com 03.01.2011

There is something perverse in reviewing a book called Half Empty when you’re a glass-half-full kind of gal. Maybe I took on the challenge to see the world through the eyes of those friends and family who have often been the negative ions to my annoyingly positive charge. If this seems a tad personal, I am simply proving Rakoff’s theory that “…all research is Me-search.” It’s a reflection of how much Rakoff can annoy while endearing himself to the reader, and how muc...more
Claire
Y'know, I enjoy The Daily Show, but I only watch it very sporadically. I am very grateful, however, that I once again stumbled upon an episode with David Rakoff as a guest (still making John Stewart laugh I might add). I thoroughly enjoyed his book Don't Get Too Comfortable four years ago and I was not disappointed by his latest offering.

The cover of Half Empty sports the label, "WARNING!!! No Inspirational Life Lessons Will Be Found In These Pages" which is accurate, more like lessons in misant...more
Patrick Gibson
My first acquaintance with Rakoff's work was hearing him on "This American Life" recite a hilarious take on William Carlos Williams's "This is Just to Say" in his Bond-villain voice. I thought it was delightful and brilliant, but failed to read any further until this book came along. "Half Empty" gives you the opportunity to tag along and listen to this master pessimist as he winds his way through post-lapsarian America. During the brief hours you spend with this book, Rakoff, alternatively fasc...more
sleeps9hours
Best said by Salon on the back cover, “To be sure, Rakoff can issue a withering snark with the best of them. But once his rapier wit has sliced the buttons off his target’s clothing, revealing the quivering, vulnerable mass within, his fundamental sense of decency gets the best of him.”

p. 25 As the writer Melissa Bank points out, the only proper response to a tearful "Why me?" is, sadly, "Why not you?" The sunniest, most positive child in Malaysia laboring in a fucking sneaker factory can visual...more
Kim
Another Christmas present -- thank you Mom and Dad! This is a collection of first-person essays by David Rakoff, who most people have probably heard of from "This American Life." For a while I was pretty sure this would be a three star book, but the last essay tipped the scales and made it 4. Overall, Rakoff's style can be a little wordy and complicated, but his observations are so keen and honest that I forgave him by the end. (Note: After I criticized him for being wordy, I ended up writing a...more
Miguel
My first acquaintance with Rakoff's work was hearing him on "This American Life" recite a hilarious take on William Carlos Williams's "This is Just to Say" in his Bond-villain voice. I thought it was delightful and brilliant, but failed to read any further until this book came along. "Half Empty" gives you the opportunity to tag along and listen to this master pessimist as he winds his way through post-lapsarian America. During the brief hours you spend with this book, Rakoff, alternatively fasc...more
Ryan Mishap
At last someone to defend those of us charged with the unforgivable crime of Negativity, that violation of the Positive Optimist's Penal Code; the false accusations hurled against those of us who think that maybe things aren't just going to work out if we apply smiley-brain waves or who wonder why there's injustice in the world and what should really matter to us humans.

The opening essay begins with September 2001 interviews with dot.com wunderkinds who blather on about the importance of conten...more
Lori
This lovely book is dark and funny, and so very very sad. The final chapter was about the recurrence of cancer that killed him, so of course we read it knowing how it all turned out for him. He was such a lovely and complicated man. Although I highlighted many long passages, some hilarious bits, some poignant bits, and some great word choices, I’ll just share a couple here and hope you read the book.

* He was describing the movie “The Other Side of the Mountain,” based on the life of Jill Kinmont...more
Brendan
David Rakoff is one of those writers whose every word makes me wish I were a better writer. He dashes similes across the page with Raymond Chandler’s gusto, and his reading voice is downright heavenly. The only thing one can complain about is that the cost of his erudition must be speed, as he publishes far less than the other writers I put in his category: your Sarah Vowells, your David Sedarises, and so on. That said, Half Empty is another triumph. Some thoughts:

While Rakoff skewers everythin...more
Wendy
There are so many quotable passages in the witty, thrillingly honest, satiric and sweet report from the fields of contemporary urban America, but I'll choose one. In writing about his serious and ongoing bout with cancer, and knowing how difficult it can be for people to say the "right thing" he says:

"people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let...more
Sandi
I did not think this was quite as good as the first book by the author that I listened to Don't Get Too Comfortable: the Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Thread Count, the Never- Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems but there were some interesting thoughts on pessimism and health issues. Listened to the audio read by the author.
Tracy
I just finished this. I found it really enjoyable especially his chapters on the musical RENT and his comments on Madonna, an unnamed writer (although I did figure out who it was) etc. David Rakoff has a cutting wit and when he is funny he is hilarious. The book gets sadder as it moves along, his final chapter on dealing with his cancer (lymphoma, he nearly lost his arm) is quite heartwrenching. It was fitting that the theme of the book is that there really is no bright side to life that life is...more
Carrie
I finished Half Empty today... and now I'm half-empty. I've been a Rakoff fan for a while, having listened to This American Life and read his other books. I'd saved this one for last. The stories at the start about creative struggles and the fear of same were beautiful. The last essay hit me square in the solar plexus and I'm still recovering my breath.

Read it. Pore over it. Take in every considered, sumptuous word.
Mike
This was goodish, but it was all over the place. The digressions took over the stories and there was little or no flow throughout the book. When he occasionally got to the point, it was startling because I had forgotten he was trying to make one.
Krista
I am venal and glib and too clever by half.

My daughter was just involved in the Sears Festival, an adjudicated presentation of youth plays from area high schools, and we showed up on the night that the awards were to be presented. When my husband and I entered, we saw her with some friends and asked how the plays went that evening. Her boyfriend told us that the first play of the night was really strange: A person would come out and start telling a monologue about how he was feeling and then a d...more
Dave
. . . [audiobook via audible.com] . . . my favorite quote is from the essay entitled "All the Time We Have," but since I am listening to this book I am guessing at the punctuation of the following — “Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity, coupled with a relentless hair-trigger humor and surface cheer, spackling-over a chronic melancholia and loneliness (a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest self), which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and...more
Kelly Hager
I don’t generally read nonfiction, but the description of this book won me over. (When I do read it, it’s either quirky memoirs like AJ Jacobs or snarky essays like David Sedaris.)

“In this deeply funny (and, no kidding, wise and poignant) book, David examines the realities of our sunny, gosh-everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture and finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true.

...more
ba
Jun 01, 2012 ba rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: neurotic Jews
Recommended to ba by: I don't recall
As I read through this book of collected essays related to the utility of pessimism, I repeatedly found myself asking "What the hell is this? Where did I get this? Why am I reading it?" But in between, I was chuckling to myself, and generally enjoying being blindsided by the writing. Another reviewer compared the writing to (a meaner version of) David Sedaris, but to me, it was more like a character from a Phillip Roth novel come to life. I haven't read anything by Mister Rakoff previously, but...more
Laura
It was an odd experience reading this book, and especially listening to this book, which is narrated by Rackoff himself. The essays deal largely with themes of pessimism and sadness, and the last essay in the collection is the story of his lymphoma return and his treatment the second time around. Knowing that he eventually succumbed to cancer this year--two years after this book was published--put in under a certain kind of melancholic haze. Which was, actually, appropriate.

Rackoff's stories are...more
Jessica Rosner
Some of this is funny, some hilarious. My favorite is the rant about the mighty hit show, Rent. It is hard to imagine anyone hating Rent, especially not a thoughtful gay NY writer. But hate it he does and even if you love it, you gotta also love this man's bitter, true, funny take down.
The end was sad. It is about his cancer and the thing that makes it sad is that when he wrote it he thought his prognosis was reasonably good. It is now July 2013, and he just recently died. He reads the book him...more
Clay Scott Brown
David Rakoff’s Half Empty is being called ‘Defensive Pessimism’ a term coined by some on the Internet. I assumed that the book would be a scathing report of today’s Positive Outlook as fanciful and foolhardy. But upon reading these chapters Mr. Rakoff is in my mind rather calm and controlled.

I don’t see any strong negative signs about him.

It’s very strange to be around the visually famous. It must be tremendously difficult for those whose very faces make up an integral part of the landscape. Eve...more
Trish
When we lost Rakoff, we lost someone who could point out our failings with humor and compassion, but also with righteous anger and fury. In this book of essays, Rakoff scoures those whose wealth or celebrity have removed them from the ranks of the commonly courteous, he nails unholy politicians to the cross, and he riffs with a bleak optimism about finding cancer raging when one has thought it has left one in peace. He has a loving voice and he will be sorely missed.
Halo Peshdary
Witty, observant, and light-hearted, but poignant, melancholic, and somber. One of the funniest yet saddest books I've ever read. On a personal note, I love Rakoff's prose. Pure wit and genius in the way he writes. How strongly I would recommend this is directly proportional to how much of a cynical bastard you consider yourself to be.

“Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia...more
Daniel Cunningham
First off, I really like the cynical (in all senses) and pessimistic (in most senses) point of view that Rakoff brings to most subjects. I enjoyed Don't Get Too Comfortable quite a bit.

So, having presented my credentials :), I must say that this collection was definitely weaker. The essays seemed to all follow a similar pattern of "90 degree turns": he will jump setting/subject/anecdote abruptly, half way through (and perhaps more than once) before bringing things to a close. And he does wrap th...more
Gina
I was really excited to read this book, having been promised with the premise of supporting the notion that pessimism can actually be a good thing. What I found, instead, was a collection of essays by the author, who happens to be a pessimist. I did not see an overarching theme among these essays, most of which were written in a stream-of-concious-esque manner, which made the story line difficult to follow. I was sadly disappointed by this book.
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5855
David Rakoff (November 27, 1964 – August 9, 2012) was an essayist, journalist, and actor. Originally from Canada, Rakoff was a graduate of Columbia University, he obtained dual Canadian-American citizenship in 2003, and resided for much of his life in New York City. His brother Simon is a stand-up comedian.

Rakoff wrote for the New York Times Magazine, Outside, GQ, Vogue and Salon. He was a frequen...more
More about David Rakoff...
Fraud: Essays Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America The 50 Funniest American Writers: According to Andy Borowitz

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“People are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let's all give each other a pass, shall we?” 51 likes
“The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.” 37 likes
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