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Half Empty

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  5,658 ratings  ·  624 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
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 21st 2010 by Doubleday (first published 2010)
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3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,658 ratings  ·  624 reviews

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David Hallman
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.

Tricia G
Mar 10, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Kind of like David Sedaris, but even more bitter. And also, Canadian.
Apr 29, 2011 rated it liked it
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,
Mar 12, 2011 rated it liked it
from 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
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: auto-biography
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
Sep 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Lauren by: NPR
Shelves: essays
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
Peter Mcloughlin
A refreshing dose of pessimism and wit. Rakoff talks about his life and life in general which is tragic and our happy face go get em culture. Rakoff uses his acerbic wit to puncture our Blyth feel-good culture and talks about the hard experiences he has had in life. Refreshingly real.
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Patrick Gibson
Feb 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Dec 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, funny, nonfiction
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.
Mar 31, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-read-2012
. . . [audiobook via] . . . 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
Aug 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Ryan Mishap
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: personal-writing
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 wunderkinds who blather on about the importance of conten
Oct 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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.
Oct 27, 2010 added it
I am having the hardest time getting through this one. I typically love listening to David Rakoff and even wrote, asking for this book on audio format. But I'm finding it to be smarmy rather than funny or even interesting enough to get me through a short run. His cynicism and snobbish observations are typically great to listen to - but are overly exaggerated in this book - now he just sounds like a snob.
Oct 26, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks, essays, humor
Beautiful personal essays. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, and sometime both at the same time. I can't recall being more moved by a book. The audio was read by the author and really worked for me, but I expect this would be as good in written form.
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting collection. There are still definite laugh out loud moments. But the overall tone is darker. You can sense the underlying rage which one can only assume is the product of his knowledge that he didn't have much time left. Truthfully, I would have probably given this book three stars, but the last essay, in which Rakoff confronts the return of his cancer, is surprisingly life-affirming, even with the cover's proclamation that nothing life-affirming can be found therein. In t ...more
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I love David's writing and always feel sadness to think he died just a little older than me. He has a methodical cynicism that can be scooped up and applied liberally to the present as much as when he was terminally silenced.

This book is a series of essays in the first person. A few have been played on "this American life" and why I hear his voice pitch perfect in my ear as I read. I first encountered David's writing through "Fraud" which is still my favourite.

Many of the pieces are about being
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting, funny, and surprisingly touching. I don't think Rakoff meant for this book to be inspiring, but it really is (well, the final essay is, at least). Knowing that Rakoff died before his time makes it all the more poignant.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I haven't loved a book this much in a long while.
Kelly Hager
Sep 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.

Sep 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Garrett Zecker
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
At times indicting, and at times heartbreaking, this collection by Rakoff really hit me in the final essay that allowed him the space to explore his own mortality and existence in the face of his second bout with cancer. I am not giving anything away in saying that it is the disease that he battled his entire life that eventually killed him in August 2012 at 47, but it was this essay that literally left me weeping with the knowledge that his optimism, his knowledge, his brain, his arm, and his e ...more
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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
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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?” 77 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.” 56 likes
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