Book Review: Half Empty by David Rakoff

Half EmptyHalf Empty by David Rakoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Rakoff’s style. He’s articulate, witty, and self-effacing. He’s got a larger vocabulary than I have, although not so large that I had to use a dictionary. I knew the meaning of all of the words, I just don’t use them on a daily basis. This left me feeling alternately pleased that I know the words and slightly concerned that the fact that I don’t use them might be proof that I’m not as smart as I think I am. He gives voice to many of the fears I have about myself and how people perceive me. I wonder if I met him if we’d be friends or if we’d just annoy each other.

I enjoyed all of the essays in this book, but my favorites were the first (which dealt with Julie Norem’s book about “defensive pessimism,” The Positive Power of Negative Thinking) and the one about Utah. It was pleasant to hear that someone else shares my experience of Utah as a place of an oppressive number of possibilities. I’m the kind of person who likes CSAs not so much because I like to buy local produce, but because I like my options to be limited so it’s easier for me to decide what to cook for dinner. Utah is wide open geographically (except for the mountains, which are vast in and of themselves and so not much help in limiting me) and was founded by people who rode out here buoyed by optimism, bent on discovering/creating the Promised Land. I find this to be a lot of pressure.

The only problem I had with the book was the cover art. Every time my sixteen-month-old found the book lying around, he saw the cartoon animals and thought it was a book for him. He would ask me to read it and then get very, very angry at me when I didn’t comply. While it’s kind of cute and funny when a toddler throws himself on the floor and cries, it does get a little old after a while.

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