Rakoff died of cancer in Manhattan on August 9, 2012.
David Rakoff was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the youngest of three children. His brother, the comedian Simon Rakoff, is four years older than David and their sister Ruth Rakoff, author of the cancer memoir When My World Was Very Small, is the middle child. Rakoff has said that he and his siblings were close as children. Rakoff's mother, Gina Shochat-Rakoff, is a doctor who has practised psychotherapy and his father, Vivian Rakoff, is a psychiatrist. Rakoff has written that almost every generation of his family fled from one place to another. Rakoff's grandparents, who were Jewish, fled Latvia and Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century and settled in South Africa. The Rakoff family left South Africa in 1961 for political reasons, moving to Montreal for seven years. In 1967, when he was three, Rakoff's family moved to Toronto. As an adult, he said that he identified as Jewish.
Rakoff attended high school at the Forest Hill Collegiate Institute, graduating in 1982. In the same year he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University, where he majored in East Asian Studies and studied dance. Rakoff spent his third year of college at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and graduated in 1986. Rakoff worked in Japan as a translator with a fine arts publisher. His work was interrupted after four months when, at 22, he became ill with Hodgkin's disease, a form of lymphatic cancer which he has referred to as "a touch of cancer". He returned to Toronto for eighteen months of treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.
From 1982, Rakoff lived in the United States (minus his four-month stay in Japan in 1986), first as a student, then as a resident alien. In the early 1990s he was issued a green card, a subject about which he wrote in one of his early newspaper articles. After living in the United States for twenty-one years, Rakoff was motivated by a desire to participate in the political process and applied for U.S. citizenship. Rakoff chronicled the experience of becoming an American citizen in an essay published in Don't Get Too Comfortable. He became a U.S. citizen in 2003, while at the same time retaining his Canadian citizenship.
In 2010, while writing the book Half Empty, Rakoff was diagnosed with a malignant tumor behind his left collarbone and began chemotherapy. He died in Manhattan on August 9, 2012.
Don't Get Too Comfortable, which is subtitled "The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems" was published in 2005 and also consists of comical autobiographical essays. Some of the essays were originally published in shorter form elsewhere and some original. The over-riding theme of the articles is the absurdity and excessiveness in American life: the book is about luxuries and privileges being treated as deserved rights. Rakoff said that the moral of the book is that there should be "a little more guilt out there" and "we could all, myself included, count our blessings, acknowledge our privileges." The book was generally praised by critics. The New York Times said, "Rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly and wittily portrayed". Emily Gordon says that in his "bursts of pure enthusiasm, he's a delectable Cole Porter, Nicholson Baker and Sarah Vowell smoothie". However, Rakoff was criticised in the Washington Post for misusing the word "like", with the reviewer suggesting that Rakoff's prose could use tightening. In The New York Times, Jennifer 8. Lee said the book was "no more than a collection of vaguely related magazine pieces" rather than "a coherent seriocomic manifesto", that some essays were off-theme, and not about narcissism and excess.
A third book of essays, Half Empty was published in September 2010. Rakoff said the book is "essentially about pessimism and melancholy: all the other less than pleasant to feel emotions that because they are less than pleasant to feel have been more or less stricken from the public discourse but in fact have their uses and even a certain beauty to them". Rakoff argued that it is "a defence of melancholy, pessimism, anxiety and all of the emotions that have been tarred with the brush of negativity and therefore stricken from the larger cultural conversation. I hope to argue...that, while these emotions may well be hedonistically less pleasant, they remain necessary and even beautiful at times." The book won the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor.
Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending... by David Rakoff
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (September 12, 2006)
Amazon: Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending...
Amazon Kindle: Don't Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending...
David Rakoff takes us on a bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess. Whether he is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. Somewhere along the line, our healthy self-regard has exploded into obliterating narcissism; our manic getting and spending have now become celebrated as moral virtues. Simultaneously a Wildean satire and a plea for a little human decency, Don’t Get Too Comfortable shows that far from being bobos in paradise, we’re in a special circle of gilded-age hell.
More Spotlights at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Lists/Gay Novels
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