Without automatically demeaning him by making him seem like a mere derivative, it’s impossible for me to talk about David Rakoff without saying how much he reminds me of David Sedaris: both extremely literate gay men with published books of short essays, and both regular contributors to This American Life. Both have a style that involves writing around events or memories, and finding a way to dig out a kernel of truth from them.
I don’t mean to suggest that I wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart: far from it. In fact, they have noticeably different styles, in spite of their seeming similarities. While Sedaris tends to be more wholesome (Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, for instance, was largely about memories of his quirky family), while Rakoff is significantly more snarky, political, and occasionally obscene. In fact, it was his appearance on the Daily Show that prompted me to hunt down Don’t Get Too Comfortable1, and it was worth it. Rakoff’s book is at once hilarious and poignant, and he manages to mix the two with a particular fluency and grace. For those of you who say that episode, his discussion with Robert “The Vagina Can Take a Lot of Punishment” Knight, of the Culture and Family Institute, is in this book.
The first essay is about his naturalization process after living in the US for a decade on a visa. He intermingles his commentary on the somewhat silly rituals with his dismay at some of the current directions of the country. He makes much of the fact that after being told that voting is the Ultimate Right as a citizen, there are no voter registration forms available, and no one really knows where to get one. A story about being a citizen manages to juxtapose the wonder of the process with the less attractive side of life in an apathetic democracy.
And so goes the entire book. Much of it is Rakoff’s coverage of some assignment or event: David Rakoff on a 20-day fast, David Rakoff and the Log Cabin Republicans, David Rakoff investigating cosmetic surgery, David Rakoff as “Pool Ambassador” at a swanky hotel in Florida. But David Rakoff the storyteller is a marvelous weaver of words—it’s the little things, like allusions2 and nifty little turns of phrases, that really make him stand out as a writer. Rakoff is a wordsmith par excellence.
My only grievance with this book is that it wasn’t longer—I could have enjoyed three times as much Rakoff as was included in this book, which is all the more reason to go out and find his previous collection, then. For Sedaris fans, or This American Life fans, or even just fans of this style of essay writing, Don’t Get Too Comfortable a book you’ll definitely want to pick up.