Four years ago, I read David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable, a book of collected essays. Rakoff, an out gay man, reads like a more curmudgeonly and hyperliterate version of David Sedaris, like the bastard love-child of Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman. Years later, Rakoff’s next book, Half Empty, capitalizes on his dark worldview by offering a series of loosely-connected essays in defense of the notion that pessimism is not all bad.
I was hesitant to pick up The Emperor of All Maladies; a quick glance at the dust jacket made me leery that the book would devolve into sickly-sweet sentiment. Cancer is, indeed, a terrible disease, and has wrecked havoc on millions of lives; at the same time, the very nature of this problem lends itself to hysterics and tearful reminiscences. I’m not so vain to think that my writings about my father mean as much to anyone else as they do to me, wonderful though my commenters may have been.
In other words, I feared that book All About Cancer would drift into histrionics and phrases like “The War on Cancer”, and too many sad stories about individuals that would quick devolve into the incessantly maudlin. Mothers, brothers, sisters, children; all of this we know about cancer, but we know it also about death in general. What’s interesting to me is where cancer comes from, and where science is looking for answers. A skim through the chapters gave me hope, I gave it a try.