Longtime readers may recall a post about this book (and Steven Seagal, and All About Eve) way back in the mists of time. I returned the book to my friend, who had left it here accidentally, and put it on my someday list. Of course, when I came around to that part of the list, our local library didn’t have a copy, so I had to wait for the book to arrive from the moneyed halls of Weston.
Happily, the other thirteen essays live up to the wry promise of “In New England Everyone Calls You Dave” and “Including One Called Hell.” The essays are from Rakoff’s point of view, but oriented outward, whereas, for example, David Sedaris’s essays (at least to me) are engaged with the world but oriented inward. I’m not knocking them; they’ve made me guffaw on the porch so hard that the neighbors probably thought my personal clock was set to five p.m. I think Rakoff’s brand of humor is quieter, his voice more melancholy, though his opinions are fierce (he truly hates Life is Beautiful, and thanks to him, I can’t imagine ever watching it.)
Whether he’s giving outdoor tracking school a try, hunting for the Loch Ness Monster, searching for elves in Iceland, or remembering what it was like to live in Tokyo, Rakoff gives master classes in understated elegance and economy of language. He’s clear. Take, for instance, these lines, some of my favorites, from “The Best Medicine”: “Not being funny doesn’t make you a bad person. Not having a sense of humor does.”
I think my favorite essay in the collection, aside from the one about Seagal-fest and the opening salvo (climbing Mount Monadnock on Christmas Day), is “Christmas Freud,” in which Rakoff describes what it was like to play Freud in a department store Christmas window display. Now, I find the whole idea of the Christmas tableau vivant very odd indeed (I’ve never seen one in person — have you?), but Rakoff elevates it to the sublime. Read this book, and I think you, like me, will wish for Christmas Freuden too.