The Uncollected David Rakoff. Book report #15 (2018)

The Uncollected David Rakoff, ed. by Timothy G. Young. Pub 2015

I have read all of David Rakoff’s books, and enjoyed them all, so was delighted to find this collection of previously unpublished (or at least uncollected) works.

David Rakoff’s essays are brilliant – wry, introspective, prescient, sad, and funny. Most are highly personal, sometimes uncomfortably so, and there is a real sense of getting to know him through his writings. I can imagine that he would have been a fun but difficult person to be friends with, given his propensity for self-deprecation and pathos presented in sharp wit – think American Oscar Wilde, but not nearly so prolific or quotable.

The best bits were the travel articles he wrote for Outside and for Conde Nast. The immediately striking thing about these was how at odds they were with my previous notion of him; his published collections present someone primarily urban (almost pathologically so) and very much wearing New York as part of his essential character, so heading out for adventure tours and explorations of historic cities feels very strange. Perhaps that’s what makes these pieces so striking – knowing how much a fish-out-of-water he would likely have been in these settings. If he wrote more travel pieces (I assume he did – as a contributor to Outside it seems inconceivable that he would have written just one article) it would be something to see those compiled together.

This collection was interesting, but overall disappointing. Other than the travel pieces, some of the earlier items sound and feel very juvenile (not in a good way) and almost like works that he would not have wanted or felt comfortable sharing during his life, even as part of a retrospective. Most disappointing were the transcripts of radio shows. I first heard Rakoff on This American Life (saw, actually, in the film version of their live show, Invisible Made Visible) and over several episodes enjoyed hearing his clever ripostes and stories with his distinctive voice and speaking style. So, reading this dialogue – especially as presented, a transcript that includes every verbal tic and false start, often making him sound like a rambling idiot – was not engaging or entertaining. Better to create an audio compilation.

(I have the same experience with David Sedaris – having heard him read live, I find I cannot enjoy reading his stories as much as I enjoy hearing them.)

I will seek out some of his travel writings online but wouldn’t recommend this book as a collection. Better to read his work in situ, as he expected it.

10 – a collection of essays
14 – a book with a person’s name in the title
24 – a book by someone younger than you (he was 47 when he died)

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