Book: Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, the Torments of Low Threat Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artinisanal Olive Oil and Other First World Problems
Author: David Rakoff
Type of Work: Non-fiction, essays
Why Did I Read This Book: Let me be honest. Though they are such completely different people that it is shameful to admit this, I sometimes confuse David Rakoff with John Hodgman. So when I bought this book, I thought I was buying another book written by the PC Guy. It wasn’t until I was into the first essay that I realized, “Hey. This is that guy from PRI! I’ve heard this before. On “This American Life”, I think.” And I was right. So it was mistaken literary identity that led me to this book but then I realized I did know the author and had some small amount of affection for him so I kept reading it.
Availability: Published in Doubleday in 2005, you can find a copy here:
Comments: It feels weird not liking this book as much as I wanted to like it. My vague sense of unease does not come from realizing this book is not the work of John Hodgman. I’ve always found David Rakoff amusing. His calm voice is an aural pleasure, as well as his not quite Canadian but I’m unsure what else it could be accent. I think part of the problem with the book is that I wanted to hear him speak these essays consisting of looks into his life or his mundane but witty observations, though that certainly is not the whole of it. Rakoff’s extremely dry wit comes across better vocally than on the printed page. I think he is the inverse of me – Rakoff likely comes off much better in person. He certainly comes across much better to the ear.
Some of the essays fall flat. There is no way around it. This is certainly a “your mileage may vary” statement, but take, for example, his essay “J.D.V., M.I.A.” wherein he discusses participating in a night-time scavenger hunt in Manhattan. While I appreciate his self-deprecating humor, it is hard for me to tell if the lunacy of the evening did not come across well on the printed page, or if Rakoff was really that filled with ennui and impatience for the whole thing. Regardless, the essay was… not as interesting as I would have liked.
Other essays suffer similar issues. “Whatsizface,” Rakoff’s tale of meeting with plastic surgeons in order for them to tell him what they would do to improve his appearance has all the earmarks of a wonderful over-dinner conversation. As an essay it leaves the reader with a “well, what was the point of that” sensation. One does not know Rakoff well enough, nor is his humor blunt force enough, to make this essay work. “Martha, My Dear,” wherein Rakoff tells of his own craftiness, has the same problems.
A couple of the essays suffer from a je nais se quoi of ambivalence. I have no idea why they didn’t work aside from the fact that they didn’t work. “I Can’t Get That for You Wholesale” is a big ol’ who cares of an article about his experiences in the fashion industry (Lagerfeld’s response to Rakoff – “What can you write that hasn’t been written already?” – while rude had me nodding). “Morning in America” which discusses the television show Good Morning America and the folks who flock to the windows to wave when the cameras pan their way seemed sort of… god help me, pointless. It was meant to be a post-9/11 observational piece but it just doesn’t work. In the hands of a more aggressive humorist, such obvious comedic fodder would have hit the ground running but Rakoff is too dry and too restrained to be able to convey the horror that is Al Roker. And “Beach Bummer” was, forgive me for saying it, a bummer. Sort of boring at that. If it was intended to be a sort of Barbara Ehrenreich piece, it didn’t really hit its stride and if it wasn’t supposed to be a sort of Barbara Ehrenreich piece, I have no idea what it was meant to be because it was not that humorous and the observations were not that interesting.