David Rakoff: Half Full, in Our Book


Long and proud is the Jewish tradition of using sharp humor in the face of hopeless tragedy. David Rakoff – humorist, essayist, and self-described “mega Jewish writer” – was a master of this tactic.

Rakoff died of cancer in August 2012 at the age of 47, and the final book published during his lifetime (his last novel will be published posthumously next summer) Half Empty, is a staggering testament to his mastery. Peppered with irreverent Yiddish humor, Jewish jokes, and self-deprecation so advanced Woody Allen would be proud (Rakoff comments in one essay that he is “the Jewish homosexual writer: the ultimate degenerate“), Half Empty feels like a distinctly Jewish read. It’s a fitting way to remember Rakoff – his so-sharp-it’s-painful clever turns of phrase, his simultaneously sardonic and genuine storytelling, and his bluntly hilarious reflections on his identities.

Per the book’s pessimistic title, its final essay reveals the news of Rakoff’s more recent cancer diagnosis (the writer had beat Lymphoma in his twenties, so this was to be his second bout), and an arguably Jewish conclusion: “In the end, what choice does one really have but to understand the truth, to really take it in, and then shop for groceries, get a haircut, do one’s work; get on with the business of one’s life.”

Recommended from JTA