Half Empty by David Rakoff has won the 2011 James Thurber Prize for American Humor. Rakoff identifies himself variously as Canadian (born in Canada), American (has dual citizenship), Jewish, short, gay and as a recurring cancer patient. A second bout of cancer occurred while he was writing this book of essays in 2010. In Half Empty he questions the power of positive psychology. He describes his pessimism as defensive and counsels the reader to anticipate worst case scenarios and to lower expectations.
“In this deeply funny memoir, David Rakoff examines his own life and the realities of our sunny, gosh-everyone-can-be-a-star contemporary culture. He finds that, pretty much as a universal rule, the best is not yet to come, adversity will triumph, justice will not be served, and your dreams won’t come true. Although David has a long-nurtured abhorrence of “inspirational” memoirs, much of the book recounts his own personal experiences: the moment when being a tiny child no longer meant adults found him charming but instead meant other children found him a fun target; the late evening in Manhattan when he was young and the city seemed to brim with such possibility that the street shimmered in the moonlight — as he drew closer he realized the streets actually shimmered with rats in a feeding frenzy. He also weaves in his brand of acute and Oscar Wilde-worthy cultural criticism (the sad state of the outdated “House of Tomorrow” at Disneyland, for one). It all adds up to proof of the proposition: Always be a pessimist, and you’ll never be disappointed.” publisher
The James Thurber Prize for American Humor is named in honour of humourist James Thurber (perhaps most famous for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).
© James Thurber