Interview: David Rakoff

By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  October 13, 2010

When you test for sadness, anxiety is part of it, but you can be completely happy and be anxious. And I couldn't understand that in the first chapter of the book. But I think the final chapter of the book is the "put your money where your mouth is" chapter. I received a diagnosis of cancer, which I'm still dealing with right now. I'm in San Francisco today, but tomorrow I fly back to New York for more chemo. I'm undoubtedly anxious, but I'm not unhappy. It took, however, many years and however many chapters and however many books for me to finally understand.

When did you get cancer? Is that when you decided to write about expecting the worst?
The topic of the book was chosen before this all happened. It was very strange and unpleasantly symmetrical to be writing a book in defense of negative emotion and pessimism and really looking at the world in all its unvarnished and sometimes unpleasant truth, and then find I had to put my money where my mouth was.

What's the difference between your essays and your memoir?
I'm not a completely anonymous reporter. But for the most part, in my writing, I generally go out and have experiences for stories, and my actual life is inviolate territory that I don't write about. I don't write about my family. I wasn't born in a Petri dish — I acknowledge they exist — but I don't write about my life so that I can then have a genuine life that is not threatened by the possibility that I might turn it into material. That said, there is a lot more personal stuff in this particular book that has not been in my previous book, so I will cop to not being entirely consistent on that front. But I am far more concerned with being enjoyed or read for the way I write as opposed to the particulars of my biography. I don't want to be the brand.

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