About David Rakoff


I did not know David Rakoff, never so much as met him, and I did not know that he was in these last few weeks quite as sick as he clearly was, but for weeks before his death I’d been sending out an essay of his to friends. It’s the one he wrote for the Times ages ago about applying for a green card.

People know Rakoff’s work for its wit and profound pessimism, and I love those too. But it is his articulation of the differences between the country we were both born in, and the one we had both, for better or for worse, chosen as our adult home, that makes my heart beat a little faster.

A taste, from that Times essay:

Which is not to say that we are raised without national pride. Canadians always know who’s Canadian. We just don’t go showing off about it. Say “John Kenneth Galbraith” to a Canadian and watch the words flicker across his eyes like the shadow of an angel’s wing. Then he will mention: “He’s Canadian, you know.”

(Yes, I’m aware I’m somewhat replicating that behaviour in this post. Though, were I in my normal glib tone, I’d have phrased it this way, as people in my real life often hear me put it: “David Rakoff belongs to us. We own all the best people.”)

And from the essay he puts at the start of Don’t Get Too Comfortable, about his eventual transition into American citizenship:

Even so, once I reach my decision, I don’t make my intentions widely known. I tell almost no one, especially no one in Canada. You can only know this if you grew up in a country directly adjacent to a globally dominating, culturally obliterating economic behemoth, but becoming an American feels like some kind of defeat. Another one bites the dust.

He will be missed.

Rakoff’s friends and family have set up a tumblr cataloging the avalanche of crafty little gifts he gave them over the course of his life. It’s wonderful. Take a look.

Michelle Dean has written for a variety of places, including The Awl, ELLE and Bitch. More from this author →