David Rakoff 

Poor David Rakoff--his name is forever hopelessly twinned with that of his gayer, more famous, France-dwelling friend David Sedaris. It's a fair comparison, to some degree: both traffic in wry, self-deprecating essays that twist meaning from minutiae; both made names for themselves contributing to This American Life; both are mildly, unashamedly self-absorbed. But where Sedaris famously mined a stint as a Macy's elf for all manner of misanthropic shtick, Rakoff manages to turn the tale of a Christmas gig as Sigmund Freud in a Barney's window into a meditation on the importance of companionship, communication, and the quest for love. At once mercilessly arch and strangely winsome, "Christmas Freud" is one of the high points of his debut essay collection, Fraud. But on one level or another all the pieces concern themselves with questions of representation and perception. In "Including One Called Hell," Rakoff attends a New Age retreat led by Steven Seagal and calls out the action star turned Buddhist teacher as a Harold Hill in a saffron robe. In "Hidden People" he travels to Iceland to investigate the national obsession with elves, trolls, and the humanoid sprites of the title, trying to suss out why few Icelanders are able to confidently deny their existence. As in "Christmas Freud," he locates his answer in our hardwired need to connect with the world around us--a need that allows for broader, more fluid understanding of truth. Rakoff, whose appearance here is sponsored by the Jewish-culture group Nextbook, has a long-awaited second book due out next fall, but in light of the recent dustup over Michael Chabon's Nextbook talk/fable/Holocaust hoax, "Golems I Have Known," Rakoff's work, though four years old, is nothing if not timely. Wed 5/18, 7:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 312-747-4074. Reservations are recommended; call 888-621-2230 or see nextbook.org.

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