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Life is not easy for me being a snob and a reverse snob simultaneously, writes Epstein (Friendship) in this engaging, irascible collection. The longtime editor of the American Scholar is indeed omnidirectional in his disdain—nature was overrated, he sniffs while driving through the Pacific Northwest—but some targets get extra attention. Chief among them are allegedly overrated intellectuals like Mortimer Adler (a clown savant with a coarse and deeply vulgar mind), Edmund Wilson (a bald, pudgy little man with a drinking problem, a nearly perpetual erection and a mean streak) and Harold Bloom (nearly perfect unreadability). Modern America is condemned for its perpetual adolescence and aversion to Henry James. And the feminists, Marxists, queer theorists and other hacks running the Modern Language Association are lashed for replacing literary aesthetics with trendy politics in university English departments (a critique that is stated more than shown). Epstein goes easier on actual (and dead) producers of literature in appreciative essays on Keats, Proust, Truman Capote and Max Beerbohm. And he's downright fond of fixtures in his own life, from a favorite Chinese restaurant to his dad, a true adult who wore black socks and business shoes to the beach. Throughout, Epstein cuts the cantankerousness with wry humor and perceptive erudition. (Sept. 6)
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Epstein's essays have appeared in venues as diverse as the Atlantic Monthly and Commentary; his books include short story and essay collections, a brief life of Alex de Tocqueville, and popular treatises on snobbery, friendship, and envy. He has taught English and writing and served for 23 years as the editor of American Scholar. A writer of intellectual rigor, strong and often grating opinions, and high self-regard, Epstein is a consummate stylist, and this is his most adventurous essay collection to date. Epstein analyzes his 33-year habit of keeping a journal. In literary essays that can serve as models for the form, he illuminates overlooked aspects of Proust, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Max Beerbohm. He is at once vicious and hilarious as he attacks Mortimer Adler and Harold Bloom. A delving thinker, Epstein can also be flip, even juvenile when writing of women and sex. But even when his truculence feels gratuitous, he writes so darn well that one can't help but keep reading. Zingers abound, as do splendid analogies and metaphors, and the illuminations far outweigh the diminutions. Seaman, DonnaSee all Editorial Reviews
This collection of essays is incredibly solid. There were a small handful of mediocre essays, but no dogs. Most of the essays are incredibly entertaining, erudite, and witty. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Greg Linster
Epstein is a perennial winner. He would very much like to be a bad boy of letters but a prissy grace stops him from being acerbic rather than cautionary. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Really a Reader
I have read Epstein's pieces in the Wall St. Journal and have become a fan. He is a wonderful writer and has written much on a variety of subjects. Read morePublished on May 21, 2013 by MGKAL
Joseph Epstein's personal essays revealed much about the man that I did not know. Wonderful, biting essays about famous writers and philosophers, together with laugh-aloud... Read morePublished on May 11, 2013 by Joyce Kossy
Joe Epstein is an outstanding exponent of the essay- for his readers they entertain and inform about subjects that range across the spectrum of subjects.Published on April 3, 2013 by Edward B. Hauck
Twenty years ago I was an avid reader of Joseph Epstein's magazine pieces; his essays contra political correctness were music to my ears. Read morePublished on August 30, 2009 by Reader