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Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet Hardcover – May 7, 2013
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About the Author
Frederic Raphael has written twenty-two novels, including The Glittering Prizes, made into a BBC television series, and several works of nonfiction. He is also an Oscar-winning screenwriter. He divides his time between London and the Perigord. Joseph Epstein is the author of more than twenty books, including Fred Astaire, published by Yale University Press, and most recently Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit. He lives in Chicago.
Top customer reviews
With the honesty of Cicero to Atticus, (although Cicero never wanted his letters published for fear Augustus would read them) Joseph Epstein (former editor ofThe American Scholar , lecturer at Northwestern University, contributor toThe Weekly Standard , The New Criterion and Commentary and author of numerous collections of essays and short stories) and Frederic Raphael, (author of over 20 novels, histories, essays and screenplay for Eyes Wide Shut) let it all hang out in this very honest conversation between two learned men who knew they were going to publish their letters after the year was up and to heck with the backlash. This is how learned men talk in their most private moments. Nothing is left unsaid, hidden, or sugar coated. It is as if one were sitting silently at dinner with them every week for a year. They want Augustus to read them.
Their erudition is enlightening, their humor is biting, their gossip is catty. Delicious! It took a lot of fortitude to do this project and publish it. Good for them and great for us. Curl up with this book and enjoy the journey.
The most rewarding are their waspish opinions and gossip about academics, publishers, editors and figures in broadcasting and the movies. I found these without exception amusing and on those rare occasions when I had any insight into the individuals concerned, historically and psychologically accurate. The authors also celebrate their community as non-observant Jews: they share stories of (not terribly awful) anti-Semitism on either side of the pond; they are fierce in refusing to join the condemnation of Israel of their coreligionists on the left. Indeed, their inclination to the right - rare among either Jews or writers in our era - is part of what makes their exchanges interesting. This includes their observations on the present standard-bearers of literary neo-conservatism, "Commentary" and "Standpoint". I got less out of their word-play or their opinions of writers rightly or wrongly now seen as part of the canon, whether mutual favourites like Proust and Nabokov or mutually scorned like Arendt, Bellow, Hemingway and Sontag, though their grouchiness does serve to assert their own literary and human values: fluency without showiness, integrity without prissiness. Who would argue?
At first sight, Raphael is the more worldly of the two with his Hollywood anecdotes and French villa; and certainly he is the more boisterous, with his gaudy word-play and breakneck derision of literary greats. By contrast, Epstein positions himself as peering down from the academic provinces. But there are hints of something up his professorial sleeve. In his hilarious "Gossip", he gloried in indiscretions about celebs. Not so much in the email in "A Distant Intimacy" which mentions his service as a trustee of the no-nonsense Hudson Institute, founded by "Thinking about the Unthinkable", Herman Kahn. Here he follows Wittgenstein (also the subject of our correspondents' knockabout): "whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent".
Net, net, if you have an appetite for writerly wit and peevish commentary you may love this book; but only if you can stand to see your literary heroes trashed. I loved it.