(A good book should never make you feel ignorant.)My strongest impression of the book is that while literary criticism is all about applying labels, Epstein uses them sparingly.
And, in the end, never really labels himself (at least not to the extent a lot of contemporary authors feel compelled to), which I find an admirable case of self-restraint.
Toward the end of the book, a friend of Mr Epstein's, upon learning he's reading (yet another) book on the Roman Republic, encapsulates what I already know of the fellow, having amassed and read almost all of his books of essays: "you don't read any crappy books, do you? Yes, indeedy--the kind I will try to emulate, after I'm done reading my share of crappy books, after a good sifting, and ditching the crappier titles from the merely crappy. After all, once upon a prehistoric youth, the guy read "A Stone for Danny Fisher." Bet you like me, he shed a tear or two, too. Epstein's collection of essays is worth the read for three reasons:1.
Readers will be able to discover the names of significant people in history of whom they have no knowledge, whatsoever.
The best parts of the book for me were the beginning and the end.
In the former he addresses a wide array of issues dealing loosely with culture, while in the latter he offers insight on what it means to be old in the 21st century.Both write superior prose (Dalry Readers I have admired have admired Joseph Epstein.Epstein is something like an American version of Theodore Dalrymple (in fact, you can read Dalrymple on Epstein here). Axios Press does better for Epstein than Dalrymple’s publishers do for him, but I find myself penciling in typographical corrections in either case.The writing is crisp, witty, and vivid without ever getting bogged down in self-importance.I used the popup dictionary on my e-reader on several occasions but that was a function of my interest in getting it right more than a strategy often used by contemporary authors of the literary genre to use obscure language.He’s obviously brilliant, but he never presumes you know that. This collection of essays is exhaustive and runs the gamut from an ode to wit to growing up in the 60s.Fans of his literary criticism won’t be disappointed, however, as he includes a long string of essays on writers from Kafka (tortured) to Willa Cather (“the best novelist of the 20th century”).He examines his own health habits (“Virtue consists in having a salad for lunch; disappointment, in eating it”).He worries about repeating old stories to the same people (“Have I arrived at my anecdotage, the stage of mental decomposition that precedes full dotage? He dreads the inevitable day when “some bright young oncologist or grave neurologist informs me that the time has come for me to cease flossing.”That last one had me laughing out loud.hence, a run to the library will be in order and/or new requests for Christmas or birthday presents.2.New examples of the author's wit and overall curiosity about what has made the world as it is today.3.