Once More Around the Block

Editor of THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR and teacher of English at Northwestern University, Joseph Epstein is admittedly a member of a group he dubs the “verbal class.” Content with his station in life and at home with his opinions, the erudite Epstein is a clever essayist whose mildly irreverent tone often elicits a chuckle. Personal anecdotes, clever wordplay, and an impressive arsenal of quotations (Henry James is particularly well-represented) color this writer’s often amusing commentary.

Epstein’s discursive and drolly self-indulgent style is most appropriate to his pieces on humor, choosing a lifetime reading syllabus, and being an armchair sports fanatic. His approach is distressingly glib, however, when he addresses complex issues such as the social class structure in America. Here his limited range of discussion is ill-suited to the serious nature of his subject: Although he touches on the possible decline of anti-Semitism, he never raises the question of continued discrimination against blacks, homosexuals, and other groups.

All but one of these essays appeared under the byline Aristides in THE AMERICAN SCHOLAR. The exception, “My Friend Martin,” first appeared in COMMENTARY; it stands out as a pointed tribute to a deceased friend. Other subjects covered by Epstein include his neighborhood, praise, the state of the language, friendship, eating, lecturing, hatred, and aging.