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Below, I've accumulated 25 of my favorite passages. Most of them are humorous, some of them interesting, a few profound . . . . . and all of them elegant.


"Freaks of literature, like freaks of nature, turn up in odd and unpredictable places." Life Sentences (this sentence introduces a beautiful essay about C.P. Cadafy, showing Epstein can write a lede with the best of 'em)

"The modern injunction to 'be oneself' implies one's having a suitable self to be." Partial Payments

"For the true talker, there is no listening--only waiting." A Line Out for a Walk.

"No one absorbed in a book is really lonely." A Line Out for a Walk.

"Hell, I assume, will be full of newspapers, a fresh edition of each published every thirty seconds, so that no one will ever feel caught up." A Line Out for a Walk.

"Evil is insolent and strong; beauty enchanting but rare; goodness very apt to be weak; folly very apt to be defiant; wickedness to carry the day; imbeciles to be in great places, people of sense in small, and mankind generally unhappy. But the world as it stands is no illusion, no phantasm, no evil dream of a night; we wake up to it again for ever and ever; we can neither forget it nor deny it nor dispense with it." Gallimaufry

"A wise man whose name I cannot recall said that one picks up newspapers in anticipation and inevitably sets them down in disappointment." A Line Out for a Walk.

"The therapeutic culture is, in other words, self-centered, one in which all are devoted foremost to pleasing themselves." Gallimaufry

"Orwell wrote that liberals fear few things more than being outflanked on the left." The Ideal of Culture

"A joke of the day had it that a panty raid on Foster Hall, the women's dormitory, rendered a field jacket and a pair of combat boots." (Writing about his undergrad days at the University of Chicago, which was known for its academic rigor but not its women.) The Ideal of Culture

"Another saying had it that the University of Chicago was where fun went to die." The Ideal of Culture

"Translations, like lovers, the old saw has it, are either beautiful or faithful, but they cannot be both." (Writing about C.K. Scott-Moncrieff's translation of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past) The Ideal of Culture

“May your bones be broken as often as the Ten Commandments." A Jewish curse. Gallimaufry

"What historical era produced the greatest aggregate of human intelligence? My own choice would be for the middle and late 18th-century London, where Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, James Boswell, David Garrick, Charles James Fox, Adam Smith, David Hume, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan walked the streets." Gallimaufry

"The distinction between a collector and a connoisseur is that the former wants everything in whatever he is collecting, the latter wants only the very best." Gallimaufry

“In the United States, anyway, it is generally understood, though seldom mentioned in polite society, that the less distinguished one's academic institution, the more likely one will insist upon the honorific Dr. And that's for Ph.D. degrees. The degree of Ed.D.–officially a 'doctor of education'–is, let's be candid, more a certificate than a degree." The WSJ opinion piece about Jill Biden that caused a big stir shortly after the 2020 election.

"I have always thought that if one wants to be a writer, he must first make himself incompetent in everything else." Link.

"For those of us who make this goofy decision to be a writer, all life is material." Link.

"Love is the only thing that can occupy the heart without diminishing it." Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins

"The truest test of civilization is not the census, nor the size of the cities, nor the crops, but the kind of man the country turns out." Friendship: An Exposé

"In our day, perhaps the most important lesson Montaigne has to teach is the need to regard all systems, all general ideas, all 'isms' with extreme and comic dubiety." Life Sentences

"Lucky is the writer who has found his forms." Life Sentences

"It may well be that the quality of a nation's fiction during any particular period is best measured by the number of memorable characters that fiction collectively yields. American fiction of the past thirty years [c. 1965-1995] does not score high by this test." Life Sentences

F. Scott Fitzgerald's life "could have served as a reverse Dale Carnegie course." Life Sentences

"Fitzgerald wrote in his notebook: 'Ernest [Hemingway] speaks with the authority of success. I speak with the authority of failure.' But in literature and the arts, if nowhere else, the authority of failure sometimes proves the greater--so much so that one can sometimes say that here nothing quite succeeds like failure." Life Sentences