Tag: Joseph Epstein

How to Write for Surfer Dudes

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I spent last summer, taking digital essay lessons. They were part of a series that I call, “Learning to Write for Morons,” by Medium.com.

I learned a lot, but I can condense the lessons into one premise: If you’re writing online articles, you have a split second to keep the reader’s attention and you have, maybe, three split seconds to keep his attention. Tell yourself, “You’re writing for surfer dudes, almost literally. They have the attention span of gnats. Engage them.”

In order to do this, you need to follow these two rules:

1. Write great titles for your pieces (many authorities say you shoud spend as much time on your headlines as you do the article itself, which strikes me as ludicrous, unless perhaps you’re cranking out P.o.S. articles).

2. Lots of white space.

The second rule breaks down into a series of sub-rules: break your articles into sections, each section should be no longer than 300 (preferably, 250) words, use sub-headings, paragraphs should only be two or three lines long (it’s that last one, I think, drives traditional writers mad . . . I know it irritates me, but I use it as motivation to do the bulk of my reading from books).

The first rule also breaks down into a series of sub-rules, but the overarching rule is: Grab the reader’s attention so he’ll click on it.

Ever since reading those rules last summer, I’ve been working on my headlines (maybe you, dear TDE reader, have noticed my sensationalist edge?). I’ve also been noticing the outlandish headlines I see online.

Maybe it has always been this way, but I think that, as more and more people follow the rubrics of online writing, the headlines have become increasingly outlandish. This one from yesterday … Read the rest

Epstein Corner

A few passages from his enjoyable Essays in Biography:

Saul Bellow, always mindful of the possibility of malice extended to a fellow scribbler, once told me that [James] Baldwin’s problem was simple: “He wanted to be Martin Luther Queen.”

“T.S. “Eliot was the equivalent in literature of Albert Einstein in science in that everyone seemed to know that these men were immensely significant without quite knowing for what.”

”Will Rogers, a contemporary of Fields, famously said that he never met a man he didn’t like (causing George Jessel to say that he once had a wife who felt the same way, and it turned out to be no bargain).”

When Jean-Paul Sartre wished to meet with him, Solzhenitsyn felt honor-bound to refuse this particularly egregious “useful idiot.”

Read the rest

Twenty 20th-Century Books to Make You a Smarter Catholic

(Actually, there are 33, if you count the honorable mentions)
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Joseph Epstein is the best essayist alive. He’s urbane, funny, self-deprecating. He’s a fine stylist, and he’s remarkably well-read.

I remember William F. Buckley marveling at Epstein’s erudition and wondering how Epstein could have so many anecdotes and references at his disposal. Coming from a guy of Buckley’s learning, that’s high praise.

So it was with great interest that I turned to his essay, “Joseph Epstein’s Lifetime Reading Plan” (found in this book) and his attempt to respond to a recent college graduate’s question: “What books should I read?” This question, Epstein said, was nothing less than asking, “How do I become an educated person?”

Epstein used the question to launch his essay, but he didn’t provide a list of books. He suggested that a person always have a classic going: Cervantes, Tocqueville, Montaigne, Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Plato. That’s thumpingly good advice, especially for someone like Epstein (and me), who always has two or more books going at once. It keeps one’s reading life varied.

But what about a list? Epstein said there is no dispositive list, and he’s right. The canon of Western civilization alone is neither settled nor static, there isn’t enough time to read everything in one lifetime, and everyone’s situation is different.

One list won’t fit all.

Still, I think a list is possible.

Mine is below.

The list doesn’t include any classics (Epstein’s advice to keep a classic going at all times stands) and it ignores the Bible (which should be a mainstay if you’re Catholic). Every book was published after 1900.

Although the list is geared toward young men and women, maturer adults would also benefit from them as well.

I won’t argue … Read the rest

Seven Days Make One Weak

Lee Rocker, Joseph Epstein, Richard Pipes

Happy New Year.

Should that be capitalized? Probably. Holidays are generally capitalized, so if you’re referencing the New Year holiday, then it’s capitalized.

But if you’re merely saying, “Welcome to the new year,” then probably not.

It was a very good New Year for Alabama and Ohio State, who showed what everyone should know: The ACC is a second-rate football conference. It’s always been a fact, though it does occasionally produce great teams, like Clemson lately and, before that, a few Florida State teams.

Particularly sweet about the ACC’s double thrashings: It seems to be pushing for the title of “Most Woke” among all the conferences. I used to think of the ACC as a basketball conference with a football schedule. Now I just think of the ACC as garbage.

Health Care Worker COVID Deniers?

What is going on? Apparently, large numbers of California health workers are refusing the COVID vaccine.

These are health care workers. You remember them: the heroes. The ones who put their lives at risk to fight COVID. The brave.

But they don’t want the vaccine?

Are they like those reckless heroes who run into a heavily-shelled and land-mined No Man’s Land to retrieve the corpse of the regiment’s mascot dog? And doing it naked, no less?

Or are they simply weighing the risks and concluding the risks associated with the unknowns of the vaccine outweigh the risks of getting the disease itself? Are they looking at the people they treat and saying, “What, exactly, is the big deal again? Why are we so freaked out over the cold, albeit a particular virulent, contagious, and nasty cold?”

I don’t plan on getting the vaccine. I probably would if I hadn’t already caught COVID (it really does suck, in … Read the rest

Seven Days Make One Weak

The Joe Epstein Affair

So, my man Joseph Epstein made a flash this week with his suggestion that Jill Biden drop the “Dr.” from her title while she serves as First Lady.

The uproar was pretty intense. I saw him referred to as a “misogynist,” “bigot,” and “that Jew bastard” (okay, I only saw two of those three, but the third one was, I believe, there in spirit). He was, based on the backlash, trying to deny Mrs. Biden her identity as a woman, wanted to push women back into the kitchen, and endeavoring to bring back the iron chastity belt (well, again, one of those three things was there in spirit).

I finally got to read the article.

I was dumbfounded.

Well, not really. The idiocy I see from the Left these days stopped dumbfounding me a few years ago, as the Social Dilemma has ripped otherwise-sane liberals to exotic ideological lands where they can’t be reached by wit, wisdom, or discursive reasoning.

But still, this attack completely missed what Epstein was saying. Moreover, if you’ve been reading Epstein for the past 40 years like I have, you’d realize he was merely writing about the sort of things he frequently writes about, like the humorous juxtaposition of traditional things that no longer make sense in light of how societal things have morphed.

Tradition versus current actuality. That’s an Epstein-like theme.

Epstein favors the traditional. He is, by temperament, conservative and, therefore, favors tradition. He, therefore, would honor the title “Ph.D.” if it carried the same gravitas it used to.

But it doesn’t.

And that’s the thing Epstein is poking fun at:

The Ph.D. may once have held prestige, but that has been diminished by the erosion of seriousness and the relaxation of standards in university education generally,

Read the rest

What’s Joe Epstein Been Saying?

A few choice passages from The Ideal of Culture (2018) and Gallimaufry (2020)

The perennial need to be on the cutting edge: “Orwell wrote that liberals fear few things more than being outflanked on the left.”

Writing about his undergrad days at the University of Chicago, which was known for its academic rigor but not its women: “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.”

Related: “Another saying had it that the University of Chicago was where fun went to die.”

Pretty much sums it up: “To become an intellectual was, for Orwell, to become deeply out of it, hypocritical, stupid, inhumanly corrupted, spiritually bankrupt.”

“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)

“T.S. Eliot took the name Prufrock, Crawford informs us, from a St. Louis furniture manufacturer.”

“At headquarters company, Fifth Armored Division, Fort Hood, Texas, in 1959 we were offered something called a good-conduct holiday if the company could go a full month with no car accidents or reported cases of venereal disease. We never got the holiday.”

Jewish curse—“May your bones be broken as often as the Ten Commandments.”

“When someone called [Waugh’s] attention to a typographical error in one of his books, he replied that one cannot get any decent proofreading now ‘that they no longer defrock priests for sodomy.'”

Scott Moncrieff was often acerbic, and never more so than when writing about the Sitwells, Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell, whom T. S. Eliot, giving way to his bawdy side, referred to as “the Shitwells.”… Read the rest

Epstein Corner

A joke from Joseph Epstein’s entertaining essay, “You Could Die Laughing: Are Jewish Jokes a Humorous Subject?”

“Walking along the beach, Goldstein finds a bottle, picks it up, and—surprise! surprise!—a genie emerges. The genie instructs Goldstein that he will grant him one wish, and one wish only. Goldstein says he wishes for world peace. The genie tells him he gets that wish a lot, but it is impossible to fulfill, so, if he doesn’t mind, please try another wish. In that case, Goldstein says, he would like more respect from his wife, who maybe would spend less time and money on shopping and prepare a decent home-cooked meal for him every once in a while and possibly make some attempt to satisfy his sexual desires. The genie pauses, then says, ‘Goldstein, tell me what, exactly, it is you mean by world peace.’”… Read the rest

Max Beerbohm

Max Beerbohm’s older brother, Herbert, was a funny guy. Once, when a man walked past him groaning under a grandfather clock he was carting on his back, Herbert said, “My good fellow, why not carry a watch?” (Joseph Epstein, Partial Payments).… Read the rest