In a Cardboard Belt: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage

Joseph Epstein, Author . Houghton Mifflin $26 (410p) ISBN 978-0-618-72193-1

Life is not easy for me being a snob and a reverse snob simultaneously,” writes Epstein (Friendship ) in this engaging, irascible collection. The longtime editor of the American Scholar is indeed omnidirectional in his disdain—“nature was overrated,” he sniffs while driving through the Pacific Northwest—but some targets get extra attention. Chief among them are allegedly overrated intellectuals like Mortimer Adler (a “clown savant” with a “coarse and deeply vulgar mind”), Edmund Wilson (“a bald, pudgy little man with a drinking problem, a nearly perpetual erection and a mean streak”) and Harold Bloom (“nearly perfect unreadability”). Modern America is condemned for its “perpetual adolescence” and aversion to Henry James. And the feminists, Marxists, queer theorists and other “hacks” running the Modern Language Association are lashed for replacing literary aesthetics with trendy politics in university English departments (a critique that is stated more than shown). Epstein goes easier on actual (and dead) producers of literature in appreciative essays on Keats, Proust, Truman Capote and Max Beerbohm. And he’s downright fond of fixtures in his own life, from a favorite Chinese restaurant to his dad, a true adult who wore black socks and business shoes to the beach. Throughout, Epstein cuts the cantankerousness with wry humor and perceptive erudition. (Sept. 6)

Reviewed on: 07/09/2007
Release date: 09/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 410 pages - 978-0-547-08574-6
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