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Friendship: An Exposeby Joseph Epstein
Synopses & Reviews
Just as his best-selling Snobbery argued that contemporary American snobbery isn't what it used to be, Friendship: An Exposé begins with Joseph Epstein's feeling that friendship, too, is somehow different today. From the idealization of "family time" to the acceptance of gender equality, from technological leaps like e-mail and instant messaging to the (very recent) assumption that your spouse will be your best friend, Epstein charts the unexpected and surprising forces that have squeezed and shaped friendship. In the process, he sketches a witty and incisive anatomy of the modern version: its duties and requirements ("Reciprocity, or Is It Obligation?"), the various kinds of friendships ("A Little Taxonomy of Friends"), the differences between male and female friendships, the complications marriage creates (“Friendship's New Rival"), even what happens when sex enters the equation.
Moving easily from Aristotle to Seinfeld, and drawing on his own experiences with people great (Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison) and unknown (an army bunkmate), Epstein uncovers the surprising and hidden truths of friendships and so inspires us to reconsider our own.
"The idealization of friendship, writes noted essayist Epstein, is 'somehow false to the truth of friendship, at least as... we all live it.' So Epstein examines the 'art' of friendship, which 'calls for regular maintenance through thoughtful cultivation.' He opens with a 'little taxonomy of friends,' exploring the semantics of the word 'friendship,' and categories of friends (the saddest being the 'ex-friend'). Epstein (Snobbery) goes on to explore his own friendships, in particular the category of the 'best friend.' He catalogues the factors that influence the nature and course of friendship, from shared traits such as ethnicity or regional roots to connections across barriers of generations and class, including the complications of friendship between the sexes. A survivor of a bad first marriage and long remarried, Epstein is astute on the permutations of friendship within and alongside marriage. At the center of the book is a celebratory memoir of a long friendship with an older, much respected friend (now dead). Another friendship, conducted almost entirely in diary-like e-mails, is celebrated for its literary merit. Drawing on Aristotle, Montaigne, Cicero and Pliny, Epstein lucidly paraphrases and applies wisdom to his own life experience, producing a meditative memoir that is refined and modest in tone, but perhaps too hermetic. (July 5)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Joseph Epstein says he has 75 friends. That's a lot, right? But then he orders a recount and discovers that that number was 'probably on the modest side.' So how many exactly are we talking about here, Joe? One hundred? A thousand? Set us straight. Are you holding your next birthday party at Soldier Field? It might seem odd to insist on precision regarding this subject — as odd as actually... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) sitting down and counting your friends — but it cuts to the core question of Epstein's book: What is a friend? Epstein struggles to piece together a definition, pulling his net through the ideas of Aristotle, Michel de Montaigne, Friedrich Nietzsche and Nancy Mitford, among others, to attempt a unified field theory. And, using all the nimble understatement at his command, he lets drop that he buried a 28-year-old son and never talked about it to any of his 75-plus friends. Now, only a churl would quarrel with a father's reaction to a son's death; we all mourn as we choose, and that's absolutely how it should be. And Epstein's reluctance to sully an otherwise emotionally Scotchgarded evening of highballs and literary badinage with what kids these days are calling 'intimacy' might even be admirable. But if you're going to write a book about friends, thereby professing some expertise on the subject, and you're going to use your own life to illustrate your points, and you're going to do it in the age of Oprah, emo, IMing and 'I feel your pain,' you ought to at least have a real pal or two sprinkled in there somewhere who would satisfy the contemporary definitions — someone you trust to witness your weakness, someone to tell you, even if it's a lie, that what you did was OK. However many friends Epstein claims, the standard established by a bare-all Zeitgeist suggests that the number is a product of fuzzy math. In writing 'Friendship,' Epstein seems to have made himself principal when he's never been to school. Which is too bad. Epstein, the former editor of the American Scholar, a recently retired Northwestern University professor and the author of 17 books, has a light and witty touch that meshed nicely with the subject of his 2002 best-seller, 'Snobbery.' In 'Friendship,' he rarely descends to the bottom step of his ivory tower, and it takes its toll. Epstein's idea of digging to the heart of his limitless and juicy subject is blowing the dust off the old tomes and having a look-see. In fact, he seems to be gunning for some world record on Aristotle references (call Guinness: 20, by my count). In the meantime, stuff is happening — interesting stuff — concerning his chosen topic. To the ripe subject of the fluid, frequently sadistic friendships of adolescent girls, Epstein devotes one dismissive paragraph, flicking it away with the comment that 'a number of recent novels have taken up this subject.' When he writes about women's relationships, he seems to have locked himself in the top floor of an ivory tower: Women, he suggests, are 'less competitive, which means less rivalrous, than men.' He grossly misreads the Friendster Web site, calling the networking tool that also gratifies the vanity of its mainly adolescent users a 'phenomenon' that speaks 'to the vast loneliness in the world. And he misses out altogether on that modern marvel, 'friends with benefits' — buddies who bed down with each other, yet remain just friends. It's obviously a generational thing. Epstein is in his late sixties and seems to be speaking to an audience even older in its outlook. Though he describes himself as an enthusiast of e-mail, he mentions that the technology 'has its critics,' though it's difficult to find one anymore. He brands himself as quaint, at best, when he addresses his friendships with gay men, especially the chum who 'has never bothered to say that he is gay. I have always assumed that he assumes that I know this obvious fact about him.' It's another indication that what Epstein calls a friend is, to most folks in 2006, someone with whom one ruminates about the weather. When Epstein ventures into the world the rest of us are living in, he can be fun. His descriptions of his own interactions make for a welcome relief from the musings of Montaigne, Frangois de La Rochefoucauld and, breaking the Gallic stranglehold, Samuel Johnson. Years ago, Epstein witnessed firsthand the failing friendship between Saul Bellow and the sociologist Edward Shils, and his stories about that implosion are compellingly dishy. A passage about his father's relationship with a neighbor following the death of his wife, Epstein's mother, is beautifully conveyed. And a musing on the differences between male and female relationships makes for a rare laugh-out-loud moment: 'Men, when they talk about women, are more limited in their range of interest: they either (1) complain about them or (2) exclaim how they wouldn't at all mind bonking them. Broads. Go figure. Next subject.' In searching for the one true definition of friendship, Epstein makes some interesting, if not groundbreaking, points. Friendship, he writes, doesn't have criteria. 'One might begin by saying that one's friends must be honorable, fair, decent, good-humored, generous and kind. But inevitably some of one's dearest friends won't quite pass the test.' One of the comforts of friendships, Epstein writes, 'is shared references; one can allude to certain things — historical events, song lyrics, cultural phenomena — without having to supply either footnotes or a glossary.' Later, he extols the exalting nature of relationships: 'The earnest practice of friendship, in short, requires us to be rather better than most of the time we really are.' Epstein's simplest definition for a friend — 'someone one likes and wishes to see again' — comes closest to hitting the bull's-eye. But it can also make a friend of the UPS man, the poor soul who begs spare change in front of the Starbucks and Jay Leno. In other words, friend-inflation. But who's counting? Bob Ivry has written for Esquire, Popular Science, Maxim, Spin, Details and New Jersey Monthly. He is a regular reviewer for The Washington Post Book World." Reviewed by Bob Ivry, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Epstein's insights into the human condition strike true but are so gracefully stated that one's first reaction is to chuckle or laugh. For more than two decades, he has been a national treasure of wit and wisdom, pleasuring and profiting us at the same time." Library Journal
"As entertaining and illuminating as a leisurely lunch with a loquacious, literate friend." Kirkus Reviews
"Epstein writes in a tried, true and sometimes tired classical essay style: put forth an idea, support it with a quote by a long-deceased philosopher and then spice it up with a personal anecdote." Chicago Sun-Times
"Friendship might be the closest that Mr. Epstein will come to writing a memoir. He mentions a divorce, the death of a son. Mr. Epstein also enshrines his relationships in engaging prose....
"Books are friends, the librarians used to say in grade school; I paid attention, perhaps to a fault. But human friends are priceless, and Epstein, who knows both the paper-and-ink and flesh-and-blood kind of friend, has turned out a fascinating look at something that will remain important as long as we remain human." Baltimore Sun
"Epstein's history as a self-styled 'promiscuous friend,' who keeps in touch with everyone from boyhood chums to former students, at long last has turned him into a cold-eyed realist. This candid, discerning and often charming anatomy challenges tradition by giving as much weight to the little-noticed burdens of friendship as to its obvious rewards." Newsday
"[Epstein] is satisfyingly unpredictable in his opinions; one expects him to rail against the decline of letter-writing between friends, for example, but he surprises with his spirited endorsement of e-mail." Seattle Times
Is it possible to have too many friends? Is your spouse supposed to be your best friend? How far should you go to help a friend in need? And how do you end a friendship that has run its course?
In a wickedly entertaining anatomy of friendship in its contemporary guises, Joseph Epstein uncovers the rich and surprising truths about our favored companions. Friendship illuminates those complex, wonderful relationships without which we'd all be lost.
The author sketches a witty and incisive anatomy of the modern friendship: its duties and requirements, the various kinds of friendships, the differences between male and female friendships, the complications marriage creates, and even what happens when sex enters the equation.
Just as his best-selling Snobbery argued that contemporary American< BR> snobbery isn& #39; t what it used to be, Friendship: An Expos& #233; begins< BR> with Joseph Epstein& #39; s feeling that friendship, too, is somehow different< BR> today. From the idealization of & quot; family time& quot; to the acceptance of gender< BR> equality, from technological leaps like e-mail and instant messaging< BR> to the (very recent) assumption that your husband or wife will be your best< BR> friend, Epstein charts the unexpected and surprising forces that have< BR> put pressure on and reshaped friendship.< BR> < BR> Epstein sketches an amusing yet serious anatomy of friendship in its contemporary version: its duties and requirements (& quot; Reciprocity, or Is It Obligation?& quot; ), the various kinds of friendships (& quot; A Little Taxonomy of Friends& quot; ), the differences between male and female friendships, the complications marriage creates (& quot; Friendship& #39; s New Rival& quot; ), even what happens when sex enters the equation. Moving easily from Aristotle to Seinfeld, and drawing on his own experiences with people great (Saul Bellow and Ralph Ellison) and unknown (an army bunkmate), he uncovers the rich and often surprising truths of friendship, illuminating those relationships — contradictory, complicated, and wonderful — without which we'd all be lost.
About the Author
Joseph Epstein is the author of the best-selling Snobbery: The American Version, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines. He lives in Chicago.
Table of Contents
Foreword xi 1. A Little Taxonomy of Friends 1 2. A Charming Gift for False Intimacy 11 3. Best Friends 23 4. The Quickest Way to Kill Friendships 34 5. Friends—Who Needs Em? 46 6. An Extremely Sketchy History of Friendship 56 7. Reciprocity, or Is It Obligation? 69 8. A Friendship Diary: Adulation, Stimulation, Obligation 82 9. Pity Is at the Bottom of Women 95 10. Boys Will Be Boys 107 11. Petty Details vs. Eternal Verities 125 12. Disparate Friends 140 13. Cliques and Clans and Communities 154 14. Talking the Talk 166 15. Techno-Friendships 180 16. Friendships New Rival 192 17. Broken Friendships 205 18. Friendlessness 225 19. Is There an Art of Friendship? 240 A Bibliographical Note 255 Acknowledgments 259 Index 260
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