Synopses & Reviews
"Epstein follows up Essays in Biography (2012) with another collection of provocative and beguiling thought pieces. The six selections grouped under 'Memoir' comprise an informal autobiography that takes the author from his Chicago boyhood to his current life as an obit-reading septuagenarian. In one of the book's best essays, 'A Virtucrat Remembers,' Epstein relates how the liberal advances of the Ã¢Â€Â˜60s turned him off liberalism; he dismantles a polemic against neoconservativism that was published in Dissent in 1973 only to reveal that he was the angry young man who wrote it. A number of these essays grow out of omnivorous reading. From books about the rising popularity of plastic surgery, Epstein deduces that plastic surgeons combine 'the work of a sawbones with that of a shrink' hence the essay's title 'Prozac, with Knife.' The range of his curiosity is exhilarating: he writes as insightfully on art critic Hilton Kramer and the New York Review of Books as he does on higher education and, in 'What to Do About the Arts' inspired by his years serving on the National Endowment for the Arts on the decline of artistic standards in contemporary America. Though they span nearly 40 years, the essays are remarkable for their consistency of tone and abundant insights about fiction, poetry, philosophy, and sociology. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt Inc. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Naive Readings is a collection of nine of Ralph Lerners essays on an astonishing range of notoriously difficult and complex authors and texts including Benjamin Franklins secular and his liturgical writings, Jeffersons Summary View,” and Abraham Lincolns various writings on statesmanship before he took office; Bacons Essayes, Gibbons writings on Jews, and Tocqueville on Edmund Burke; and finally Judah Halevis Kuzari, and Maimonidess Guide of the Perplexed. Lerner presents his essays as experiments that challenge our current habits of reading which, especially in the case of such difficult texts, usually involve a hasty dismissal of whatever is deemed irrelevant and superficial. His aim is to show that such dismissal is almost always an error fatal to gaining a better insight into an authors intent. The antidote, he argues, is to read slowly and naively, paying particular attention to passages where the prose becomes self-conscious, impassioned, and idiosyncratic. It is in these passages, Lerner claims, that we can see a pattern which once it has been discerned appears to have been laying out in plain sight all along. Lerner is especially concerned to untangle surface questions such as the unity of opening and closing, the treatment of significant but not obviously thematic subjects, the surprising choice of a foil for ones argument, and a works structure and organization. A central issue that animates each of the essays is the question of the authors intended effect on his audiences. Ultimately the plain but barely stated message of all these heterogeneous texts is that notwithstanding our limited understanding and finite powers, we are not absolved, individually or collectively, from confronting and mitigating as best we can the difficulties and dangers that life on earth poses to our flourishing.