The title, American Scholar editor Epstein (Partial Ideas, 1988,
etc.) tells us, is taken from Paul Klee's explanation of his art:
"I take a line out for a walk" - which, Epstein adds, "describes
exactly, precisely, absolutely what I do." And so it does, as
demonstrated by these congenial essays, which ramble and slide from
one idea to another, but always attain some sort of destination, or
point. Erudite, opinionated, smug, gleefully self-exposing, Epstein
muses here on the allure of fame, the art of the put-down,
gambling, envy, the travails of being short ("In literature,
treachery is frequently assigned to small people"), the domination
of money ("Like the lady said, money is funny, and the biggest
laugh may be reserved for those of us who are clownish enough to
believe we can rise above it"), etc. In all: provocative
after-dinner chat, with sniftered brandy and boxed cigars at hand.
Describing his art, Paul Klee once said, "I take a line out for a
walk". This is precisely what Joseph Epstien does in his trenchant
informal essays. In this fourth collection, he takes out such
wildly various "lines" as gossip, gambling, height (or the lack of
it), hats, smoking, fame, the madness of compulsive reading and
walks them on the leash of his own strong viewpoint. "Witty,
civilized, erudite, self-mocking - intelligent entertainments more
British than American in their roots yet most emphatically American
in content and style...Invariably his comments...are interesting,
sometimes they are striking, often they are amusing."
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