Wind Sprints

Shorter Essays
By Joseph Epstein
Hardcover: $24.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-100-4

Summary

Who is the greatest living essayist writing in English? Joseph Epstein would surely be at the top of anybody’s list. Epstein is penetrating. He is witty. He has a magic touch with words, that hard to define but immediately recognizable quality called style. Above all, he is impossible to put down.

Joseph Epstein’s Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays is the third volume of essays from Axios Press following the much acclaimed Essays in Biography (2012) and A Literary Education and Other Essays (2014). It contains 143 short essays, literary sprints rather than marathons. Subjects range from domestic life to current social trends to an appraisal of “contemporary nuttiness.”

After reading Epstein, we see life with a fresh eye. We also see ourselves a little more clearly. This is what Plutarch intended: life teaching by example, but with a wry smile and such a sure hand that we hardly notice the instruction. It is just pure pleasure.

About the Author

Joseph Epstein was formerly editor of the American Scholar. A long-time resident of Chicago, he has taught English and writing at Northwestern University for many years. He has written for numerous magazines including the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Weekly Standard and Commentary.

He is the author of twenty-six books, many of them collections of essays. His books include the bestselling Snobbery and Friendship as well as the short-story collections The Goldin Boys, Fabulous Small Jews, and The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff.

Patrick Kurp, Anecdotal Evidence (May 8, 2016):

“Witty, common-sensical, civilized, reliably pleasure-giving, Epstein is solace.”

[Complete review: EvidenceAnecdotal.blogspot.com]

Danny Heitman, the Christian Science Monitor (April 6, 2016):

“In Wind Sprints, his latest collection of essays, Joseph Epstein confesses to literary tippling – sampling bits of prose while in the supermarket line, during television commercials, or even in traffic. . . . He excels at lively, instructive, and often funny essays that sometimes run to 10,000 words. The only complication in starting them is that they’re so charming and chatty that one cannot easily put them down. A reader who begins an Epstein piece behind the wheel is likely to be stalled on the freeway for a very long time.”

[Complete review: CSMonitor.com]

Larry Thornberry, the American Spectator (April 4, 2016):

“It has long been implausible to argue that there’s a more engaging essayist on the planet than Epstein. . . . There are 143 pieces in Sprints, with almost no repetition of subject. Perhaps because of the length of these pieces, Epstein takes on fewer literary questions and deals with more small, quotidian matters, though in ways to demonstrate that almost anything can be dealt with intelligently, and in an entertaining way.”

[Complete review: Spectator.org]

Christopher Buckley, author of Thank You for Smoking:

“I am purring, chortling and cursing my way through [Wind Sprints]. Cursing, because [the] wit, . . . erudition, . . . elan, panache, and . . . je ne sais quoi is just too depressing. There’s treasure in every sentence. It’s like spoon-eating caviar. I may have a stroke, but what a way to go.”

Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review (January 15, 2016):

“A master of the essay form returns with a collection of brief pieces spanning nearly 20 years. . . . Another subtitle might have been Healthful Snacks, for these bite-size pieces are both enjoyable to ingest and good for you.”

[Complete review: KirkusReviews.com]

Peter Dabbene, ForeWord Reviews (Spring 2016):

“This collection is the perfect introduction to the erudite and entertaining work of a prolific essayist. . . . Noted writer Joseph Epstein offers a smorgasbord of wit in the collection Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays.”

[Complete review: pdf]

Lonnie Weatherby, Library Journal (March 1, 2016):

“Epstein (emeritus lecturer of English, Northwestern Univ.), a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and the Weekly Standard, is acclaimed for his witty, perceptive, and occasionally contentious essays, which he began during his editorship (1974–97) of American Scholar.”

[Complete review: pdf]

Publishers Weekly (March 14, 2016):

“The 143 essays in Epstein’s entertaining new collection . . . are compulsively readable. . . . Epstein shows himself capable of writing engagingly at that brief length on just about any topic that strikes his fancy. . . . The essays are peppered with personal memories and quotes from literature and punctuated with bursts of humor—Epstein likens a bandleader’s bellow to that ‘of a man who has just been pushed off a cliff’—and they abound with pleasures that belie their brevity.”

[Complete review: PublishersWeekly.com]

Sean West, San Francisco Book Review (January 2016):

“In the 143 short essays, Epstein discusses his reading habits, language snobbery, his love of khakis and good ol’ fashioned shoe shines, the need for a word to describe someone who is more than an acquaintance but less than a friend, the rise of hot dog prices, and the demise of the high five. . . . Generally acknowledged as one of America’s foremost essayists, Epstein’s short pieces are delightful and infuriating, endearing and aggravating.”

[Complete review: SanFranciscoBookReview.com]

Introduction

Essays:

The Romanian Air-Force Diet (1996)

Take A Flying Focus (1996)

Withholding the Facts of Life (1996)

It Rings—You Jump (1997)

My Detested Fellow Pilgrims (1997)

Numbers on the Brain (1997)

A Jones for Generalizations (1997)

Out for a Read (1997)

Please Sam, Don’t Play It Again (1997)

Overbooked (1997)

Bio-Degradable (1998)

Neologism, the Name of My Desire (1998)

A New Nobel (1998)

Gotcha (1998)

Literary Tippling (1998)

Great Talk (1998)

Stop and Smell the Prose (1999)

Can’t Take That Away from Me (1999)

A Sad Case of Mono (1999)

Political Shopping (1999)

The High Miles Club (1999)

Rolodeath (1999)

Confessions of a Craven Materialist (1999)

Hats Off (1999)

A Taxonomy of Bores (1999)

Send in the Clowns (1999)

No Acknowledgment Needed (1999)

Dear Editor (2000)

Don’t Tutoyer Me, Pal (2000)

Don’t Ask, Multitask (2000)

HMS Punafor (2000)

Jervis (2000)

Foot Fop (2000)

You Got Attitude? (2000)

The Game of the Name (2000)

Upsizing (2000)

Singing (Sort of ) in the Rain (2001)

The Eppy and Other Jackets (2001)

The Enlivening Sins (2001)

Mr. Epstein Regrets (2001)

The Worried Well (2001)

The Language Snob, Reinvented (2001)

Looking for King Kong (2001)

A Walker Outside the City (2001)

Penman (2001)

Popcorn Palaces (2002)

Situation Comedy (2002)

All the News Unfit to Read (2002)

Sorry Charlie (2002)

Book Swining (2002)

Khaki-Pantsman (2002)

A Cheap Night Out (2002)

An Offer I Could Refuse (2002)

Back on the Bus (2003)

The Food of My People (2003)

No Opinion (2003)

The Attack on the Hot Dog (2003)

Shine (2003)

Marginalized (2003)

Paid Subscriber (2003)

Quote-idian (2003)

Let Old Acquaintance Be Forgot (2004)

It’s Only a Movie (2004)

Jacques Barzun: An Appreciation (2012)

Fighting Poverty (2014)

Mel Lasky (2004)

“Won’t You Join Me?” (2004)

They Said I Was Low-Tech . . . (2004)

Letter from Bedlam (2004)

Tailor-Made (2004)

Sublime Competence (2004)

Do Go Changin’ (2005)

The Postman Won’t Even Ring Once (2005)

A Secret Vice (2005)

Orchidacious (2005)

Switch & Rebate (2005)

Early Riser (2002)

Fred (2004)

No Joke (2005)

The Big Picture (2005)

Trend Stopping (2005)

Santayana’s Chair (2005)

The Artist Athlete (2013)

Fat Moe, Hot Doug, and Big Herm (2005)

Out of Business (2006)

Plagiary, It’s Crawling All Over Me (2006)

The Perils of Prolificacy (2006)

A Plague of Phones (2006)

Perchance to Dream (2006)

Spandexless (2006)

$129 on the Dotted Line (2006)

Cleaning Up My Act (2006)

Don’t Call Me Ishmael (2007)

Memory Laine (2007)

Excellent Choice (2007)

Gimme Shelter (2008)

Negative Pleasures (2008)

It’s Only a Hobby (2008)

Vernon (2008)

The Unnaturals (2013)

Cool Chapeau, Man (2008)

Prizeless (2008)

Another Season, No Whoopee (2009)

Funny Papers (2009)

Fit To Be Tied (2009)

Sound Off (2009)

Joseph Epstein Has a Cold (2009)

Home Mechanic (2009)

A Happy Problem (2010)

Adios, Gray Lady (2010)

Full Slab (2010)

Dancing with Wolves (2012)

Bye, Bye, High Five (2011)

Kindle at the Cleaners (2011)

At Moral Rest in Old New York (2011)

Katie in Kabul (2011)

The Divine Miss H (2011)

Bring It on, Fyodor Mikhailovich (2011)

Down the AmaZone (2012)

The Proustian Solution (2012)

The Great Apartment Hunt (2012)

Weepers Keepers (2013)

Audio-Dismal Aids (2013)

Go Google Yourself (2013)

Pretensions a la Carte (2013)

The Greatest Story Never Read (2012)

Toting a Dumb Phone (2013)

Nostalgia Organized (2013)

A Condition in Need of a Label (2013)

Hold the Gluten (2014)

The Reluctant Bibliophile (2014)

Making a Spectacles of Myself (2014)

Portnoy’s Children (2013)

The Issue Issue (2015)

How I Learned to Love the Draft (2015)

Unsentimental Journey (2014)

Everyone Has His Price (2014)

Incommunicado (2015)

That’s a Nickel (2015)

Funny, But I Do Look Jewish (2003)

Cuppa Joe (2015)

The Divine Miss H, Revisited (2015)

Remembering Torelli (2015)

Original Publication Information for Essays in this Book

Index

From The Romanian Air-Force Diet

(1996)

An entry in my journal of roughly five years ago reads: “I learned that my cholesterol count is a very fine 185. Must carefully cross all streets. It would be a shame to die with so splendid a cholesterol count.” On the other hand, it might give my son a talking point at my memorial service. “My father,” I can hear him say, “was a man well in control of his life, as witness his cholesterol count of only 185.” I hope he will not mention that he often remembers me glancing down upon my plate at yet another boned, skinless chicken breast and looking gloomy at the prospect.

I am the man who coined the phrase—not yet in wide currency—“entree envy.” Entree envy denotes that moment in a restaurant when the waiter brings out everyone’s main course, and you look around the table in the hope of discovering that no one has ordered a more enticing dish than yours. In my case, entree envy includes the hope that no one’s plate has more food piled upon it than mine.

My natural voraciousness conflicts badly with my growing desire for long life. I grew up in Chicago on a diet of corned-beef sandwiches, hot dogs, sausage pizzas, steaks, chops, chopped liver, and rare roast beef, served in a series of restaurants that, if Jane Brody had anything to say about it, would be compelled to have at least two full-time cardiologists on the payroll. I used to go to a restaurant in Skokie, Illinois, called The Original Big Herm’s—The Hermitage, as I prefer to think of it—which served an Italian beef-and-sausage combo sandwich with sweet peppers that required three hands and fourteen small paper napkins to manipulate and consume, and then afterward there was the dry-cleaning bill to consider. In youth, my idea of a nightcap was four fingers of salami, a dozen chocolate-chip cookies, and a pint of butter-pecan ice cream, after which I slept the sleep of the just.

From Don’t Ask, Multitask

(2000)

Fasten your seatbelt, kiddo, we’re going over a bumpy bit of language, another little pot-hole on the rocky road of thought, this puppy yclept—no hyphen, please—“multitasker.” The word is popping up of late with a fair regularity in that thesaurus of faux pas, that ample warehouse of wretched excess, the New York Times. “I’m a great multitasker,” Monique Greenwood, the new editor of Essence, recently announced in the business section of the paper. Miss Greenwood also runs an 18-room bed-and-breakfast and a 72-seat restaurant in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn, and she has no intention of dropping them because of her new job. Essence has more than a million readers, but, hey, no sweat, the woman is, as she herself says, a great multitasker.

The test for a new word seeking entry into the language is need; I would also allow beauty and simple amusement. In a recent collection of Henry James’s letters, I note that James, that great unitasker, refers to an American visitor who arrived for a visit at his house in Rye at 1:30 and stayed until 6:30 as “New Yorkily conversing.” Adverbing New York is swell, and I intend to do it myself the first chance I get. I also happen to like “oojah-cum-spiff,” which stands for sheer perfection in the world of Bertie Wooster, though I haven’t as yet found many uses for it.

But, somehow, I don’t think we need multitasker. I say this despite the fact that I come from a long line of the dudes. More than a mere multitasker, my dear mother was a simultasker. On the phone with her, I would sometimes hear a metallic sound and, on inquiring what it might be, learn that she was stirring soup. Once she carried on a phone conversation with me while typing a letter, and as I recall it was a serious conversation. A very smart woman, she didn’t require all her powers to talk to her son, so why not, she figured, put some of them to other uses?

I may, at one point, have been a multitasker myself. I once had three different jobs: I edited a magazine, I taught at a university, I published enough of my own writing to come perilously close to qualifying as what Edith Wharton called a magazine bore. I had no notion at the time that I was a multitasker; I thought I was just trying to make a living. But my multitaskesqueness had quite as much to do with my intellectual modus operandi—or MO, as they say down at the station—which is always to have a big project going, then do six or seven other things to avoid doing what one is supposed to be doing on the big project. By evading taking on first things first, I have found, you can get a tremendous amount of work done.

From Making a Spectacles of Myself

(2014)

Of late, the last four years or so, I rarely go out for long without being praised. I am praised not for my writing, my perspicacity, my elegant bearing, my youthful good looks, my extreme modesty, but for my eyeglasses. “Nice glasses,” strangers say to me. “Like your glasses,” they say. “Love those glasses,” is a refrain I hear at least once a week. “Where did you get those glasses?” people wearing glasses of their own often ask me. “Thank you for your kind words about these glasses,” I have taken to answering. “They are my best feature.”

The frames of my glasses are round, large, heavy, and dappled with an emphatic tortoiseshell. Although they are bifocals, I do not need them full-time. I work at my computer without them. I don’t need them to watch television. I sometimes leave my apartment without them. Clearly, though, when I do wear them they dominate my face. Were I to commit a crime, they are probably the first thing that witnesses to it would recall about me.

A few Sundays ago, I was walking in the neighborhood when a middle-aged woman, in tights and doing a power walk, paused to say, “Love your glasses.” I told her I much liked the glasses she was wearing. She told me she has several pairs of glasses at home. “Glasses are jewelry for the face,” she said, and humped and pumped her way down the street.

Some glasses make one look forbidding. I think here of those rimless spectacles that suggest an older banker foreclosing on one’s mortgage. Other glasses make one look owlish. As an older man, Cary Grant wore black-framed glasses that made him even more elegant. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan wears half-glasses low on the nose that do not work well with his sad comb-over.

When I grew up, wearing glasses of any kind was considered a serious detraction, a handicap of sorts. “Men seldom make passes,” Dorothy Parker wrote, “at girls who wear glasses.” Men who wore them were thought bookish, make that bookwormish, nerdy avant la lettre. “Four-eyes” was the put-down term of choice used against those who did. As if to illustrate how much this has changed, For Eyes is today one of the nation’s leading optical franchises. Naming a company after an insult—only in America.

Also by Joseph Epstein

Masters of the Games: Essays and Stories on Sport (2015)

A Literary Education and Other Essays (2014)

Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet, with Frederic Raphael (2013)

Essays in Biography (2012)

Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (2011)

The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories (2010)

Fred Astaire (2008)

In a Cardboard Belt!: Essays Personal, Literary, and Savage (2007)

Friendship: An Expose (2006)

Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy’s Guide (2006)

Fabulous Small Jews (2003)

Envy (2003)

Snobbery: The American Version (2002)

Narcissus Leaves the Pool: Familiar Essays (1999)

Life Sentences: Literary Essays (1997)

With My Trousers Rolled: Familiar Essays (1995)

Pertinent Players: Essays on the Literary Life (1993)

A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays (1991)

The Goldin Boys: Stories (1991)

Partial Payments: Essays on Writers and Their Lives (1988)

Once More Around the Block: Familiar Essays (1987)

Plausible Prejudices: Essays on American Writing (1985)

Middle of My Tether: Familiar Essays (1983)

Ambition: The Secret Passion (1980)

Familiar Territory: Observations on American Life (1979)

Divorced in America: Marriage in an Age of Possibility (1974)