Joseph Epstein, national treasure, has a typically modest and wonderful essay in the new issue of Commentary, in which he reflects on a life of not-quite-fame. He writes with his typical self-deprecating dry wit about how writers are “fantasists” who imagine that upon joining the uncounted multitudes who have published a book, life will change. They think, “This will be the book, a sure bestseller, that will take me out of the financial wars forever. Reviewers, surely, cannot help but understand, and duly appreciate, what I have achieved here. If only . . . if only . . . if only.” Epstein, though he is occasionally hailed by strangers as he goes about his business, has learned to accept being only moderately well-known:
I have passed beyond the fantasy stage in regard to my own writing. When I publish a book, I hope it will sell enough copies to repay my publisher and please my modest number of regular readers (7–8,000 or so). I am pleased by enthusiastic reviews but no longer crushed (ticked maybe, but not crushed) by damning ones. I have ceased accepting occasional offers to do interviews or appear on talk-radio shows. As for offers to give lectures, I set a high fee ($10,000) and write to the people, not all that many, who have made the offer that they are not to worry if they cannot meet it, for I have heard these talks myself and assure them they are worth nowhere near $10,000.
Epstein is one of the most delightful essayists in the language, a familiar presence going back many years in The Weekly Standard (R.I.P.), Commentary, and other publications. Typically, he didn’t even plug his new book in his latest column, but I will: Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits has just been published. In this short-attention span era, essay collections are more essential than ever and I look forward to getting a copy.
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