Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits

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Gallimaufry. For readers like me who haven’t encountered the term, it means “a confused jumble or medley of things.” The noun does capture the style of Joseph Epstein’s anthology, but it misses its social significance. Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, and Bits showcases the essayist’s finest pieces, many of which analyze our nation’s current crises. These essays are subversive, witty, occasionally offensive – and more relevant now than when Epstein penned the final few. His “Bits” are entirely the opposite. In them we discover an elderly Jewish gentleman enamored with cats, Chinese food, and Chicago, a man who isn’t afraid to analyze racial prejudice but who still takes himself with a grain of (kosher) salt.

If Epstein’s decades as literature professor and critic have taught him anything, it’s that discussions blending “critical” and “controversial” should begin by establishing common ground. He explains that his nonpartisan stance stems from his childhood as a member of a stigmatized minority in 1950’s Chicago. Unlike news reports, magazine articles, and political campaigns, his analysis isn’t masking either a liberal or conservative agenda.

Epstein’s “Bits” would have softened the book if he’d interspersed them with his essays, and the sanest way to tackle the anthology may be to mix and match the pieces ourselves. Gallimaufry was not penned by a faint-hearted author. But we aren’t reading in faint-hearted times.

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Publish Date 2020-10-07
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