Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit Paperback – Nov 27 2012
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Review"While Epstein’s ruminations on how we became a nation of gawkers ring painfully true, it is his willingness to analyze delectable tidbits regarding authors, intellectuals and other luminaries that enlivens the narrative... Amusing and serious in equal measures, Epstein grants readers the pleasurable company of a master observer of humanity’s foibles."
-Kirkus, starred "Delectable firsthad anecdotes and portraits...add to the pleasures of this serious appraisal. Readers who share Epstein's concern about gossip's power 'to invade privacy, to wreck lives' and his reluctance to wholly condemn it 'because I enjoy it too much' will find him disquieting and delightful."
"[Epstein has] a literary tone that makes you think of venerable Manhattan editors with mid-Atlantic accents...like a good stand-up comedian (or a discoverer), he inspires confidence [in his writing]." -Wall Street Journal
About the Author
JOSEPH EPSTEIN is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship , among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar . His work has appeared in The New Yorker , Harper's Magazine , the Atlantic Monthly , and other magazines. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.See all Product Description
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Epstein's a very entertaining writer, and the examples give a historical context to something we probably don't consider as a serious method of conversation - I'm not saying it's a valuable or useful method, but it IS communication. I appreciated the Talmudic quote to not say anything good about your friends, because it often leads to the negative, and I think that's very true.
I agree with a previous reviewer that this feels like a series of collected magazine articles that analyze gossip from a series of perspectives. Unlike that reviewer, I do feel each example was effectively and interestingly connected.
Ultimately, while I was entertained and impressed by Epstein's amusing writing skills, the book itself doesn't add up to that much. It feels very light, even if the subject matter is serious at times; I'm not sure it demands much deep thinking. Although the section that explores how journalism = gossip is meaningful and interesting. Still, as a book to get for yourself, it's fun but not memorable.
But I do think this would be a great holiday or birthday gift - especially to an academic, or someone who works in a back-bitey office enviornment. It would let them put a little researched spin on the behavior they likely practice but never seriously think about.
Plus, if you buy it for someone, then the two of you can talk about it, which is the whole point anyway!
The author spends the first few introductory chapters defining gossip and some closely allied synonyms. One of his definitions of gossip is "One party telling another what a third party doesn't want known." The mere fact that it may actually be true makes it all the more destructive. He then gives an example of how a "News Leak" is different from pure gossip in saying that gossip may start out as nothing more than entertainment while a leak always has an underling serious motive to it. He even goes into trying to explain the derivation of the word gossip attributing it at one point to the information operatives [spies] of the Revolutionary War, who were told to go-sip [some booze] with the enemy to derive the necessary information sought. I found that informative, as interesting minds always want to know.
My favorite chapter in the book was on Walter Winchell, which even knowing who he was dates me a bit. It seems that he began his career in vaudeville as a tap dancer before becoming the progenitor of all gossip columnists of today. With a nice turn of phrase the author so succinctly puts it, "A hoofer by trade, he was a hustler in spirit and he hustled much better than he hoofed...Before long, Winchell would give up his tap shoes for tapping out words on a typewriter."
He also gossips on Lady Christina Brown Evans who is the editor of the Daily Beast and Newsweek. You will get the real low down on her methods of ascension to those lofty pedestals of society. This was even better than the chapter on Barbara Walters.
He also dishes on other antediluvians of the ancient world of storied Romans and Greeks plus merely the more recent "gossipists" as Dorothy Killgallen, Liz Smith, Seymour Hersh [reported the My Lai massacre of 1968 Viet Nam], Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, Walter Cronkite, Arthur Miller, and more modern purveyors of prurient interests as TMZ, Page Six [NY Times], Politico.Com, Matt Drudge and too many others to note.
For Epstein fans or those simply interested in gossip as entertainment, this book doesn't disappoint. You will be hilariously surprised at what some of the famous and not to famous had to say about others.
But that also makes it a problem for Epstein's larger point. For, while he is perfectly willing to concede gossip's positive uses (it enforces social mores, tells you what you really need to know about your fellow human beings, and helps your social skills), the larger point he is trying to make is that the Internet has given us too much gossip. His wants us to come away shaking our collective heads at the un-seriousness of the information we are presented even in serious publications. Because that information is so filled with gossip as to be merely a distraction. He wants us to absorb the Talmudic lessons that we are not to even start talking well of our fellow man because we will, in the end speak badly of him and the Talmudic lesson of Lashon hara or the evil tongue. Or at least he says he does.
For, in the end, these moral lessons (sprinkled as they are in between juicy pieces of gossip) are what prevent you from thinking that your own voyeuristic interest in this book degrades you. But, let's be honest, it's not the moral lessons that keep you turning the pages. It's the one about what Senator Moynihan's assistant would say when the late Senator was completely drunk or the one about Marlene Dietrich making it with JFK less than an hour before receiving an award for her wartime work with Jewish refugees.
In the end, this book delivers exactly what it preaches (although it can't be said to preach all that terribly hard) against. Which, of course is what makes it such a fun read. So, if you're looking for a fun, gossip-filled read about celebrities modern and not-so-modern this book's perfect. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a serious book about gossip, you may want to look elsewhere.
Joseph Epstein has taken gossip to a whole new level; this book isn't the gossip itself (though there is some in here), but it's kind of a dissecting look at gossip. He distinguishes 'gossip' from 'rumor' by explaining that gossip is about the conduct of people, rumor about events or incidents whose truth is speculative.
And even if you lead and have led forever a perfectly squeaky clean life, Epstein contends that nobody is impregnable to gossip- nobody.
In each chapter there is at the end a section entitle, "Diary" wherein Epstein dishes.
I have to say, I really enjoyed reading about Truman Capote; he had a way of just letting it all hang out, gossip-wise, and was very clever in the telling. His favorite thing to do was to gossip in the most public place possible: national television on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was a great place.
Oscar Wilde called journalism organized gossip. Newspapers, books, magazines full of gossip sell. Now we have the internet and the speed with which a person can disengage his mind from his actions and hit "send" is mind boggling. Epstein discusses the internet, the way anyone and everyone can be a journalist today on their own blog, everyone can be a gossip and reach the world.
Gossip has been around pretty much forever and Epstein points out that, "the only thin missing from the Garden of Eden was a third person for Adam and Eve to gossip about."
It was kind of odd to read that Epstein finds gossip a bit low brow and lacking in social class and then the book is totally chock full of all sorts of gossip that would make anyone blush. He weighs in with abandon on Tina Brown and her rise to success through the bedroom sleeping not with the successful men of the world but with their sons. He tells of the sordid sex life of Aristotle Onasis and the suspicions surrounding Wallis Simpson.
Joseph Epstein has a sharp wit I like.