Literary Birthday – 9 January – Joseph Epstein

Happy Birthday, Joseph Epstein, born 9 January 1937.


  1. For me writing is foremost a mode of thinking and when it works well, an act of discovery
  2. We use books like mirrors, gazing into them only to discover ourselves.
  3. I was recently asked what it takes to become a writer. Three things, I answered: first, one must cultivate incompetence at almost every other form of profitable work. This must be accompanied, second, by a haughty contempt for all the forms of work that one has established that one cannot do. To these two must be joined, third, the nuttiness to believe that other people can be made to care about your opinions and views and be charmed by the way you state them. Incompetence, contempt, lunacy–once you have these in place, you are set to go.
  4. Those who consider themselves good teachers probably aren’t.
  5. The reason ‘closure’ is a cliché is that it is used too often, too imprecisely, and doesn’t in any case reflect reality. In reality, such closure in broken friendships and much else in life is rarely achieved; only death brings closure and then not always for those still living.
  6. The acquisition of culture requires repose, sitting quietly in a room with a book, or alone with one’s thoughts.
  7. Courage is nine-tenths context. What is courageous in one setting can be foolhardy in another and even cowardly in a third.
  8. To be in the middle of composing a book is almost always to feel oneself in a state of confusion, doubt and mental imprisonment.
  9. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time and conditions of our death. But within this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we live.
  10. The problem for me is that reading is, I won’t say a sacred, but nevertheless a pretty serious act.

Joseph Epstein is an American essayist, short-story writer, and editor. He is the author of the best-selling Snobbery: The American Version and Friendship: An Expose, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar.

by Amanda Patterson

Are you interested in more authors’ birthdays? Please click here: Literary Birthday Calendar

Posted on: 9th January 2018