Jose Carillo's Forum


This section features links to interesting, instructive, or thought-provoking readings about the English language and related disciplines. The selections could be anywhere from light and humorous to serious and scholarly, and they range widely from the reading, writing, listening, and speaking disciplines to the teaching and learning of English.

The pursuit of gossip gets fair hearing in noted writer’s new book

Does gossip as a subject deserve a fair hearing in a book by a respectable writer?

The noted American essayist, short-story writer, and editor Joseph Epstein evidently thinks so, writing about it in his trademark erudite and witty style in a new book, Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages). Epstein argues persuasively that gossiping is an eternal and necessary human enterprise, one that often serves the understandable purpose of interpreting human behavior: “I am…drawn to the nature of gossip, which, though often false and not less often malicious, can also be a species of truth, deliverable in no other way than by word of mouth, personal letter, diaries and journals published posthumously, and not obtainable otherwise. Just because information is begun in gossip does not mean it can’t also be true.”


To prove that gossip isn’t a trivial pursuit, Epstein has come up with a history of sorts for it from the 19th century to contemporary times, offering delightful morsels from the Great Gossips of the Western World along with several choice tidbits from his own experience. Listen to his justification for his inveterate fascination with these stories: “A man or woman without any interest in gossip may be impressive in his or her restraint, but also wanting in curiosity, uninterested in the variousness of human nature, dead to the wildly abundant oddity of life, and thereby, in some central way, deficient.”

His enthusiasm in the social value of gossip nothwithstanding, Epstein concedes that because of the unparalleled reach of the mass media and the Internet, gossip has in recent years metamorphosed from its clever, mocking, and pleasurable best to a highly corrosive, even destructive variety. He says that what was once “thought an activity best conducted over a backyard fence, usually believed to be engaged in by women…now dominates the news and has become all but synonymous with leaks in high places that can help bring down governments.”

Read an excerpt from Joseph Epstein’s Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit in now!

Read Isaac Chotiner’s review of Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit in now!

Joseph Epstein is an American essayist, short story writer, and editor. He is the former editor of the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s The American Scholar and was a lecturer at Northwestern University from 1974 to 2002. He is a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard and a long-time contributor of essays and short stories to The New Criterion and Commentary. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines.

In “The Unlikely Event,” an essay that appeared in the November 28, 2011 issue of The Paris Review, Avi Steinberg jauntily contemplates the truthfulness of the language of airline safety cards after she experienced a particularly terrifying flight on board a Boeing 757. “As everyone knows, the story contained in this pamphlet has little to do with anything resembling the truth,” Steinberg says. “If shit goes down, if that horrifying alarm is sounded, will your fellow passengers really calmly place oxygen masks over their faces? Will that crazy lady sitting next to you inflate her life jacket in a quiet and orderly fashion? …Airline safety cards aren’t instructional guides, they are works of fantastic imagination.” If ever there were an occasion for bold revisions of reality, she argues, surely the art of airline crisis is it.

Read Avi Steinberg’s “The Unlikely Event” in The Paris Review now!

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