A few weeks ago, the headline of an obituary in the Times caught my eye: “Barbara Holland, Defender of Small Vices, Dies at 77.” A “defender of small vices”—what a fine title by which to be remembered, the kind of informal, appointed job that you didn’t know exists but then seems essential once you do. The obituary pointed me to Holland’s 1995 collection of short essays, “Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences.” In the preface, Holland explains the crisis she and her like-minded cohort—she often writes in an embracing first-person plural—faced during the last decade of the twentieth century:
To make sure we aren’t having any casual, private fun, the contemporary wisdom has withdrawn a lot of our older pleasures—chicken gravy, long summer vacations, cigarettes, martinis, sleeping late—and replaced them with fitness and gloom.
Fitness and gloom, a pithy summary of that decade—add recession, and you’ve got a good working definition of the first decade of this century, as well. Though the collection predates smart phones, social networking, and 9/11, it still feels spot on as cultural observation, and, in terms of charm, it’s timeless.
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