I worship at the altar of great essayists, and Joseph Epstein is my favorite. He stitches together literary criticism, biography and historical context with a needle that quickly bursts pretentious balloons. Epstein has published many anthologies (A Line Out for A Walk, Life Sentences, Literary Essays and Partial Payments, Essays on Writers and Their Lives, to name a few_),_ and they're wonderful. Like a kid with his mittens attached to his coat, this guy must keep a notebook by his side at all times, capturing the quotations that amuse him. Then, somehow, he keeps track of them over the years, inserting them in his narratives and offering appetizers of what's available elsewhere. Like Ackerman's Senses, I had to ration his essays, so I wouldn't finish a book too quickly.__ Among America's younger, funny essayists writing today, David Sedaris's Barrel Fever and Someday Me Talk Good; P.J. O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell; and Christopher Buckley's Wry Martinis take the cake.