Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures

Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures

by John Leonard
     
 

John Leonard, “the fastest wit in the East” (The New York Times Book Review), is back with the offbeat, wide-ranging style that earned his last book, When the Kissing Had to Stop, a place among the Voice Literary Supplement’s “25 Favorites of 1999.” Now, with an eye to the social and political experience of writers

Overview

John Leonard, “the fastest wit in the East” (The New York Times Book Review), is back with the offbeat, wide-ranging style that earned his last book, When the Kissing Had to Stop, a place among the Voice Literary Supplement’s “25 Favorites of 1999.” Now, with an eye to the social and political experience of writers, Leonard adopts a broad definition of exile.

He addresses Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, where exile manifests itself in solitary bowling, a reflection of a declining sense of community. He considers Salman Rushdie as rock’n’roll Orpheus, who—after ten years in fatwa-enforced exile—bears a striking resemblance to his continually disappearing characters. And Leonard also explores Primo Levi’s exile of survival, Bruce Chatwin’s self-imposed exile in travel, as well as the work of Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Phillip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, and Don DeLillo, among others.

As always, Leonard’s writing jumps off the page, engaging the reader in what the Washington Post calls his “laugh-out-loud magic with words.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A CBS and NPR commentator, New York magazine reviewer and literary editor for the Nation, Leonard (This Pen for Hire, etc.) has also worked as editor of the New York Times Book Review. This collection of 27 essay-reviews, most previously published in the Nation, seems oddly defenseless without the buttressing context of the magazine, since each one remains oriented toward pub-date-driven summings up. Subjects range from late or gray writers Arthur Koestler (Leonard lifts part of his subtitle from the Koestler bio he reviews), Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick and Saul Bellow, along with Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, to Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam and novelists Bambara, DeLillo, Kingsolver, Powers and Rushdie. Everywhere in these pages are attempts at liveliness: "Once upon a time, I was a Wunderkind. Now I'm an old fart"; "Picasso was nasty, brutish, and short, but he changed the way we saw the world." While effective in giving a blunt quick take on careers or pieces of writing, Leonard's commonsense approach obscures more than it reveals, as when, for example, he gives a free pass to the late writer Bruce Chatwin, who lied until the end about his AIDS infection: "... I am not so presumptuous as to instruct a stranger on how to die heroically. We didn't know about Rock Hudson in advance, so why should we have known about Bruce Chatwin? Who says writers have a higher obligation than actors? Or politicians?" Even though this book fails to deliver the coherent moral or aesthetic vision that would live up to the profundity of the subtitle, Leonard's infectious energy and love for reading and writing come through clearly. (Feb. 28) Forecast: Despite Leonard's high profile, this diffuse book has no clear hook, as Nation readers will have seen the pieces before, and Leonard's rattling style works less well between hard covers. Viewers of Leonard's Sunday Morning segments may account for some sales if they run across the book. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The wise-cracking, pun-loving Leonard (When the Kissing Had To Stop) is also one of our most serious cultural critics. The former editor of the New York Times Book Review and the literary coeditor of the Nation, he is now a commentator on CBS Sunday Morning. Using a jazzy hyper-language full of lists, names, and new words, Leonard shows how he has remained true to the ideals of his youth; his leftist bias shows clearly and brightly. These essays, which mostly examine books and authors but take on many aspects of U.S. culture, were published between 1997 and 2001, mainly in the Nation. The memoir notes that begin and end the book are especially good, as are Leonard's essays on Norman Podhoretz, Philip Roth, Richard Powers, and Bob Dylan. Other authors discussed include Elizabeth Hardwick, Toni Cade Bambara, Jachym Topol, Jeremy Rifkin, and Marguerite Young. Great fun in the Leonard style; recommended for literature collections. Gene Shaw, NYPL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Extended quotation will be the tactic favored by most reviewers of this stimulating essay collection sparkling with Leonard's trademark breezy style and flair for phrasemaking (Smoke and Mirrors, 1997; When the Kissing Had to Stop, 1999). Leonard rattles along in high gear in these 27 varied literary pieces, which are unified in a general way by their brooding on the themes of "exodus and exile . . . diaspora and displacement" as recorded and experienced by contemporary writers. For example, reviews grouped under the rubric "Down Among the Intellectuals" range widely to consider Primo Levi's irreversible fatalism, the unlikely pairing of Rimbaud and Orwell as "Radical Icons," the exasperating presence of Mary McCarthy (who "had a moral compass that pointed away from doctrinaire politics"), the charismatic enigma of Bruce Chatwin, and the recent firestorm of books celebrating and traducing the New Yorker magazine (tartly labeled "the peculiar institution" by Leonard). A section on "The Politics of Fiction" contains more ambitious pieces, including a pointed contrast between Atlanta novels by Toni Cade Bambara and Tom Wolfe, tightly reasoned tributes to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and the ingeniously engineered novels of Richard Powers, and a long review of Jachym Topol's exuberant picaresque City Sister Silver, which becomes the occasion for a searching analysis of former Czech president Vaclav Havel's political and literary careers. The failures of socialism, the ideal of "community," and American business's faltering sense of richesse oblige are explored as "Lost Causes," along with discussions of Marguerite Young's fascinating un-biography of Eugene Debs and JoeEszterhas's ebulliently sleazy noveloid American Rhapsody. Leonard ends with "How the Caged Bird Learns to Sing," an account of his still-developing understanding of how reporting in the print and visual media for which he toils is shaped by its power brokers' personal and corporate ties. Timely, irresistible cultural criticism from one of the best literary journalists in-and also outside-the business.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781565846944
Publisher:
New Press, The
Publication date:
02/01/2002
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.09(d)

Meet the Author

John Leonard, “the fastest wit in the East” (The New York Times Book Review), is back with the offbeat, wide-ranging style that earned his last book, When the Kissing Had to Stop, a place among the Voice Literary Supplement’s “25 Favorites of 1999.” Now, with an eye to the social and political experience of writers, Leonard adopts a broad definition of exile.

He addresses Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, where exile manifests itself in solitary bowling, a reflection of a declining sense of community. He considers Salman Rushdie as rock’n’roll Orpheus, who—after ten years in fatwa-enforced exile—bears a striking resemblance to his continually disappearing characters. And Leonard also explores Primo Levi’s exile of survival, Bruce Chatwin’s self-imposed exile in travel, as well as the work of Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Phillip Roth, Barbara Kingsolver, and Don DeLillo, among others.

As always, Leonard’s writing jumps off the page, engaging the reader in what the Washington Post calls his “laugh-out-loud magic with words.”

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