Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures

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9781565846944: Lonesome Rangers: Homeless Minds, Promised Lands, Fugitive Cultures
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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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From 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 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist:

In a world of cacophonous talking heads posing as "cultural commentators," what a treat it is to encounter the real thing. Through numerous journalistic gigs (including editor of the New York Times Book Review), Leonard has never failed to be both entertaining and enlightening. In his latest collection of essays, loosely united around the theme of writers in exile, he leapfrogs from Primo Levi to Mary McCarthy, to Eugene V. Debs, and even to Robert D. Putnam, author of that bible of the executive retreat, Bowling Alone. Displaying a phrasemaker's flair unmatched among contemporary critics, Leonard gives Putnam the lambasting he so deserves, defends McCarthy against the sniping of her contemporaries, and tells Podhoretz what readers of Making It have long believed: "It's okay, Norman, all of it--wanting money, status, power, fame. But what makes you think it's so brave to say so out loud?" Whatever his topic, Leonard reminds us that criticism can be stylish and substantive, that it can bring books and life together, and that, best of all, it can be damn funny. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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