Cover image for Lonesome rangers : homeless minds, promised lands, fugitive cultures
Lonesome rangers : homeless minds, promised lands, fugitive cultures
Leonard, John, 1939-2008.
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Publication Information:
New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, 2002.
Physical Description:
xxix, 318 pages ; 22 cm
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PS3562.E56 L6 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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."

Author Notes

Critic John Leonard was born in Washington on February 25, 1939. He attended Harvard University from 1956 to 1958 and later studied briefly at the University of California, Berkeley. He wrote numerous books including Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television and Other American Cultures (1997) and When the Kissing Had to Stop: Cult Studs, Khmer Newts, Langley Spooks, Techno-Geeks, Video Drones, Author Gods, Serial Killers, Vampire Media, Alien Sperm-Suckers, Satanic Therapists, and Those of Us Who Hold a Left-Wing Grudge in the Post Toasties New World Hip-Hop (1999). His work also appeared in the New York Times, Harper's Magazine, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic Monthly, The Village Voice and The Washington Post Book World. He received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle in 2006. He died from complications of lung cancer on November 5, 2008 at the age of 69.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Elsewhere: An Introductionp. xiii
Part 1 Down Among the Intellectuals
Primo Levi Reads Franz Kafkap. 3
Rimbaud and Orwell: Radical Iconsp. 16
Arthur Koestler, Homeless Mindp. 30
Mary McCarthyismp. 40
Elizabeth Hardwick Meets Herman Melvillep. 53
Norman Podhoretz, Alone at Lastp. 64
Saul Bellow (1): Not Dead Yetp. 74
Bruce Chatwin in Dreamtimep. 83
I Say It's Spinachp. 92
Part 2 The Politics of Fiction
Philip Roth (1): Bedtime for Bolsheviksp. 103
Philip Roth (2): Skin Gamep. 113
Saul Bellow (2): Bloom Buriedp. 125
Ralph Ellison, Sort Of (Plus Hemingway and Salinger)p. 135
Toni Cade Bambara in Atlanta, Tom Wolfe Full of Itp. 147
Don DeLillo Minimalizesp. 153
The Novels of Richard Powersp. 165
Barbara Kingsolver: Out of Africap. 183
Robert Stone in Jerusalemp. 189
Salman Rushdie Goes Undergroundp. 196
Jachym Topol's Lonely Hearts Club Bandp. 209
Part 3 Lost Causes
Dancing to a Tune by Eugene V. Debsp. 229
Why Socialism Never Happened Herep. 240
America, the Solitary Vicep. 248
Puff, the Magic Cyberdragonp. 258
Rhapsody in Red, White, Blue, and Glitzp. 264
Blowing His Nose in the Windp. 287
Part 4 Epilogue (Am I Blue?)
How the Caged Bird Learns to Singp. 301