Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Lonesome Rangers, John Leonard, The New Press, 2002, 318 pp

John Leonard died of lung cancer on November 5, 2008. Until I read the obituary, I had never heard of him, yet he was first a reviewer for and then editor of "The New York Times Book Review" in the late 1960s and the 1970s. He has been called one of the two or three best literary critics in America and his writing described as criticism as performance art. Lonesome Rangers is a collection of his reviews and essays from 1997 to 2001.

I am glad to have made his acquaintance though sorry that he is gone. He claims to have read and reviewed over 13,000 books! That is over 200 books a year and in truth he seems to have read everything plus know all about TV, movies and pop culture. He says he became a reviewer when he realized that most of the books he was reading were better than the ones he was writing. I can so relate.

But his writing is stunning, witty, acerbic and irreverent. Basically he just rants. I now love him and not the least because he loved Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Arthur Koestler. He doesn't seem to care much for Tom Wolfe which is humorous to me because their styles are similar.

I am inspired and heartened that book reviews and literary criticism can be written with such panache, with such entertainment value. John Leonard must have never gotten good marks on book reports. Perhaps he never wrote any. He was a free spirit and ought to be required reading for all book reviewers.

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