HOW THE RUSSIANS INVENTED BASEBALL: And Other Essays of Enlightenment by John Leo

HOW THE RUSSIANS INVENTED BASEBALL: And Other Essays of Enlightenment

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Time writer Leo is a contender as a minor literary lion with this collation of light pieces that first appeared in the newsweekly and other periodicals, including the East Hampton Star and Bird Watchers Digest. It's a mixed bag, with several first-rate, full-dress essays, a few out-dated discourses, and a number of frisky dialogues between a straw man called Ralph and his feisty spouse, Wanda. In their search for the true meaning of such developing sociological phenomena as androgyny, interpersonal-relations texts, and teen-age vegetarianism and sex, the Ralph-Wanda debates sound much like William F. Buckley's stab at a Fox Network sitcom, with flashes of fun, dollops of good sense, and words spoken by no couple on earth. But, as Ralph says, ""surely this is warm jocularity."" In a quest for the ambient female orgasm (a subject less than current today, perhaps), sapient Ralph advises ""all ardent males to rub everything once."" Leo, too, seems clear about the roles of the various sexes. ""Males chop wood, scramble up ladders, fix gutters, poison moles and bury decomposing raccoons. Women do the indoor stuff, except for building bookcases and opening tight pickle jars."" He has a talent, nevertheless, to crack stereotypes wide open. He has discovered, for example, that, as depicted in Sally Field's indomitable-women movies anyway, ""the repository of all prejudice and meanness"" is ""society,"" which certainly seems to settle the matter. For each pedestrian essay (on Dr. Ruth or the assembly of Christmas toys), there are several trenchant pieces. We get pleasant praise of bird watching, an unusually funny tribute to a Catholic layman, some common sense about baseball, and an especially valuable guide to journalese. (""Literally"" always means ""figuratively,"" and ""difficult,"" ""intense,"" or ""driven"" are various ways to describe a psychopath.) A diverse, yet sometimes incisive, snapshot of our society by a witty trend-tracker. The picture is generally lucid and, often enough, pointedly risible.

Pub Date: Aug. 18th, 1989
Publisher: Delacorte