Do you think it's easy to write this column? I wish you the hives. They cut the sex out of this column, and they don't want politics in this column, and my children haven't said anything interesting since Guy Fawkes Day. . ."". Resilient to his turtleneck, John Leonard always comes up with something to fill the New York Times slot that requires him ""to be bittersweet once a week""--to self-expose. Here are 69 of the episodic miniatures he's composed over the past two-plus years, and from unceremonious opening to obligatory ""epiphany"" he controls their form absolutely. Control is part of ""competence"" of course--and competence, like a mortgage, confers adulthood on the pretender; for Leonard, even organizing his books is the virtuous act of an aspiring ""grownup,"" as ""burning meat"" (barbecuing) is that of an ""authentic American male."" Jokes but not jokes: Leonard's case of anemic macho is one of the exhibits that can put a reader on uneasy guard. But when he's hanging out the wrinkles in his family or among friends, Leonard is airing cleaner linen--sharing instead of confessing; and while he'll still be too glad-handed for some (and surely too literary for many), he delivers the product of a good, vulnerably old-fashioned set of values with a good, if arch, sense of humor. He thinks important such things as ""reciprocity, the idea in modulation, caring, citizenship, nuance""; he loves the woman in his life (his locution) ""enough to fluster a mongoose""; he's ambivalent about everything else except his children and his city, although both of those have their problems. . . . All of which go into ""Private Lives"" in a distant third-person (""Call him Dmitri"") that yields to ""I"" before the end of the collection. Here, back-to-back instead of at their usual weekly remove, the columns read at first like print-outs (cookie-cutter syndrome) and then like installments in a family saga. Which is indicative, in a way, but also misleading. As a self-appointed social philosopher who worries the words for each thought, he puts on an erudite show, and he can touch.