Timely, irresistible cultural criticism from one of the best literary journalists in—and also outside—the business.



Extended quotation will be the tactic favored by most reviewers of this stimulating essay collection sparkling with Leonard’s trademark breezy style and flair for phrasemaking (Smoke and Mirrors, 1997; When the Kissing Had to Stop, 1999).

Leonard rattles along in high gear in these 27 varied literary pieces, which are unified in a general way by their brooding on the themes of “exodus and exile . . . diaspora and displacement” as recorded and experienced by contemporary writers. For example, reviews grouped under the rubric “Down Among the Intellectuals” range widely to consider Primo Levi’s irreversible fatalism, the unlikely pairing of Rimbaud and Orwell as “Radical Icons,” the exasperating presence of Mary McCarthy (who “had a moral compass that pointed away from doctrinaire politics”), the charismatic enigma of Bruce Chatwin, and the recent firestorm of books celebrating and traducing the New Yorker magazine (tartly labeled “the peculiar institution” by Leonard). A section on “The Politics of Fiction” contains more ambitious pieces, including a pointed contrast between Atlanta novels by Toni Cade Bambara and Tom Wolfe, tightly reasoned tributes to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and the ingeniously engineered novels of Richard Powers, and a long review of Jáchym Topol’s exuberant picaresque City Sister Silver, which becomes the occasion for a searching analysis of former Czech president Vaclav Havel’s political and literary careers. The failures of socialism, the ideal of “community,” and American business’s faltering sense of richesse oblige are explored as “Lost Causes,” along with discussions of Marguerite Young’s fascinating un-biography of Eugene Debs and Joe Eszterhas’s ebulliently sleazy noveloid American Rhapsody. Leonard ends with “How the Caged Bird Learns to Sing,” an account of his still-developing understanding of how reporting in the print and visual media for which he toils is shaped by its power brokers’ personal and corporate ties.

Timely, irresistible cultural criticism from one of the best literary journalists in—and also outside—the business.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2002

ISBN: 1-56584-694-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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