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by John Leonard

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56584-533-1
Publisher: New Press

Manic essays on contemporary books, television, and cultural phenomena from a veteran critic for New York magazine and elsewhere. Leonard has collected his writings of the past few years—mostly from the Nation” into a new book, his eighth (after Smoke and Mirrors: Violence, Television, and Other American Cultures, 1997, etc.). He talks about books, events, and TV shows in verbals riffs more musical than intellectual: “I call The X-Files and like-minded cinemas “paranoirs.’ Those regressive hypnotherapists who buy into alien abduction . . . I call “psyclops.’ And those academics who insist on publishing monographs about such phenomena, I call “Cult Studs’—for their piratical boarding, under the black flags of Foucault and Lacan, of the pleasure craft on the pop seas; their swashbuckling style and their slaughter of the innocents.” In small doses, the swash and buckle of his own prose can be entertaining. Often Leonard is funny, in particular when writing about the media extravaganza that made Lorena Bobbit a star. Perhaps his glib, rapid-fire, superhip attitudinizing is meant to mimic the media culture of hyperbuzz that it addresses—as if Leonard has his finger on the amphetamine-pumped pulse of urban life. But in the long run of a whole book, the droll patter of his literary sound bites becomes oppressive. Readers will search in vain for a set of compelling issues, sustained thoughts, or concerns to unite these reviews into a coherent whole. Instead, an idiosyncratic prose style and an intrusive personality do what little they can to unify the pieces collected for this volume. These essays on literature and pop culture, though entertaining in themselves, do not add up to much of a book.