John Leonard writes on books every month for Harper’s and on television every week for New York magazine. (June 2007)

Meshuga Alaska

The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits might be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a …

A Feast of Shadows

When I decide what happened, I’ll decide to live with it. —Robert Stone, A Flag for Sunrise We are more than halfway through Prime Green before Robert Stone finally explains the title of his lyrical, witty, evasive, protective, unrepentant, and exasperating memoir. The year is 1966. A twenty-nine-year-old Stone, …

The Adventures of Doris Lessing

Imagine the novelist as Artemis, Doris as Diana: by age twelve, she already knew how to raise rabbits, worm dogs, churn butter, make cream cheese and ginger beer, shoot guinea fowl, and walk on stilts. Not that she wasn’t also reading—Dickens and Lewis Carroll. When at last she left the unhappy homestead where her mother loved her brother best, for the dance hall, typing pool, and Left Book Club in Salisbury, Rhodesia’s capital, she added Lawrence, Proust, and Virginia Woolf to Kipling and Olive Schreiner. She also switched from The Observer to The New Statesman.

In the Desert, Prime Time

Before it raptures up and wimps out, Moody’s most recent novel, The Diviners, is not only longer and funnier than his previous three but also more accommodating. While he may still rev his motor too much, he is thinking out loud about larger matters than the substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, …

The Black Album

“The most terrifying verse I know: merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.” —Joan Didion, The Last Thing He Wanted Three times the mother had to repeat herself, telling the daughter her father was dead. The daughter, Quintana Roo, kept forgetting because she was in and out of comas, …

Welcome to New Dork

In The Fortress of Solitude, his great white whale of a novel, Jonathan Lethem chases after childhood, neighborhood, and the American leviathan of race relations. In Men and Cartoons, a grab bag of his stories, he paddles a kayak downstream over waters not exactly rapid. Old friends from elementary school …

The Prophet

If you have ever seen E.L. Doctorow, on stage, in a restaurant, or even across a crowded room, you know that he’s a mild-mannered Clark Kent kind of guy, more likely to be registering a voter or building a harpsichord than rousing a rabble or leading a charge.

Don Quixote at Eighty

Norman Mailer at age eighty, with an anthology of scars, tickles, slaps, and winks for would-be writers and weary readers—not Aquarius but Gerontion, an old man in a drafty house under a windy knob… Perhaps 7 percent of The Spooky Art is previously unpublished, although it’s hard to tell for …

King of High & Low

Dreamcatcher isn’t the first time that aliens have landed in Stephen King’s Maine woods to mess with the heads of the natives. The first time was The Tommyknockers (1987). And the first head they messed with was attached to Roberta “Bobbi” Anderson, a best-selling writer of westerns. Almost immediately, Bobbi’s …

Puppet Show

From Salman Rushdie we expect messy, but not slapdash. A Rushdie mess is momentum’s residue. The novelist whose great themes are migration, mutation, and metamorphosis, whose habitats are time machines and transit zones, can’t sit still. Even before the fatwa, he was easily distracted, compulsively digressive, and always in a …

Liaisons Dangereuses

Bob Dylan wrote “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in the summer of 1962, in a matter of minutes, on Wavy Gravy’s typewriter, after reading William Blake. “That song kind of roared right out of the typewriter,” Wavy Gravy remembers. “It roared through him the way paint roared through van Gogh.” …

The Hunger Artist

After a Divine Comedy, why not haiku? So The Body Artist is seven hundred pages shorter than Underworld. Don DeLillo deserves a breather. Since Underworld, the best English-language novel of the Nineties, somehow failed to win either a Pulitzer Prize or a National Book Award, he may even deserve a …

Cri de Coeur

When I am feeling optimistic about the prospects for literary culture, I imagine a book like the one everybody ran around trying to steal in Neal Stephenson’s 1995 sci-fi novel The Diamond Age. Called a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, this “propaedeutic enchiridion” came with its own power pack, a voice-recognition …

Mind Painting

Blindfolded, mummified, ankle-chained to a radiator in a white room in the bare ruined choirs of bloody Beirut, Taimur Martin in Plowing the Dark is about as political as a mattress or a prayer mat. He is a sadsack phantom in his own life, a teacher of English who ran …

The Wise Woman and the Whale

Elizabeth Hardwick and the whale: although it is very dark inside the whiteness, she will read her way by oil lamp to Melville, “the most bookish of writers, a tireless midnight student.” Thigh-high in ambergris and spermaceti, she makes herself as much at home as on the prison ship, or …

TV: The Mummy’s Curse

Eighty pages into his coroner’s report on public broadcasting, James Ledbetter complains about the system’s “Byzantine complexity and inefficiency.” This is unfair to Constantinople. Public television is much more Egyptian. Like Ptolemaic astronomy, it’s tricked up with epicycles to explain eccentric motions. Like Tutankhamen’s diadem, it’s half-vulture and half-cobra. Like …

The Shaman and the Schlemiel

Bernard Malamud doesn’t explain why, out of so many stories, he has chosen these twenty-five. They are not arranged in chronological order, but plucked like raisins from the cake of the career. Several old favorites are missing. (Where, for instance, is “Still Life,” or “A Pimp’s Revenge”? Why include “The …

Fathers and Ghosts

In the 768 pages of Edmund Wilson’s Letters on Literature and Politics, 1912-1972, there is a single mention of Philip Roth. Writing to the editors of this journal in 1964, Wilson complained about Roth’s review of James Baldwin’s play, Blues for Mr. Charlie: “Roth’s article seems to me one of …