John Leonard's Literary Picks

books on a shelf
CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard has been wandering in the autumn books. While it's certainly not the best season ever for American literature, there are always wonderful exceptions. For instance:
  • Elmore Leonard's Pagan Babies. in which the usual tough guy with his own moral code goes all the way to Africa. Pretending to be a priest, he will not only witness genocide in Rwanda but also do something about it, before returning to Detroit to get mixed up with organized crime and the wrong woman. What does he do? I quote: "They were sitting at a table in the beer lady's house drinking banana beer and I shot them with my housekeeper's pistol."
  • Mary Karr's Cherry, the best book about American adolescence since Huckleberry Finn, a sequel to the poet's astonishing memoir of her East Texas childhood, The Liar's Club. The Liar's Club was about parents as scary as Greek gods. Cherry is about high school, sex, drugs, rock and roll and literature. "Kids in distressed families are great repositories of silence, says Mary Karr, "and carry in their bodies whole arctic wastelands of words not to be uttered, stories not to be told. But she will tell them all.
    New Words For Fall
    Cosmopolitan's senior book editor John Searles provided his picks for The Early Show.

  • James Atlas' long-awaited biography of Saul Bellow. Atlas knows everything about the novelist, and much of it dismays him. We shoot the rapids from Montreal to Chicago to the Nobel Prize with five wives, 18 books and a thousand cranky opinions. But always there are magic acts of language -- the long irony, the low laugh and the short fuse: "One of the nice things about Hamlet," said Bellow about a writer he didn't like, "is that Polonius gets stabbed."
  • And next month at last, Too Far Afield, a huge novel about 400 years of German history and literature by Gunter Grass, the Bad Boy who grew up to be a Grand Old Man, but still throws stones. It's a danse macabre of high culture and secret police, of the writer and the spy. The Tin Drum himself shows up, the Berlin Wall falls down, and we are reminded at brilliant length that whose of us who forget erman history are doomed to have them do it to us all over again.
Come January, there will be a collection of Jamaica Kincaid stories. And a new Peter Carey novel about the most famous bandit in Australian history.
The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
And a Rebecca Walker memoir about growing up the conflicted daughter of novelist Alice Walker and attorney Mel Leventhal. And in February, a new Don DeLillo novel, The Body Artist, only 700 pages shorter than his last one.

There's plenty more where these magic carpets came from. They may be the same size as videocassettes, but what a difference: Books are where we go to complicate ourselves.


The Beast God Forgot To Invent: Novellas
by Jim Harrison,
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Years With Laura Diaz
by Carlos Fuentes
Farrar Straus & Giroux

Border Crossing
by Pat Barker
Farrar Straus & Giroux

The Family Orchard
by Nomi Eve
Alfred A. Knopf

Licks Of Love: Short Stories And A Sequel, Rabbit Remembered
by John Updike
Alfred A. Knopf

Hit List
by Lawrence Block
William Morrow & Co.

The Bonesetter's Daughter
by Amy Tan

The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel
by Michael Chabon
Random House

The Fisher King: A Novel
by Paule Marshall

The Death Of Vishnu: A Novel
by Manil Suri (set in Bombay)
W.W. Norton


One Drop Of Blood: The American Misadventure Of Race
by Scott L. Malcomson
Farrar Straus & Giroux

Opening Solomon's Gates: Archaeology Reveals The History Behind The Bible
by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman
The Free Pess

Mother Jones: An American Life
by Elliot J. Gorn
Farrar Straus & Giroux / Hill & Wang

W.E.B. Dubois: The Fight For Equality And The American Century 1919-1963
by David Levering Lewis
Henry Holt

Upside Down: A Primer For The Looking Glass World
by Eduardo H. Galeano
Holt/ Metropolitan

A Life In The Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings 1917-1950
by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.
Houghton Mifflin Co.

Voice Of Memory
By Primo Levi, Edited by Marco Belpoliti
The New Press

Echoes Down The Corridor: Collected Essays , 1947-1999
by Arthur Miller,edited by Stephen Centola
Viking Penguin

Rimbaud: A Biography
Graham Robb

Chester Himes: A Life
James Sallis