And now, John Leonard Has Left the Stage
I have lost count how many talented, brilliant, notable people have died this year. But goddamn, losing John Leonard hurts. Critics are a hard group to love, but Leonard’s writing made it easy. He was erudite and playful, opinionated but disdainful of the hatchet. He wrote about books and TV and pretty much anything of cultural note in a career that spanned more than 40 years. And a few novels, too, though I suspect he didn’t like to think about them much. He edited the New York Times Book Review and The Nation at various points of his career, and lately called the pages of New York and Harper’s home. He thought that “the literary blogs would save us” and even gave voice to a blogger in one of the most memorable literary events I ever attended. And I am hard pressed to think of how he can possibly be replaced.
Critical Mass links to the pertinent pages; Ed Champion, Emily Gordon, Hillary Frey, Mark Lotto and Scott McLemee pay tribute, with many more to come. He was 69 years old and died of complications from lung cancer.
UPDATE: Back when Critical Mass ran a bunch of tributes to Leonard in the wake of his being given the Ivan Sandrof Award in early 2007, Studs Terkel had this to say: “He is a good journalist — he speaks truth to power with a style
that is all his own — Leonardian. He is a throwback to a great
tradition. He has been a literary critic in the noblest sense of the
word, where you didn’t determine whether a book was ‘good or bad’ but
wrote with a point of view of how you should read the book.” And now both of them are gone within days of each other.