Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Review: Just Enough Liebling

A. J. Liebling is best remembered for the long piece journalism he wrote for The New Yorker from 1935 until his death in 1963. A native Manhattanite and avid gourmand, his favorite subjects were food, Paris, boxing, and horseracing.

Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer is a collection of his best pieces from that magazine and other publications. Organized by category, the articles cover dining in Paris; Liebling's experiences as a World War II correspondent in Tunisia, liberated France, and a merchant marine convoy; life on the make in New York; boxing; journalism; and Earl Long of Louisiana, Huey Long's brother who stepped into the gubernatorial seat after Huey's assassination.

Like John Mitchell (Up in the Old Hotel), his friend and contemporary at The New Yorker, Liebling delighted in his subjects and had a keen eye for the kind of detail that makes a story blossom. He put himself into the stories as an active narrator, often with self-deprecating humor. For example, one of the strongest and most memoir-like of the essays, "Quest for Mollie," begins with Liebling passing a dead American soldier on a transport route through northern Tunisia and leads to him tracing the dead man's colorful history back to the bars and union halls of Hell's Kitchen. Liebling took his quest personally, concluding:

It cheers me to think there may be more like him all around me – a notion I would have dismissed as sheer romanticism before World War II. Cynicism is often the shamefaced product of inexperience.

It is just this personal connection with his subjects that make Liebling's essays as full of human interest today as when he first wrote them.


Up in the Old Hotel by John Mitchell, here on Rose City Reader

If you would like your review of any of Liebling's books listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.  (If you reviewed Up in the Old Hotel and would like it listed, please leave a comment with a link on my review post for that book and I will add it there.)


Just Enough Liebling is one of the non-fiction books I read for the TBR challenges I am doing this year. Because Liebling's first love was food, every piece in the book -- even those about boxing -- talk about food.  So this also counted as my first book for the 2013 Foodies Read Challenge.  Finally, at 534 pages, it was the first chunkster I read for the 2013 Chunkster Challenge.

I am also adding Just Enough Liebling to my French Connections list because of the section on dining in Paris and the WWII pieces about France.

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