A.J. Liebling was one of those writers (others included E.B. White, James Thurber and Brendan Gill) whose sophistication, versatility, elegant prose style and fascination with virtually everything under the sun shaped the New Yorker magazine in its classic era. (Though the New Yorker is still a fine magazine, it can muster few such paragons now -- in much the same way that even the most glamorous of today's movie stars appear pale by comparison with their Golden Age forebears.) Just Enough Liebling (North Point, $27.50), an anthology with an introduction by David Remnick, the magazine's current editor and a particular fan of Leibling's, serves up a battery of articles, letters and excerpts therefrom -- on such subjects as boxing, Paris, war, the press and politics -- to demonstrate what made him a writers' writer.
Some of Liebling's faithful readers believe he reached his apotheosis with The Earl of Louisiana, his account of Huey Long's younger brother Earl, a flamboyantly eccentric governor of a state that has had its share of them. The first excerpt from that book supplied here begins with Liebling drawing upon another of his keen interests -- food -- to pull the reader in: "Southern political personalities, like sweet corn, travel badly. They lose flavor with every hundred yards away from the patch. By the time they reach New York, they are like Golden Bantam that has been trucked up from Texas -- stale and unprofitable. The consumer forgets that the corn tastes different where it grows. That, I suppose is why for twenty-five years I underrated Huey Pierce Long." A little later, Liebling describes a political maneuver in which the madcap Earl showed a marvelous talent for logic-chopping. His 1959 entry into the gubernatorial lists posed a challenge to the Louisiana constitution, "which provides that a Governor may not succeed himself directly. Earl, bowing to this law, had dropped out after his 1948-52 term, and then had returned in 1956. Now, however, he was raising the point that if he resigned before election -- the formal, post-primary election, that is -- his Lieutenant Governor would become Governor, and so he, coming in to begin a new term, would be succeeding not himself but the fellow who had succeeded him. Even Huey had not thought of that one."
-- Dennis Drabelle