Monday, July 21, 2008

The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean

I’ve occasionally read pieces by Susan Orlean in the New Yorker, so when I saw this paperback at the library book sale, I picked it up, thinking it would be something good to dip into now and then. That has proved to be true, except for a few problems.

No, really only one problem, but that problem infects several of the profiles in this book. Most of the pieces in this book were written in the mid-1990’s and a few of them date back to 1987. While the quality of Orlean’s writing certainly remains consistently good, it’s the subject matter that no longer works 20 years later. For example a piece originally published in Rolling Stone in 1988 on the pop star Tiffany was a dud for me. Who was Tiffany? I can’t for the life of me conjure up even a passing memory of her, so I really wasn’t interested in reading about her. The same was true for pieces on Hollywood movie moguls and New York music promoters from the same era.

On the other hand, a few of the pieces are timeless, such as the profile of Kwabena Oppong, the king and supreme rule of the Ashanti tribespeople in the United States, and one about surfer girls in Maui. I think I need to stick to Orlean’s current work in the New Yorker, though I see from her Web site that she’s got a collection of more recent pieces called My Kind of Place.

The title of this book is like a parlor game, or a homework assignment for a creative writing class. Can you make up any similarly unexpected phrases? Here are two I came up with: “The farmer adjusts her stockings” and “The nurse trims his mustache.” It’s harder than you might think.

(Book 27, 2008)


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