The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People

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9780679462989: The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People

The bestselling author of The Orchid Thief is back — and she's brought some friends — in this wonderfully entertaining collection of the acclaimed New Yorker writer's best and brightest profiles. Meet more than thirty-five of Susan Orlean's favorite people — from the well known (Bill Blass and Tonya Harding) to the unknown (a typical ten-year-old boy) to the formerly known (the 1960s girl group the Shaggs).

Passionate people. Famous people. Short people. Young people. And one championship show dog named Biff, who from a certain angle looks a lot like President Clinton.

Orlean transports us into the lives of some rather eccentric individuals, like the man who has spent thirty years selling nothing but ceiling fans; or Bob Silverstein, maker of the Big Chair — the creme de la creme of oversized chairs used for novelty photographs at carnivals. Others are living highly unusual lives, like Cristina Sanchez, the eponymous bullfighter, the first woman to become a matador in Spain; or the African king who drives a taxi in New York City and keeps his throne in his living room. Whether describing the sun-drenched existence of a Maui surfer girl or the devoted life of the Jackson Southernaires — a traveling gospel group — Orlean writes with such insight and candor that readers will feel as if they've met each and every one of these unconventional folks.

Susan Orlean brings her wry sensibility, exuberant voice, and peculiar curiosities to a fascinating range of subcultures — sports and music and hairdressing and real estate, among others. The result is a joyful, luminous tour of the human condition via an eclectic array of people, as seen through the eyes of one of America's most entertaining and original literary journalists.

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Review:

Susan Orlean, New Yorker staff writer and author of The Orchid Thief, has always been drawn to the extraordinary in the ordinary, so when her Esquire editor asked her to profile the child actor Macaulay Culkin using the title "The American Man at Age Ten," she insisted instead on writing about a "typical" kid. The result--one of the 20 profiles drawn from magazines such as Esquire, The New Yorker, and Rolling Stone for this collection--is a vivid window into the life of an ordinary and endearing boy from New Jersey who grapples with girls, environmental destruction, and the magical childhood landscape "that erodes from memory a little bit every day." Orlean has two tricks up her sleeve that make her profiles irresistible. First, she's got a mean hook. Take this lead: "Of all the guys who are standing around bus shelters in Manhattan dressed in nothing but their underpants, Marky Mark is undeniably the most polite." Second, she has an uncanny way of drawing her subjects. Bill Blass "is a virtuoso of the high-pitched eyebrow and the fortissimo gasp," while a boxer (the dog kind) wears "the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a small-town mayor."

Orlean is a New Yorker herself, and most of her subjects hail from the Big Apple, including such unique personas as a real estate broker who can describe the inside of almost any apartment in the city ("Walking down a Manhattan street with her is a paranormal experience"); Nat, the new tailor at Manhattan Valet; her hairdresser; the city's most popular clown; an Ashanti king who drives a taxi; and the owner of the only buttons-only store in America. The author is keenly observant and always tries to walk in her subject's shoes, even when it's a show dog ("If I were a bitch, I'd be in love with Biff Truesdale"). When she does tackle the rich and famous, she uses these same talents to create portraits so intimate and zesty they're unlike any other. Orlean writes that her only justification for choosing a story is that she cares about it, and it shows. Her fondness for her subjects rubs off as she draws us into the tight and exquisite focus of their mundane and fascinating lives. --Lesley Reed

From the Back Cover:

"A collection of vivid, engaging profiles... Orlean maintains an infectious energy and enthusiasm for her subjects, and backs it up with telling details and observations. Chief among her talents is the ability to really hear her subjects, and then to simply get out of the way and let them speak for themselves."

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