Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including Rin Tin Tin, Saturday Night, and The Orchid Thief, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film Adaptation. She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York and may be reached at SusanOrlean.com and Twitter.com/SusanOrlean.
The Utah mayor who recently confessed that he wrote happy news stories about his town using a pseudonym, often quoting himself, was living a writer’s dream. I haven’t read his stories, but I like to think he didn’t hold back at all. Instead of just quoting himself, I’m hoping he went all out, lavishing praise on himself: “According to the young, handsome mayor of West Valley City…” or maybe “A statement from West Valley City’s brilliant and riveting mayor, Mike Winder, who has been frequentl
I went to a football school, which meant that I went to a university that served up education and was simultaneously operating a sports franchise. I never met any football players during my four years in Ann Arbor; as far as I knew, they lived separately, ate separately, and socialized separately from the rest of us mere students. But when I imagine what might have gone on at Penn State, when someone from the athletics department allegedly happened upon the former defensive coördinator
A small, drowsy town in Ohio, a pile of dead Bengal tigers. How did it come to this? The blame should be doled out carefully. Very little of it should fall on the sheriff of Zanesville, who did what was probably the only thing he could do: give a kill order when darkness fell and Terry Thompson’s wild carnivores were still prowling around town. Anyone who argues that he should have used tranquilizers or live traps knows very little about small-town sheriffs, wild animals, and tranquilizers.
Interviewing Sue Mengers was one of the saddest experiences of my professional life. Mengers, who died this weekend and will forever be known as a Hollywood super-agent, was at loose ends when we met. Her agenting career was over; she had lost all her clients and all her Hollywood access. She seemed fractured and lost as an outsider in the movie business, after so many years of being deeply inside. Being a big-deal movie agent seems to have one career trajectory: to be a no-longer-a-big-deal
Having animals in the city is entirely different from having animals out in the country. For one thing, it’s more social. When you live on lots of acres without neighbors within a stone’s throw, your dog-walks are usually solitary rambles over hill and dale. Your dog could go for years without ever encountering another dog. Cities, on the other hand, are Dog Central. In spite of the fact that our move from the Hudson Valley to Los Angeles has meant reducing our acreage by a factor of a zilli
I moved a lot in my post-college years, and the single biggest, heaviest, most exasperating thing to move besides my books was my record collection. I had at least ten or fifteen crates of LPs, and then, in later years, a bunch of cassettes, too, and most of my moving involved figuring out how to get them from Apartment A to Apartment B (followed immediately by figuring out how and where to shelve them in Apartment B). The advent of CDs downsized my load considerably, but I still had a lot o
The word “bedraggled” was invented, I’m sure, for chickens and turkeys and guinea fowl in a tropical storm. It’s not just the soggy feathers; it’s a certain look of consummate, abject wetness poultry can convey. I had worried about how my birds would handle the hurricane, and checked on them this morning as the rain started. Most of the chickens were inside their coop, snuggled up. To my surprise, the ducks were inside, too—I thought ducks like water! What’s up with that?—and my female duck
My interest in seeing the play “War Horse” was almost, as they say in the philosophy of causation, over-determined. In case you haven’t noticed, I like animals; you probably don’t know that I am slightly obsessed with the First World War; and ever since researching my book on Rin Tin Tin (excerpted in this week’s issue), I’ve been fascinated by the role animals played in that war. All three of those conditions predisposed me to being interested in “War Horse.” The play is the story of a spiri
The other day, the New York Times reported that the city of Los Angeles is using a herd of South African boer goats to mow down the weeds on some hard-to-access city property. Because of my impending move to Los Angeles, I was very excited to hear about this: I like the idea of living in a city that uses goats as municipal workers. Apparently, I’m not the only one excited about this. It seems that the lawn-mowing goats have become quite an attraction. Animals just have that effect on people,
In a matter of weeks, my husband and I will pack up everything but our winter clothes and park ourselves in Los Angeles until next spring. My husband has business there; I am merely a camp follower. It is a sign of some special and strange quality of my life that the first question people ask when hearing this news isn’t, “How do you feel about moving to L.A.?” or “How will your son like living there?” but, “Oh my god, what about the chickens?” This is a problem of my own making, so I accept
I’m very excited about my new Spotify account, which gives me access to twenty gazillion songs any time, all the time. The day I opened my account, though, I sat there perplexed. How would I figure out what I wanted to hear? The music I already know and like, I already own; the music I don’t know, I don’t know. I stared at the Spotify Web site for about ten minutes and then logged out and walked away. That night, I thought wistfully about listening to the radio, which I did just about consta
Here’s a habit I never thought I’d develop: I gravitate to anything online that’s marked “most popular” or “most e-mailed.” And I hate myself a little bit every time I do. I hold a conversation with myself each time I feel myself drifting toward those tempting lists. Why, I wonder, should the popularity of a news story matter to me? Does it mean it’s a good story or just a seductive one? Isn’t my purpose on this earth, at least professionally, precisely to read the most unpopular stories? Sho
My day begins with chicken chores. I allow myself coffee, and then I stumble out of the house in my pajamas and a pair of muck boots, hauling a five-gallon container of water. Keeping animals, I have learned, is all about water. Who even knew chickens drank water? I didn’t, but they do, and a lot. A bigger, fancier farm might have a water line directly to its chicken coop, but mine doesn’t, so I am the water carrier, lugging as much as I can carry from the spigot at the back of the house to t
My ace in the hole as a human being used to be my capacity for remembering birthdays. I worked at it. Whenever I made a new friend, I made a point of finding out his or her birthday early on, and I would record it in my Filofax calendar. I then took enormous delight in surprising my friend when the day rolled around. It took time and effort; at the end of every year, when I’d bought my new Filofax calendar insert, I spent an entire evening transferring all of my friends’ and family’s birthday
I have a beef with a meme. It is about problems, and has a score of variations, including #firstworldproblems, #whitepeopleproblems, #middleclassproblems, and #hipsterproblems. The first time I heard of such a meme was last year, when I mentioned on Twitter that I didn’t mind travelling for work but hated having to organize and file my expenses. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill tweet, an accounting of life’s annoying minutiae, typical of what gets broadcast every day on Twitter. Within seconds