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The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People Paperback – January 8, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 8, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375758631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375758638
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

One of the New Yorker's most distinctive stylists, Orlean (The Orchid Thief) has a knack for capturing "something extraordinary in [the] ordinariness" of her subjects. Most are completely unknown, or were before she wrote about them in these 20 essays and profiles. Sure, there's a piece on designer Bill Blass and another on figure skater Tanya Harding, but Orlean clearly prefers to write about lesser known people like Felipe Lopez, New York's first Dominican high school basketball phenom, or Kwabena Oppong, a New York taxicab driver who also happens to be the king of the Ashanti living in the United States. (He attends to his Ghanaian subjectsDsettling disputes, presiding over ceremoniesDaround his cab-driving schedule.) Disarming but disciplined, Orlean's style is unobtrusively first person, with deft leads: "If I were a bitch, I'd be in love with Biff Truesdale," she writes, opening a story on a prize show dog. While some stories obviously evolve from her lifeDa profile of a smalltown news reporter who inevitably knows everyone, a hairdresser who is a "perfect master of ceremonies"Din others, she ventures far afield: the cult-fave 1960s sister rock band, the Shaggs; teenage Hawaiian surfer girls with offhand fearlessness; a female Spanish matador. (Jan. 26) Forecast: Collections are rarely easy sells, but most of these pieces are gems, and Orleans has become such a staple of the New Yorker that her name together with the stylish jacket image of a woman in bullfighting garb may be a red cape for the magazine's many subscribers. 8-city author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

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.

Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Susan Orlean writes with more grace, style and wit than anyone in the magazine world today. These well-reported, beautifully crafted profiles of both known and unknown characters show her at the top of her form. Orlean has a knack for being at the right place at the right time to capture a telling detail or quote and, contrary to the wrongheaded and ignorant comments in a few of the customer reviews here, she is, if anything, self-effacing and unobtrusive as she brings the reader deeply into the lives of her subjects. Literary journalism as an art form necessarily includes the author's voice and point of view -- these are what make it less artificial and far more interesting than standard "objective" reporting. The rave reviews for this book in the New York Times and other publications are well justified.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By AvidReader on January 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After reading Susan Orlean's excellent The Orchid Thief last year and having followed some of her recent writing in The New Yorker (particularly a fantastic piece on the hapless New Hampshire girl-rock group from the 1970's, The Shaggs), I was eagerly awaiting this collection of profiles. It not only surpassed my very high expectations for literary quality, it is one of the funniest and most entertaining, lively and moving books I have read in quite awhile. She gets these people down perfectly and is a master of the revealing touch. The opening chapter on a typical 10-year-old American boy is my favorite -- it allows the reader to enter a kid's world very much from his point of view while overlaying a beautifully reported and crafted commentary that manages all at once to be empathetic, witty,ironic and highly informative. The ending of this piece, like the ending to both the introduction and the title piece on the first female matador in Spain which concludes the book, is hauntingly poignant and gets to what Orlean is really about here: showing the extraordinarily captivating nature of what seemingly ordinary people are really like when closely examined in their own subcultures. The intelligence and insight she brings to bear in joyfully sharing with the reader what she has discovered is what makes this book so wonderful.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sheri and Dan Langley on March 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Susan Orlean is indeed one of the best magazine writers out there right now--one of the best catches of Tina Brown's from the Dark Ages of the New Yorker! And this book is definitely a must for anyone interested in the contemporary nonfiction world. However, by limiting the collection to merely profiles, Orlean has limited the reader's appreciation of her great talents. The books ends up repeating itself too much.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Peterson on October 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Subtitled, "my encounters with extraordinary people", this book is a treasure trove of tales about some of the most interesting (and to a great extent ordinary) people you'll ever read about and most of them are people you'd never know. Susan Orlean is a regular writer for The New Yorker and is one of their very finest. Her last book, "The Orchid Thief" was at once captivating and bizarre. "The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup," is a compilation of a number of her pieces from the New Yorker in which she details the comings and goings of very ordinary every day people... and manages to make them all seem extraordinary. The best part of Orlean's writing is that she keeps the space intact between herself as the observer and chronicler of these lives and the individuality expressed in each of the life stories these people have. Although the expression goes, "Life is stranger than fiction," I would argue that Susan Orlean demonstrates that "Life is funnier than fiction", too! From the couple who breed show dogs to an "average" ten year old boy, to the female bullfighter (not usually a woman's sport) to the African king driving taxis in New York, everyone who is profiled in this book is in their own way funny, interesting, entertaining, and some, to a tiny extent sad. We meet pre-teen surfer girls and the middle-aged women who were once "The Shaggs". We read about the guy who invented "the Big Chair" (you know that chair in which people are photographed at county fairs?) and a sweet group of southern gospel singers. No one is too bizarre, too ordinary, or too unlikely. Orlean makes it clear that we are surrounded every day by extraordinariness - everyone has a story and many of them have great stories.  I loved this book for exposing the wonders of the human condition.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alice L. Moore on April 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
When I had finished "The Bullfighter checks her Make-up", it had occured to me that many of the rich and famous are quite dull when you take away the riches and fame. You don't believe me? Read an issue of Vanity Fair. In every issue, there will always be some hot star featured that month. This person may sizzle on celluloid, sound great on CD, etc. but is boring as heck or so self absorbed that you go running to a preening, navel gazing 14 year old for some company. None of Ms. Orlean's subjects are in this category. Whether it's a buff Boxer(the dog) named Biff or the Ghanian King who drives a cab; these people are unique.
In fact Ms. Orleans seems to find the unique in the ordinary. Her first subject is the "American Man" aged 10. Somehow, when reading about this fellow you are paying attention. His interests seem to be no different than other boys at that time. Yet you read and want to finish this. And to think her bosses wanted her do a profile of the then 10 year old Macauley Culkin! Good thing she got her way.
Many of these vignettes, in fact, would not be what a typical editor would request from a writer. In the sport of Women's Tennis, for instance, she doesn't profile the prominent Williams sisters but the lesser known Maleev sisters. In the dog show world, there isn't a profile of the prize poodle, but a contender in the Working Dog Category. The choices are unexpected and always a treat.
I would recommend this book to most everyone. Even a subject in which I had no initial curiosity such as Best Working Dog caught my eye. As for the Bullfighter...she's there as well. Happy reading!
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