Sneak Peak at Susan Orlean's new book

So in the shameless-namedropping category I have to dish that this last week I was in the company of Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief (1998) and many others, not to mention being a terrific writer for The New Yorker, in which she appears regularly and has a blog on their website. I was in charge of her visit to our campus here in central Pennsylvania, which was a major headache until she arrived. All the busywork was worth it. These events are common for writing programs/English departments: she met with students, gave a reading, that kind of thing. What was different about her visit? It was drop-dead, knockout good, box-office boffo. (Many of these gigs are rather so-so.) She was funny, charming, nice, confident without being arrogant, kind to the students. In short, all the right stuff.
AND she read from a new book she has in the offing, described as “a cultural biography of Rin Tin Tin,” starting all the way back in 1918, when RTT apparently had his debut in the world. Her reading was one of the best I can remember: funny, insightful, full of zingy lines and twists of thought. She read a piece that was amazing, published in Esquire many years ago, about a ten-year-old boy. In her preamble to it, she described how the Esquire editor asked her to do a profile of the actor Macaulay Culkin. She admitted to the editor that she’d love to write for them (it was her first piece for the magazine), but wasn’t interested in the Home Alone actor (now perhaps best known for just that, Home Alone). She had some great things to say about our obsession with celebrities, and how they essentially become too “known” to make a good piece. So she proposes a piece on an average ten-year-old boy, finds one, and does it. I’ll let it speak for itself. Here’s a url:
As most people probably know, the film Adaptation (2002), starring Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, and Nicholas Cage, was based (in part) on The Orchid Thief. Before Susan came I told my students we should pretend we had not read her book and only ask her questions based on the film, which is essentially totally different, just to irritate her. (See under, My sense of humor.) Of course we didn’t do that. She spent much time with the students one-on-one, visited several groups, and was open and dynamic through it all. We had dinner with her one night and she regaled us with stories of traveling to Cuba in 1989, knowing no Spanish, and having no connections there. She’s witty, clever, the real deal. And a gracious person. There should be more like her.
Watch for that Rin Tin Tin book.

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