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Susan Orlean
April 12, 2011 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Susan Orlean's short essays for The New Yorker have an air of effortlessness to them, as if they were something she just tossed off while taking a break from her more important subjects, but their brevity reveals a true mastery of form, and at their best, they are brimful of surprisingly elegant sentences, self-deprecating wit and a kind of warmly feminine, disarmingly sly charm: On Adopting a Stray Cat :: The Difficulties of E-mail :: The Joys of Snooping :: Books That Changed Her World :: World War I :: Heat Wave :: Fear of Flying :: Chickens
posted by puny human (21 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the case of "World War 1" I would say your description is pretty accurate. Did not read on. And I say this as a fan of her long-form work.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2011


World War 1 led me to this fascinating Flickr Group, Postcards from the Great War. It's going to take me a while to get through all 3,436 of them.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:29 AM on April 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Loved the piece about renting vacation houses and trying to piece together the owners' personalities from books and kitchenware.

The majority of houses I've rented have been dedicated vacation properties. They're filled with things the owners thought holiday-makers would like, plus accretions of bits the renters have left behind over the years. I'm kind of liking the idea that taken together, these material givings and leavings form entire, coherent new personalities: That fractional spirits from my tattered, abandoned Mervyn Peake novels somehow vitalize and recombine with the cache Jiffy Mix at the back of the kitchen cabinet, the 40-year-old-copy of The Newlywed Game-- The Home Version, and the man-sized, red and pink butterfly kite that hangs from the ceiling. Together, these form a new person-- obsessive and forgetful; whimical; slightly femme and bit less slightly venial; but welcoming and friendly despite a few rough edges. I also like the idea that the house-ghosts can get together sometimes to keep each other company. Maybe Orleans's deeply spiritual tweezer doc can come to visit my kite lady sometimes for a pan of almost-homemade cornbread and some decade-old mint tea.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:42 AM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


The writing is, as noted, most enjoyable but I would like to note a direction in which we are heading:
New Yorker articles, like articles in other magazines, are now more often than not behind paywall though free for subscribers. That suggests that such magazines allow some of their pieces but not their "best" or "bigger" ones to go free to the public. The others, reserved for subscribers unless someone grabs them, posts them, and thus violates copy right laws.

Increasingly, then, we will be getting on line that which traditional sources consider not their prime materials. We are glad of course to get anything, esp. stuff of this quality posted here, but how nice it was before pay walls got put up.
posted by Postroad at 11:14 AM on April 12, 2011


And, she was played by Meryl Streep in Adaptation.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:16 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do like the writing, though I find them a bit too short. It seems like the size is too small for the subjects and that she probably has more to say about them. But maybe that's the point-- to leave us wanting more?
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:21 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


But maybe that's the point-- to leave us wanting more?

That reminds me ...
posted by Faze at 11:53 AM on April 12, 2011


Thanks for bringing her writing to my attention. I really love writing that has that air of effortlessness thing going on. It creates a special kind of literary, intellectual-sensual high that is indescribably exciting.
posted by nickyskye at 12:19 PM on April 12, 2011


You know, back in the day, we used to call this sort of thing "blogging." I'm glad that this Susan whippersnapper has discovered it, but I hope that this young gal appreciates all of the hard work that her predecessors put into the profession.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:43 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other words, I am almost always on small aircraft, size-wise just one notch up from laboratory pipettes, built by off-brand, offshore manufacturers, operated by some outfit I’ve never heard of that disturbingly enough prefers its name in small print.
As someone who does the same (well, my journeys usually end at big name airports, it's true), I appreciated this one (it's from "Fear of Flying") especially.
posted by librarylis at 1:00 PM on April 12, 2011


"I really love writing that has that air of effortlessness thing going on. It creates a special kind of literary, intellectual-sensual high that is indescribably exciting."

The Italians, Nicky, have a word for it -- Sprezzatura -- "originating from Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”"
posted by puny human at 1:43 PM on April 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


1. She is a great writer and can bring warmth and empathy to many topics people might otherwise not have considered.

2. OMG KITTY!
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


thanks to Daddy-O for the link. much goodness there.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:54 PM on April 12, 2011


If I'm ever stuck in an elevator I want it to be with someone as entertaining as her.
posted by fredludd at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2011


The Orchid Thief is a really good book.
posted by Shike at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2011


Hmm, sprezzatura. Yeah, some do studied nonchalance or artful dishevelment beautifully. I think some other writers have that style of writing innately, not as a studied manipulation but an authentic airiness of expression, like this Susan Orlean.
posted by nickyskye at 5:37 PM on April 12, 2011


Adaptation kinda ruined her for me
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:49 PM on April 12, 2011


How so LIB? I saw the movie, but don't remember much about it other than I thought it terribly overrated -- a movie for the type of person who considers DFW a great writer.
posted by puny human at 5:56 PM on April 12, 2011


I thought it terribly overrated -- a movie for the type of person who considers DFW a great writer.

We are different.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 7:17 PM on April 12, 2011


She's fun on Twitter, too.
posted by hwestiii at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2011


The Italians, Nicky, have a word for it -- Sprezzatura -- "originating from Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, where it is defined by the author as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”"
posted by puny human at 4:43 PM on April 12 [2 favorites +] [!]


Similarly in French, the term négligence, as the 17th century aristocratic manners of the ruelles dictated, had a similar meaning; it was essential that you write such that it seemed like you weren't reallly trying, since writing was not considered an aristocratic pursuit.

From the 1694 Académie française dictionary
:
"Nonchalance, faute de soin & d'application. Grande, extreme negligence. negligence punissable. quelle negligence! vit-on jamais telle negligence? il y a bien en cela de la negligence de vostre part" ["Nonchalance, lack of care and implementation. Great, extreme negligence. Punishable negligence. qhat negligence! Have you ever seen such negligence? You have been very negligent in that regard."]
posted by nonmerci at 8:40 PM on April 12, 2011


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