When you think about it, there are perhaps hundreds of novelists and short story writers whose work you might want to read, but shockingly few great essayists. For me, that short list would include Russell Baker (my idol), David Sedaris, Atul Gawande, Mike Royko, Malcolm Gladwell, probably a few others I’m forgetting, and Susan Orlean.
Susan Orlean’s 2001 collection THE BULLFIGHTER CHECKS HER MAKEUP is by turns witty, odd, and surprising, which is apt considering the subtitle—“My Encounters with Extraordinary People”—and the fact that the first person she profiles is a ten-year-old boy and the second is a show dog. And the eponymous bullfighter is a woman. You get the picture.
Orlean also wrote the entertaining ORCHID THIEF (which was adapted, somewhat metacognitively, into the film Adaptation) among a few others. Her latest book is about Rin Tin Tin, and as I used to say when people walked into my used bookstore and asked what I thought of a book I had no intention of reading, I haven’t read it yet. I am hoping she will go back to essays.
Until then, I can always carve out some time to re-read, for example, “The American Man, Age Ten,” which begins: “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks.”
PS–If anyone out there can suggest more essayists to consider, please chime in.