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The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  974 ratings  ·  89 reviews
The bestselling author of The Orchid Thief is back — and she's brought some friends — in this wonderfully entertaining collection of the acclaimed New Yorker writer's best and brightest profiles. Meet more than thirty-five of Susan Orlean's favorite people — from the well known (Bill Blass and Tonya Harding) to the unknown (a typical ten-year-old boy) to the formerly known ...more
Hardcover, 292 pages
Published March 10th 2001 by Random House (first published 2001)
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Susan Orlean’s collection of essays explores a whole host of topics ranging from surfer girls in Maui to high school basketball stars to a female bullfighter from Spain. Each essay is a personality profile highlighting the unique and fascinating aspects of each person and their deeds. Orlean focuses many of her essays on people that wouldn’t ordinarily end up in a personality profile such as real estate agents and grade school children. However, each essay shines and points out the humorous alo ...more
Dec 07, 2012 Kelsey rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 90s pop culture fanatics, figure skating enthusiasts
I read this book because I love the movie Adaptation, which is based on Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, but that one was not at Halfprice Books and this one was, so. Basically it's a collection of profiles that Orlean wrote for The New Yorker and a couple of other magazines during the 80s and 90s, and a lot of them are pretty interesting. The main issue is that some of them did not age well at all, so the only real reason I would recommend it is if you are super-nostalgic for 90s pop culture ep ...more
Susan Orlean really likes to write about herself. That's ok. Lots of writers do that, and she is obviously an interesting person. Sometimes it works for her, like in "My Kind of Place," her inspired collection of travel writing. Travelogues lend themselves so well to introspection -- after all, travel impressions are so subjective, so dependent on personal experience.

Profiles of other people, however, do not lend themselves to introspection nearly as well. In writing about others, Orlean turns t
Tara Chevrestt
I fail to see what is so extraordinary about these people.. Except for the lady bullfighter and the surfer girls, nobody is doing anything particularily interesting.. A ten year old boy that plays nintendo? A NYC real estate agent? Um.. I don't get it.
"As far as magazine journalists go, I’m a big fan of the witty and hyper-aware Susan Orlean. Her 1999 piece on famously awful girl group The Shaggs is one of my all time faves, a beautifully observed look at misplaced hopes and dreams. That and several other quirky profiles (most of which were originally published in The New Yorker throughout the ’90s) are assembled in Bullfighter. For the most part, the articles are fun and interesting and not too terribly dated. I could see all of them working ...more
I wanted to read something by Susan Orlean and I kind of wish I had picked The Orchid Thief instead. I mean, if you put a picture of yourself dressed as a bullfighter on the cover of your book, you pretty much have to bring it. Most of these profiles were ok but a lot of the time when I finished one, I would feel like ...that's it? I mean I guess I would recommend this one for early 90s nostalgia purposes if nothing else. Also it's kind of weird and like, wistful reading at times because a lot o ...more
Bea Bolinger
I know 2001 when this book was published was only eleven years ago but the stories felt really aged while I was reading them. And it wasn't just the references to beepers and Mark Wahlberg as Marky Mark but it was also wondering whatever became of the star Dominican high school basketball player destined for the NBA and the female matador after her first season in Spain. Like the magazines these stories were originally published in this book left a feeling of dustiness and staleness not unlike r ...more
Basically, the rule here is, if the first word of the essay is "if," it will be really good. ("If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks." "If I were a bitch, I'd be in love with Biff Truesdale.") Otherwise, it will be something of a disappointment.

Two and a half stars, really. I read "The American Man, Age Ten" in the New Kings of Non-Fiction compilation, and my reasonless bias against Susan Orlean was quite shattered. It's terrific, but nothing in th
May 24, 2014 Suzanne marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
I got to page 167. I have been chipping away at this for a very, very long time, wondering why I couldn't get through it. I still don't know, but I'm throwing in the towel. It can't be Susan Orleans' fault, she's a great writer. I love The Orchid Thief, and most of pieces collected here were originally published in The New Yorker, with a few from Esquire and Rolling Stone, so they must be good. The problem must be me.
Mary Beth
Orlean gives every profile she writes a strikingly stylized sense of detail. Some of the subject matter of Bullfighter might be a bit dated (most of the pieces were first published in the 1990s, and it shows), but her irresistible hooks, sharp eye and refined ear, and warmly humane perspective create such vivid portraits that many pieces transcend their publication date with grace.
Jade Wheeler
I enjoy Orlean's writing but not quite as much as her very underrated genre. This is a book of character studies! Yeah, character studies. Some of them are about semi-famous or famous people, some of them are about people who would become famous in later years, and some of them are about an average 10 year old boy (or other average types). As one can expect, some chapters are more interesting than others and, I suspect, which ones the reader finds more interesting greatly varies based on who the ...more
Sarah Burns
First of all, let me say that I adore people, so this was a fantastic book. The writing style was wonderful, and I found the people that Orlean wrote about worthy of my people watching facination. Longer review after I get this gauze off of my fingers...
I gave this 4 stars because: In on story she used "and" rather than commas, which was completely annoying and I didn't like all of her stories.

I especially liked the stories on the Southern Gospel singers & their traveling show, The Fish Market window designer, the ten-year old "perfect America man, the New York City apartment broker, the only buttons-only store, Bill Blass, the Hana Surfer Girls, and the Ashanti King who drives a Taxi Cab.

The other stories were interesting as well... I cert
Aug 14, 2008 JohnS rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: a
This collection of short non-fiction essays by Susan Orlean (of the Orchid Thief) showcases some of the best New Yorker style writing around. The first essay, "The American Man, Age 10" is worth the price of admission. Here's the first paragraph:

If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks. We would ' wear shorts, big sneakers, and long, baggy T-shirts depicting famous athletes every single day, even in the winter. We would sleep in our clothes. We would b
Tabitha Blankenbiller
I would describe Susan Orlean’s prose as almost flawless. Her descriptions are poignant and colorful; she is sparing with her words, but chooses unique combinations that paint a perfect picture. There is so much to learn and admire about her piquantly observant style. She has a very light presence within her stories, especially these short “character sketches.” We see little glimpses of her from time to time, maybe even a spattering of dialogue. But she is largely absent from the subject and arc ...more
Kat Hagedorn

My brother gave me this book years ago, long before I'd understood that Susan Orlean was and should always be a household name. Then I saw her speak at the 2011 Miami Book Fair International for the debut of "Rin Tin Tin" and understood still further why she is something special. It was definitely time to finally read this book of essays.

Watching Susan Orlean speak is the same thing as reading her essays. This is remarkable because I have always held to the tenet that t
Kaitlyn Barrett
Sharp, funny, observant portraits of interesting people and people we find interesting because of the way Orlean portrays them.

Orlean writes dry, amusing verbal caricatures with a keen eye for detail. She's developed the ability to immerse herself into the lives of her interviewees so she can write about them from an insider/outsider perspective. She relates well to people who are in flux and don't quite belong in the world they inhabit and her writing is especially vivid when she writes about
Mark Mikula
Susan Orlean presents stories of a range of colorful celebrities and everyday citizens in biographies that ran in a number of periodicals, most notably The New Yorker, where she was a staff writer at the time of the collection's publication. She demonstrates a keen capacity to hone in on what makes each of her subjects unique and compelling. She cares about the people she encounters, despite their occasional flaws and complexities. Different from her tour de force Rin Tin Tin, which I count amon ...more
Aug 13, 2012 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
It was fun and startling to read adult-viewpoint stories about Marky Mark and Tiffany, who were famous when I was a kid, because the way they were depicted was so different from their personas in Seventeen Magazine and the like. Yes, of course they would be different, but the thing is that I had no idea they would be in this book, so reading about them was a trip back in time.

Of course, the best ones were the stories of non-celebrities. It reinforces the idea that everyone has something interes
Melanie Faith
A delightful array of essays by the author of The Orchid Thief. I'm only on page 111 so far, but Orlean's attention to detail and subtle senses of wonder and humor make this a page-turner. :) I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys collections of literary essays or to writers of CNF, especially personal essays. :) Some of the essays might be useful for journalism or writing students to study the craft, although since most of the essays were first published between 1991 and 1999 many of the cultura ...more
I love Orlean's interviews:from the famous to the not-famous-at-all, she really seems to enjoy finding out about people.
William Cooper
I read this book several years ago and remember it being a fine collection of contemporary writing.
Thank goodness I'm finally finished. I had to force myself to read 10 pages a day of this in order to finish it, and found that it was far better in 10-page chunks. This compilation of essays by Susan Orlean is better read slowly, one story at a time, and put down in between. The subjects of her essays are all fairly interesting, but when read one on top of another, the style of each of Orlean's essays becomes repetitive, as does her structure and commentary on each of her subjects. The sameness ...more
A very interesting and enlightening book. Susan Orlean 's collection of some very engaging profiles of all different kinds of people. She is a writer for the New Yorker and other magazines. She does a great job describing people and their professions and lifestyles. I've learned so much about things I knew nothing about like bullfighting, surfer girls, professional clowns, African Kings living in America, residential real estate in NYC and lots more. A quote about her writing says it all, "The b ...more
Lucinda Franks
Wonderful amusing portraits on silk - delicately and ironically crafted. Great read.
Meh. Collection of essays - some interesting, some not. Reminded me why I often don't like collections - it's hard to get in a character groove when it keeps switching up every 40 pages. I grew a little tired of her approach; she writes in a similar arc about nearly every person she highlights, and sometimes comes across as snarky/superior. Ira Glass raved about Susan Orlean so I always think I'll like her more than I do (see: The Orchid Thief).
Library book.
This is a compilation of articles the author wrote mostly for the New Yorker. They are about people, some famous, some not and it's really well written. I got kind of tired of it by the end (I'm not a short story kind of girl) but I enjoyed many of the articles. A reviewer on the back gets it right on when he says: "Chief among her talents is the ability to really hear her subjects, and then to simply get out of the way and let them speak for themselves."
Jose Paul
Well, I didn't read all the essays, so I guess I shouldn't be judging the whole book. I like Ms. Orleans' writing, and the way she reveals characters in little vignettes. He penchant for describing all kinds of little details of a given scene, sometimes works sometimes don't. The prose is on the whole graceful and effortles. Her compassion for her subject come trhough. A bit of judgmental snarkiness makes for good reading tho.
Travelling Cari
Nearly done with this now after finishing :My Kind of Place" earlier this summer. This is a collection of her earlier work: 80s and early 90s. While the articles would have been interesting appearing in their own time, they're even more amusing now looking back at a time gone by: Tonya Harding, Macaulay Culkin, Tiffany... Equally interesting were the unfamous. A good read.

ETA: Done, stand by what I said earlier. An enjoyable read.
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I'm the product of a happy and uneventful childhood in the suburbs of Cleveland, followed by a happy and pretty eventful four years as a student at University of Michigan. From there, I wandered to the West Coast, landing in Portland, Oregon, where I managed (somehow) to get a job as a writer. This had been my dream, of course, but I had no experience and no credentials. What I did have, in spades ...more
More about Susan Orlean...
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who's Been Everywhere The Best American Essays 2005 The Best American Travel Writing 2007

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“An ordinary life examined closely reveals itself to be exquisite and complicated and exceptional, somehow managing to be both heroic and plain.” 12 likes
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