Susan Orlean

General news


Paperback news! The paperback edition of RIN TIN TIN will be published on October 9, 2012. It's got a gorgeous new cover, a readers' guide, and a Q&A with me. I'm really excited. I'm doing a mini-tour to coincide with the publication (check the calendar for dates) and popping champagne.

If your book group is reading RIN TIN TIN, I have a proposal for you: I'll try to visit with you via Skype for a Q&A. Just contact me via the "contact me" button here and let me know who you are and where you are and when you're reading it, and we'll go from there.


I’ve covered four corners of the country on my book tour, but there have been plenty of places I haven’t been able to go. So I’ve decided to do a virtual book-signing for those of you who’d like signed and/or personalized copies of RIN TIN TIN.

If you already have a copy or prefer buying it at your local store, mail it (or send via UPS or FEDEX) with a self-addressed, prepaid return envelope and a note telling me how you’d like it inscribed to:

3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd. #252
Studio City CA 91604

Otherwise, you can buy one from me directly via the Paypal button below. Once you hit the "buy now" button, you can pay with a credit card or a Paypal account. You will specify how you'd like your book signed (i.e., "Just your signature" or "For Uncle Bob, a dog lover") after you enter your payment information. (There will be a place where you'll hit "add" to your order; you will then have a text box saying "How would you like your book signed?" The price for the book is $29, which includes USPS Priority Mail shipping. I will try to get these out as quickly as possible, in time for the holidays. If you are buying more than one copy, make it clear how you want each copy signed. If you want more than four copies -- and I love you for that! -- the shipping becomes more complicated, so please contact me directly via the "contact me" button on my website. I'm happy to be able to do this! I have a limited number of books, so do order soon. Only domestic US shipping, please.

Here's the button!

Book tour

Thank goodness I just bought new luggage, because this book tour might just kill me. But I am so excited to take Rin Tin Tin out in the world (and can't help but be reminded of the strange parallel with Lee Duncan, who took the real Rin Tin Tin out on the road many times...). Here's the line-up so far. More dates will be added, and I'll refresh this list as that happens. I hope you can join me! Many of these dates will include a screening of "Clash of the Wolves" as well as a reading and talk and Q&A and book signing. Many theaters are having live music to accompany the film -- it'll be wonderful. Please come! For direct links to the websites for tickets and more information, check the calendar to the right.

October 1, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA
5:30 pm local time reception, 7:00 pm local time event begins

October 4, 2011 – New York, NY
6:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing LIVE MUSIC!

October 6, 2011 – New York, NY
6:30 pm local time – conversation with David Carr/screening/Q&A/signing
We'll be screening clips from "The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin" as well as some never-before-seen footage of Bert Leonard.

October 8, 2011 – Chicago, IL
5:30 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 9, 2011 – San Francisco, CA
7:30 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 12, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA
7:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 17, 2011 – Detroit, MI
12:00 noon local time – talk/Q&A/signing

October 18, 2011 – Ann Arbor, MI
7:30 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 20, 2011 – Iowa City, IA
8 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 21-22, 2011 – Austin, TX
October 21, 6:00 pm local time, Gala at the Four Seasons, reception/talk/signing
October 22, 12:30 pm local time, talk/Q&A/signing at the House Chamber
October 22, 8:00 pm local time, Lit Crawl at the Blue Starlite Drive-In

October 23, 2011 – Mesilla, NM
7:30 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 27, 2011 – Portland, OR
7:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

October 28, 2011 – Seattle, WA
7:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 2, 2011 – Los Angeles, CA
7:00 pm local time – moderated talk/Q&A/signing

November 3, 2011 – Riverside, CA
5:00 pm local time – talk/Q&A/signing

November 6, 2011 – San Diego, CA
12:00 noon local time – talk/Q&A/signing

November 7, 2011 – New York, NY
7:00 pm local time – unticketed talk/Q&A/signing

November 8, 2011 – Stamford, CT
7:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 9, 2011 – Pleasantville, NY
7:30 pm local time – moderated conversation/screening/Q&A/signing

November 10, 2011 – New York, NY
12:30 pm local time – “Live at NYPL” Friends Luncheon

November 12, 2011 – Washington, DC
3 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 13, 2011 – Cleveland, OH
1:30 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 15, 2011 – Winona, MN
Time TBD – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 16, 2011 – St. Paul, MN
7:00 pm local time – talk/Q&A/signing

November 18, 2011 – St. Louis, MO
7:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

November 19-20, 2011 – Miami, FL
Date and time TBD – talk/Q&A/signing

November 21, 2011 – Key West, FL
3:00 pm local time – talk/screening/Q&A/signing

December 5, 2011 – Philadelphia, PA
7:30 pm local time – moderated talk/Q&A/signing

December 15, 2011

Booklist review

Just got this review in Booklist for RIN TIN TIN and I'm ECSTATIC! Here's the text:

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.

Oct 2011. 288 p. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, $26.99. (9781439190135). 790.
Rin Tin Tin, the smart, athletic German shepherd who became “the archetypal dog hero,” was born on a battlefield in France in 1918 and rescued by Lee Duncan, an American soldier. Duncan, whose love for animals was rooted in a childhood of abandonment, brought Rin Tin Tin to California, where diligent training, talent, and luck turned “Rinty” into a universally beloved movie star. The Rin Tin Tin character lived on after the original dog’s death in 1932 (the world mourned) as Duncan, utterly devoted to his creation, worked with a series of German shepherds to keep Rin Tin Tin in the movies and on television for nearly four more decades. In her first from-scratch investigative book since The Orchid Thief (1999), New Yorker staff writer Orlean incisively chronicles every facet of the never-before-told, surprisingly consequential, and roller-coaster–like Rin Tin Tin saga, including the rapid evolution of the film and television industries, the rise of American pet culture, how Americans heeded the military’s call and sent their dogs into combat during WWII, and even what the courageous canine meant to her own family.

Orlean’s engrossing, dynamic, and affecting biography of a dog who became an icon of loyalty and valor will reignite Rin Tin Tin fever in yet another time when heroes are in acute demand.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Move over Seabiscuit, Rin Tin Tin will be the most-talked-about animal hero of the year and beyond as best-selling Orlean presents a spectacularly compelling portrait.
— Donna Seaman

First review

Well, the first review of RIN TIN TIN: The Life and the Legend came out today, featured as a Buzz Review in Publisher's Lunch. It came as a total surprise to me -- the book isn't being published until October -- but a very nice surprise indeed. Here it is:

Buzz Reviews: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, by Susan Orlean

Review by Edward Champion

Susan Orlean's work has long circled the eccentric cauldron bubbling above the dutiful fire of American life. Orlean's journalistic gifts have led her to souls who socialize on Saturday nights, the intoxicating originality of misunderstood artists like The Shaggs, and the wayward passions of orchid collectors. Now Orlean has discovered another effervescent subject hiding in plain sight: a cultural canine with a remarkably resilient heritage.

You don't have to be a dog enthusiast or a couch potato to appreciate this hearty tale, for Rin Tin Tin's ascent and duration coincides with several high points throughout the 20th century. The original Rin Tin Tin, plucked from the Great War battlefield, was limber and acrobatic enough to attract Hollywood's newsreel cameras. He proved so popular that he incited a national spike in German Shepherds as postwar pets.

Like many animals of the silver screen, Rinty had several advantages as a performer. He didn't need to be paid. He didn't require dialogue. He could be manipulated easily. But Rinty had the help of an appreciative public, who flocked to flicks that the critics condemned. “It may seem absurd to claim that Rin Tin Tin was a good actor,” writes Orlean, reckoning with Rinty's enduring endearment as an adult, “but after you see this scene, it's hard to deny.”

It took two febrile men -- actor Lee Duncan and producer Bert Leonard -- to keep Rin Tin Tin in the limelight after the original dog died in 1932. Duncan, the sensitive soldier who went from working the basement of a sporting goods store to regaling crowds on and off screen, proved so devoted to the dog that it was a wonder that he married at all. When Rinty's successors appeared in cut-rate Westerns and money was tight, Duncan made a move for television. The gamble paid off, with the newly minted Rinty capturing the hearts of the next generation.

According to Orlean, the combative Leonard proved equally stubborn in preserving Rinty's legacy. Leonard had actors appear in multiple roles to cut down on costs, enjoyed getting into impromptu fistfights, and made several efforts to revive Rin Tin Tin in the less receptive post-Nixon era. He even attempted to work with Pat Robertson, with unsurprisingly disastrous results. Leonard's protective instinct led to several lawsuits, which obliterated the finances of the key players and has put a stop to recent attempts to reboot Rinty.

Yet Rin Tin Tin mania has also galvanized a middle-aged man to visit conventions, pretending to be former child actor and Rinty co-star Lee Aaker. Why would a fictional dog inspire such obsession? Indeed, why would it inspire Orlean herself to deliver a puppy with the Rin Tin Tin pedigree to Boston? She concludes that Rinty has endured because “there will always be stories,” but this is something of an understatement. In telling Rin Tin Tin's story, Orlean makes a persuasive case that placing your heart in a singular pursuit eventually reveals the human essence.

Edward Champion is the creator and host of The Bat Segundo Show and runs Reluctant Habits, a cultural website, at

Simon & Schuster
320 pp.
ISBN: 9781439190135
October 4, 2011

And even more Bloggingheads!

I had a great time talking to Elizabeth Gilbert in our great Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts Smackdown. Sorry I look like I'm smeared with Vaseline -- the lighting director (me) messed up and has been fired.


For my European friends... here are links for ordering two of my books through CD WOW:

The Orchid Thief

Lazy Little Loafers

Chickens! Chickens!

Last night, I spoke at Boston's Museum of Science about backyard chickens. I shared the stage with five chickens -- two Polish, two New Hampshire reds, and a little bantam Leghorn -- and I learned a few valuable pieces of information:
1. Animals always steal the show.
2. Chickens are a lot noisier than most people think.
3. If chickens are on stage in a pen that doesn't have a netting over it, they will hop out of it and squawk and kick the sawdust around and squawk some more. It's pretty funny. If you are the person giving the lecture, the best thing to do is to cede the floor to the chickens and let them carry on.
4. People love chickens.

The Wall Street Journal did a little piece about the event here: Author Susan Orlean Becomes a Chicken Person

The whole evening was a blast. I might have to include chickens in all future appearances.

Martha Stewart

The perils of television: Yesterday, I was on MARTHA STEWART, talking about travel. In one segment, I showed a pair of handmade scissors and a bell I got from an elderly farmer in Bhutan. I talked about how I had traded him one of my business cards for the items. I'd like to clarify something: I misspoke on the show -- I paid the gentleman for the scissors and bell, and then also gave him my business card. The point I was trying to make is that giving someone a personal item, such as a photograph or business card or personal object of some kind, is a meaningful exchange that goes beyond giving money. As I said later in the show, when you travel you ask people to allow you to observe their lives, and it seems fair to offer them a way to observe your life a bit too, rather than only giving money. I regret that I spoke in a way that made it sound like I didn't even give him some payment for those objects -- it was the sort of misstatement that occurs when you're on television, a little nervous, and talking with the awareness of having almost no time at all.

I've spent my entire career working to bring humanity and empathy to my subjects. When I travel, I keep those principles not only in mind, but the very front of my mind. Not only do I pay fairly (and happily) for any goods or services I use, I also try to offer something beyond that -- a connection that is more personal. When I write, my entire goal is to illuminate and celebrate the people I've met -- especially the not-famous, not-wealthy, not-celebrated. I really regret saying anything that seemed to contradict that, especially because it was inaccurate.


I'm teaching a Master Class in Creative Non-fiction at New York University this semester. Here's the syllabus, in case you'd like to follow along:

What is a non-fiction essay? Is it a written inquiry? A meditation? A memoir? Does it concern the outside world or just probe the writer's interior world? Can it be funny? Does it have answers or does it just raise questions? Does it argue a point or is it an impartial view of the world?

As near as I can figure, an essay can be all of the above -- a query, a reminiscence, a persuasive tract, an exploration; it can look inward or outward; it can crack a lot of jokes. What is important is that it take its tone and momentum from the explicit or implied presence of the writer and the distinctiveness of the writer's individual perspective.

This workshop will focus on hearing voices -- that is, hearing our own voices as writers, hearing the voices in the great examples of non-fiction that we'll look at together, and hearing the voices in our subjects as we try to bring them to life. While the first-person narrator is an important part of our examination, I will emphasize writing that reaches beyond the personal memoir and considers subjects out in the world, while at the same time having a strong sense of the writer's vision. Be prepared to write not only about your own experiences, but to write essays about reported subjects.

Each week, we will discuss the work of writers such as Joseph Mitchell, John McPhee, and Joan Didion, examining each one's distinctive style and authority. We will also read my own work, and I will be able to give you a detailed understanding of the process behind the pieces we read. Through in-class exercises, assigned essays, and class discussions of each other's work, we will work to develop the skills of non-fiction writing. We will also be reading and discussing some of my work, with the goal of understanding in detail the process behind them.

The Literary Journalists by Norman Sims
Literary Journalism by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean (selections)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin
Great Plains by Ian Frazier
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell


Attendance and Participation:
Because this is a workshop, your presence and timeliness is essential. Please come fully prepared to write, read, and discuss; when we analyze each other's work, please be thoughtful and respectful of each other.

You will be keeping a personal journal of observations and snippets -- the stuff of everyday life that might find its way into an essay you'll write or lead to a topic you want to explore. We will review these regularly and discuss how to go about collecting details and anecdotes as well as inspiration for essays. In addition, you'll be writing three five-page essays -- one topical, one observational, and one personal. Those will be shared with the class; bring copies on the days they are due. You will be expected to do a serious revision, incorporating the discussion we will have, and to resubmit the pieces to me. The ability and willingness to improve your piece will be an important part of our work together, and of your grade.
Each of you will be assigned to lead one of the critique/analysis of the pieces we will read together and submit a summary of your critique to me in written form.
Late work will not be accepted.

Please meet with me at least once during the semester to discuss your work in progress, your proposed essay ideas, and your experience in the class. I will also be happy to meet with you anytime during my office hours and I'm happy to weigh in as your work progresses.

Your writing -- the three essays and your journal -- will count for 60% of your grade. Your class participation will count for 20%, and your critique and analysis of the assigned material will count for 20%. I will not be grading you on your innate raw talent as much as your effort, your diligence, and your thoughtfulness in your work.

Referring to or paraphrasing someone else's writing, with proper, clear credit given, is fine. Anything else is totally unacceptable, and any suspected plagiarism will be passed along to the head of the department. I will also be relentless in emphasizing the non-fiction part of this endeavor; do not present anything in your work as true if it didn't really happen. This is essential!


Week 1 (January 19) To Begin
Discussion of personal journals
Reading and discussion: The Literary Journalists -- introduction, McPhee, "Travels in Georgia", Didion "Salvador". Please come prepared to discuss these at the first class

Week 2 (January 26) Channeling Voices
The writer's voice versus the voice of the subject: Hearing well and writing what you hear. In-class exercise of capturing voice.
Reading and discussion: "American Man Age Ten" (Bullfighter), Jane Kramer, "Cowboy" (Literary Journalists), "The Rivermen", Joseph Mitchell.
Writing assignment: First short essay capturing another voice, due Week 3.

Week 3 (February 2) Where to Start?
Structure of an essay, and the essential question of how to begin.
Reading and discussion: Great Plains (chapter 1 - 3), Sara Davidson, "Real Property" and Mark Kramer, "Invasive Procedures" (Literary Journalists). Workshop/revise six of the class essays (Group A).

Week 4 (February 9) In and Out
The vexing question of first person. Where is the writer in the piece? How to negotiate the first-person perspective.
Reading and discussion: The Orchid Thief (first half).
Workshop second group of the class essays (Group B). Revisions are due Week 7.
Writing assignment: Second short essay, first person but not personal, due Week 5

Week 5 (February 16) There But Not There
Personalizing material learned from afar: how historical and reflective essays can convey the writer's voice.
Continue discussion of The Orchid Thief.
Reading: Bill Barich, "Magic" (Literary Journalists)
Workshop Group A essays.
Review of personal journals

Week 6 (February 23) Becalmed
The dangerous middle section of essays, where the going gets slow. Structure, momentum, pacing, rhythm.
Reading: Mark Singer, "Court Buff" (Literary Journalists). Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia (first half)
"The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup" (essay)
Workshop Group B essays. Revisions are due Week 9.

Week 7 (March 2) Nuts and Bolts
How to immerse yourself in a subject, how to choose a subject, how to understand what you are trying to write.
In class discussion of how and what makes a story worth pursuing.
Reading: "The Lady and the Tigers" (from Bullfighter)
Review and sharing of personal journals

Week 8 (March 9) Emotions
The dispassionate writer, the cool essay, the deep feelings -- and how they can learn to live together
Reading: Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
In-class writing exercise


Week 9 (March 23) Anybody Out There?
Imagining the reader. Who are you talking to? How do you address them?
Reading: "Lifelike" (Bullfighter), "Trina and Trina" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (Literary Journalism)
Writing assignment: Third essay, writing about the unfamiliar, due Week 11

Week 10 (March 30) Drawing It Together
Discussion: The Orchid Thief (second half)
Review of personal journals
Exercise and further discussion on revision

Week 11 (April 6) And in the End...
Working on conclusions -- how to bring a piece of writing to a peaceful ending.
Reading: In Patagonia (second half).
Workshop Group A essays, revisions due Week 13

Week 12 (April 13) Word Love
Language choices and polishing sentences: Refining the details in your writing
Reading: TBA
In-class writing exercise
Workshop Group B essays. Revisions due Week 14

Week 13 (April 20) First Curtain Call
Reviewing personal journals as complete collections; what did you hear and what did you miss? What did you learn about listening?
Reading: Up in the Old Hotel, Joseph Mitchell
Group A -- come prepared to read one of your essays out loud

Week 14 (April 27) Ask the Author
Come prepared to ask me final questions about process and choices in the remaining pieces of The Bullfighter.
Group B -- come prepared to read one of your essays out loud.

Stacked up

This is the trailer for the episode of StackedUp that I just shot -- a cool new website about authors and books:


Grub Street, the Boston organization devoted to teaching, preaching, and supporting writers, is doing its annual fundraiser -- and before you run screaming in the other direction, take a look: A bunch of writers, including me, have made postcards that are being auctioned off, proceeds to go to Grub Street. The postcards are actually pretty cool -- take a look here

Great Nonfiction!

Thanks for all the great non-fiction suggestions in response to my question on Twitter. Lots of the replies did include the hashtag so they were easy to find, but there are a number of them that didn't have the hashtag that you might not have seen. I've tried to compile the list, a bit haphazardly, so please bear with me:

By Title

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby
Behind the Wall: A Journey through China by Colin Thubron
Voices of the Old Sea by Norman Lewis
Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg
The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche
Shoes Outside the Door by Michael Downing
The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff
This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff
Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem & Jonathan Prince
Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas
Honor Thy Father by Gay Talese
Black Hawk Down by M. Bowden
The Dark Side by Jane Mayer
And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts
Hiroshima by John Hersey
Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro
The Assassins' Gate by George Packer
The Forever War by Dexter Filkins
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
Natural History of Senses/Moon by Whale Light by by Diane Ackerman
Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas
My Ears Are Bent by Joseph Mitchell
U.S. Journal by Calvin Trillin
Mr Personality by Mark Singer
Fame & Obscurity by Gay Talese
Levels Of The Game by John McPhee
Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick
Parting the Water/Pillar of Fire/At Canaan's Edge by Taylor Branch
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
In Patagonia/Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer
Into the Wild/Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Killings by Calvin Trillin
Don't Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides Da Cunha
Into the Heart of Borneo by Redmond O'Hanlon
Pliny the Elder's Natural History by Trevor Murphy
Up in Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold by Gay Talese
Been in the Storm So Long by Leon F. Litwack
House by Tracy Kidder
The Year of Magical Thinking/Slouching Towards Bethlehem/The White Album by Joan Didion
Monster by John Gregory Dunne
On Bullfighting by A.L. Kennedy
Nothing Remains the Same by Wendy Lesser
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Stasiland by Anna Funder
Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed
Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
We Wish to Inform You ... by Philip Gourevitch
Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
Friday Night Lights by H G Bissinger
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
Judgment Ridge by Dick Lehr and Mitchell Zuckoff
The Color of Water by James McBride
Dispatches by Michael Herr
A Bright Shining Lie by Neil Sheehan
Personal History by Katharine Graham
Homicide by David Simon
Balkan Ghosts by Robert D. Kaplan
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver
A Nearly Normal Life by Charles L. Mee
The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert
Jane Addams, 20 Years at Hull House by Brian Ogilvie
The Science of Describing by Brian W. Ogilvie
Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt
The Dialogues of Plato by Plato
Confessions of an Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Here Is New York by E.B. White
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
The Open Veins of Latin America by E. Galeano
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Homicide by David Simon
Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
Ghost Wars/The Bin Ladens by Steve Coll
The Invention of Solitude by Paul Auster
Art Objects by Jeanette Winterson
On Photography by Susan Sontag
Hopper by Mark Strand
Lawdy, Lawdy, He's Great by Mark Kram
Pure Heart by William Nack
My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan
Travels in the Land of the Flies by Aldo Buzzi
Wildwood by Roger Deakin
Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
Ex Libris/Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
First In His Class : A Biography Of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss
Days of Grace by Arthur Ashe
Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr
Rats/Meadowlands by Robert Sullivan
Woman by Natalie Angier
History of God by Karen Armstrong
Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman
In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas
Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford
They Were So Young by Amanda Vaill
Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell
The Undertaker by Thomas Lynch
Where the Suckers Moon by Randall Rothenberg
The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
Are You Somebody? by Nuala O'Faolain
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
Bonk by Mary Roach
The Sky Isn't Visible From Here by Felicia Sullivan
A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
The Rise Of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
Five Seasons by Roger Angell
Ball Four by Jim Bouton
Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years by Michael Palin
Oscar Wilde by Frank Harris
Night of the Gun by David Carr
True Notebooks by Mark Salzman
Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
Boys of My Youth by Joanne Beard
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Gulag by Anne Applebaum
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A. J. Liebling
The Living and The Dead by Paul Hendrickson
Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
Guns, Germa And Steel by Jared Diamond
The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
A Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz
Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore
The Disappearance by Genvieve Jurgensen
The Civil War: A Narrative by Shelby Foote (trilogy)
Down and Out In Paris and London by George Orwell
Fire in a Canebrake by Laura Wexler
Keats by Andrew Motion
Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee
Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor
Boss by Mike Royko
What it Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Perfect Storm by Sebastien Junger
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Wechsler
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
Colter/The Ninemile Wolves by Rick Bass
A Dog's History of America by Mark Derr
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Small Boys Unit by Denis Johnson
West with the Night by Beryl Markham
Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar
Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington
A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman
The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi
Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Wallflower at the Orgy/Crazy Salad/I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr


Robert D. Kaplan
Ryszard Kapuscinski
William Zinsser
Wendell Berry
Ted Conover
Robert Caro
Studs Terkel
Grant Pick
Jonathan Raban
Malcolm Gladwell
David Sedaris
Robert Sapolsky
Frans de Waal
David McCullough

Live Chat on CBC Radio

On Tuesday, July 28th at 2:00pm EDT, I will be chatting live with CBC Radio. Click here to join the chat and ask me questions about writing ... or my chickens.


LOCAL GIRL MAKES GOOD: A regional arts and culture magazine that I like a lot, Chronogram, just ran a profile of me here.

Kudos to writer Nina Shengold and photographer Jen May -- it's never easy to read a profile of yourself (let alone look at a picture!) and feel it's accurate and insightful; they both did a terrific job, in my humble opinion. The magazine is very well-done; we're lucky here in upstate New York to have a lot of thriving independent publications; not sure how we got so lucky, but I hope it continues this way...

New Yorker profile

Hey, take a look: The New Yorker now has online profiles of most of its writers and links to most of the writers' pieces. Here's mine.

My Twitter feed!

Lazy Little Loafers

Hey, great news from Germany today: "Lazy Little Loafers by Susan Orlean, illustrated by G. Brian Karas published by Abrams Books, is one of the 250 outstanding new international books for children and young adults that have been selected for The White Ravens 2009 from the thousands of books that our library received as review copies from publishers, authors, illustrators, and organisations from all over the world within the last year."
The White Ravens are an organization of the International Youth Library of Munich, Germany. Yay!

Time for a New Look

You may notice things look a little different around here. I thought it was time for a refresh, added content, photos, updates, articles, and even an interactive feature on the contact page. Have a look around and see what's new -- friend my fan page on Facebook and follow me on Twitter for additional updates!

Bad dog (food)!

I have been following the tainted dog food scandal with interest and horror -- the cynicism of the wheat gluten manufacturers in China (who were adding plastic scrap to the gluten because it makes the gluten appear to have higher protein content) is just appalling, and the idea that your pet would be killed by someone's greedy manipulation of their food is quite depressing.

Last year, my friend Sally and I wrote Throw Me a Bone, a cookbook for dog food, treats, and snacks -- partly for fun, and partly because I had gotten very leery about commercial dog food -- not because I'm psychic and could foresee the Chinese gluten scandal, but because years ago, when I switched my dog (my now long-gone, much-beloved Irish setter) from supermarket dog food to high quality stuff, her health completely changed for the better. I'm not a knee-jerk skeptic, but I really did see in practice how much it affected her to be on a really healthy diet.

So when I got Cooper, I decided to start him on good food, and he's a lean, mean, canine machine. I certainly don't cook everything for him -- I wish I had the time to do that, but I don't -- so I give him very good food that I get mail-order, and make him food when I can.

This is all a preamble to some good news, which is that at the end of May Simon and Schuster is re-releasing Throw Me a Bone in a quality paperback edition. Look for it in stores, or you can click through here on the picture of the book and it will lead you to Amazon.

Rin Tin Tinning

Full-time now. I'm spending the winter in California doing my last bit of reporting for my Rin Tin Tin book, which gets more and more interesting as time goes on. I spent the afternoon at the house that belonged to Larry Trimble and Jane Murfin, the people who owned and trained Rin Tin Tin's rival, Strongheart. The house was modest, which surprised me, since Trimble and Murfin were very successful. Then I was informed that the house I was in was actually the dog house, and Trimble and Murfin lived in a grander place just up the hill...

California here I come!

I'm heading west for six weeks (until December 22) to finish reporting on my Rin Tin Tin book. I won't be doing any formal appearances or readings while I'm out there, but if any of you are Rin Tin Tin collectors and have interesting things to show me or tell me, please, please send me an email and I will be in touch. . .

My Bad!

Perhaps you've noticed how out-of-date my website is. Shame, shame! I have been totally and utterly remiss in not putting in 1) new pieces to read 2) new lecture/reading dates 3) new reviews, interviews 4) new, new, new anything. But I do have a legitimate excuse -- I've been busy! My bouncing baby boy has been running me ragged, so my writing has slowed to a trickle and my website updating has slowed to...what's slower than a trickle? A drizzle, perhaps. In any case, I promise to update the site, post some new pieces, and give you a rundown on my upcoming appearances in the next few days. Thanks for your patience...

Don't blame me if you're still humming 'Sweet Caroline'

Well, actually, you can blame me. I just did my first ever radio piece, for National Public Radio's 'Morning Edition', and I am so proud I could pop. It explored an extremely serious issue, namely, why people in Boston insist on singing Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' during the middle of the eighth inning at Fenway Park. (Answer: Just because.) You can hear the piece on the NPR archives. I might just get hooked on this radio stuff, by the way. It was REALLY fun to do. . .

Best American Essays 2005

I just got a shipment today of Best American Essays 2005, which I edited this year -- which means I chose the winners and wrote the introduction. It looks great, and I'm happy with my selections -- a fairly eccentric mix of some mainstream pieces (from magazines like The New Yorker) and some very quirky interesting things from small publications like River Teeth.
I love these Best American collections -- they are great reading for the attention- and free-time-impaired (count me among them) and often an opportunity to read stuff you wouldn't usually see. For instance, I had never even heard of some of the small journals that yielded finalists, so it was a real treat to discover some new literary universes. I'll ask my webmaster to put a picture of the book on the site so you can click through directly to order it, but in the meantime just click through on any of my other books and it'll send you to Amazon, and you can find it yourself.

New Book!!!

My new book will be out October 2 -- a month earlier than I had originally thought. Also, the name has been changed (as you'll see from my next item). It's now called My Kind of Place: Travel Stories From a Woman Who's Been Everywhere. BUT, it's still a collection of stories that are primarily about places and situations. I guess you would call them travel stories, even thought they don't really fit the traditional "genre" description of travel pieces. I'm also going on a big book tour in early October, so I'll be posting a list of my appearances here.

Blue Crush

Yes, yes, yes, I really did write the story that the movie Blue Crush is based on. It is called 'The Surf Girls of Maui' and it is included in my book The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup. And no, I did not appear as an extra in the movie, but thanks for asking.

Silly Billy

Seems like a lot of you heard my interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air recently (if not, you can listen to it on the NPR website, I'm sure). A lot of what we talked about was my profile several years ago of David Friedman, who performs as the children's clown Silly Billy. David's family is the subject of the new documentary Capturing The Friedmans, a brilliant and sad movie about the Friedman family disintegrating after David's father and brother were accused of child molestation. A lot of people have written to ask where they can find a copy of my story. It was called 'Seriously Silly', and it is included in my collection, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.

DVD info

In case you were wondering, the DVD of Adaptation is coming out soon, but the first release is going to be just the movie. There definitely will be a 'special edition' released a little later, which will include lots of added material. I don't have the dates on that, but rest assured there will be a big, fat, value-packed version of the movie that will be available in the not-so-distant future.

Cuba libra

I have a story coming out in the May issue of The Atlantic Magazine about oxen in Cuba. It's excerpted from a collection by Cuban and American writers and photographers called Cuba on the Verge: An Island in Transition, being published by Bulfinch this spring.

Going to the Dogs

I'm helping a friend write a cookbook of dog biscuits and meals (favorite recipe so far: Corn Dog Biscuits). If you have any great treats you make for your beast, please send them to me at!

Orchid Thief paperback

A new paperback edition of The Orchid Thief, which includes a new foreward by me about the movie, is now available in fine bookstores everywhere, and on Amazon.

Adaptation in theaters

Adaptation, a movie by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman based on The Orchid Thief, is currently in theatres.

Launched! has launched! But you already know that because you're here. This site is very much a work in progress. I'll be adding more articles, keeping you informed about my goings-on, and expanding the Adaptation movie page.

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