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Books by the Blogger:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Follett, Ken: Whiteout | Main | Perrotta, Tom: Little Children »

Orlean, Susan: My Kind of Place

  

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Random House © 2004, 282 pages [amazon]
3.5 stars

Susan Orlean's third collection of essays includes thirty pieces that were previously published, most of them in The New Yorker, between 1990 and 2003. Orlean explains that the essays she chose for the book are connected in that the sense of place in them is especially important:

"When I wrote these pieces, the sense of where I was--of where the stories were unfolding--seemed to saturate every element of the experience, to inform it and shape it, and to be what made the story whole."

In some cases the importance of location to an essay will be apparent to the reader, as for example Orlean's piece on the student president of Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Manhattan ("Madame President"). But in other cases the reasons for the author's inclusion of an essay are not apparent. Readers, at any rate, are unlikely to care whether the essays are connected to one another by a meaningful theme. Orlean divides her book into three sections: "Here" includes essays set in the United States; those set abroad--from Cuba to Hungary to Thailand--are included in "There"; and "Elsewhere" is a hodgepodge of mostly short (some as brief as two pages), mostly whimsical essays set in any number of places.

Orlean's modus operandi is to observe her subject for a length of time--spending a week or two, say, walking the aisles of an independently owned grocery store in Jackson Heights, New York, interviewing its managers and employees, watching the parade of hair-netted housewives and pierced teenagers and hand truck-pushing delivery men who flow in and out of the store ("All Mixed Up").Orlean's modus operandi is to observe her subject for a length of time--spending a week or two, say, walking the aisles of an independently owned grocery store in Jackson Heights, New York, interviewing its managers and employees, watching the parade of hair-netted housewives and pierced teenagers and hand truck-pushing delivery men who flow in and out of the store ("All Mixed Up"). And then she writes about the experience in plain prose, and through the accumulation of ostensibly mundane details--sometimes, truth be told, a few too many mundane details--she brings her chosen slice of society alive for readers. Sometimes Orlean is introducing us to unfamiliar terrain, to the resting stations that punctuate a climb up Japan's Mt. Fuji, for example. But Orlean's essays are no less interesting--are indeed often more interesting--when she focuses on the familiar: among my favorite essays in this collection is "We Just Up and Left," the author's description of a trailer park in Portland, Oregon, the sort of place one can drive by for years without noticing.

Other noteworthy pieces in My Kind of Place are "Royalty," detailing the author's investigation into the curious abundance of royally-named papaya stores in Manhattan (Papaya King, Papaya Prince, Papaya Kingdom); "Art for Everybody," a look inside a Thomas Kinkade (the Painter of Light!) Signature Gallery; and "The Congo Sound," an essay about an African music store in Paris, France.

Fans of Orlean's will find more morsels to savor here. Readers who have not read Orlean previously can start here or might, better yet, read the work for which she is best known: her book The Orchid Thief is itself very much about a place--Florida--as well as the orchidophiles who populate it. Just don't expect the book to resemble its fanciful film adaptation, Adaptation, wherein Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, is depicted as a drug-addicted murderess.

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Comments

1.

Very good posting. I just love it.
Good work. :)


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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.