Susan Orlean has been called "a national treasure" by "The Washington Post and "a kind of latter-day Tocqueville" by "The New York Times Book Review. In addition to having written classic articles for "The New Yorker, she was played, with some creative liberties, by Meryl Streep in her Golden Globe Award—winning performance in the film "Adaptation. Now, in "My Kind of Place, the real Susan Orlean takes readers on a series of remarkable journeys in this uniquely witty, sophisticated, and far-flung travel book. In this irresistible collection of adventures far and near, Orlean conducts a tour of the world via its subcultures, from the heart of the African music scene in Paris to the World Taxidermy Championships in Springfield, Illinois-and even into her own apartment, where she imagines a very famous houseguest taking advantage of her hospitality. With Orlean as guide, lucky readers partake in all manner of armchair activity. They will climb Mt. Fuji and experience a hike most intrepid Japanese have never attempted; play ball with Cuba's Little Leaguers, promising young athletes born in a country where baseball and politics are inextricably intertwined; trawl Icelandic waters with Keiko, everyone's favorite whale as he tries to make it on his own; stay awhile in Midland, Texas, hometown of George W. Bush, a place where oil time is the only time that matters; explore the halls of a New York City school so troubled it's known as "Horror High"; and stalk caged tigers in Jackson, New Jersey, a suburban town with one of the highest concentrations of tigers per square mile anywhere in the world. Vivid, humorous, unconventional, and incomparably entertaining, Susan Orlean's writingsfor "The New Yorker have delighted readers for over a decade. "My Kind of Place is an inimitable treat by one of America's premier literary journalists.
"From the Hardcover edition.
Susan Orlean has been called "a national treasure" by "The Washington Post" and "a kind of latter-day Tocqueville" by "The New York Times Book Review." In addition to having written classic articles for "The New Yorker," she was played, with some creative liberties, by Meryl Streep in her Golden Globe Award—winning performance in the film "Adaptation." Now, in "My Kind of Place," the real Susan Orlean takes readers on a series of remarkable journeys in this uniquely witty, sophisticated, and far-flung travel book. In this irresistible collection of adventures far and near, Orlean conducts a tour of the world via its subcultures, from the heart of the African music scene in Paris to the World Taxidermy Championships in Springfield, Illinois-and even into her own apartment, where she imagines a very famous houseguest taking advantage of her hospitality. With Orlean as guide, lucky readers partake in all manner of armchair activity. They will climb Mt. Fuji and experience a hike most intrepid Japanese have never attempted; play ball with Cuba's Little Leaguers, promising young athletes born in a country where baseball and politics are inextricably intertwined; trawl Icelandic waters with Keiko, everyone's favorite whale as he tries to make it on his own; stay awhile in Midland, Texas, hometown of George W. Bush, a place where oil time is the only time that matters; explore the halls of a New York City school so troubled it's known as "Horror High"; and stalk caged tigers in Jackson, New Jersey, a suburban town with one of the highest concentrations of tigers per square mile anywhere in the world. Vivid, humorous, unconventional, and incomparably entertaining, Susan Orlean's writings for "The New Yorker" have delighted readers for over a decade. "My Kind of Place" is an inimitable treat by one of America's premier literary journalists.
"From the Hardcover edition."
Susan Orlean has been a staff writer at "The New Yorker" since 1992. She is the author of seven books, including "Saturday Night" and "The Orchid Thief", which was made into the Academy Award?winning film "Adaptation. "She lives with her family and her animals in upstate New York and may be reached at SusanOrlean.com and twitter.com/susanorlean.?
Lifelike As soon as the 2003 World Taxidermy Championships opened, the heads came rolling in the door. There were foxes and moose and freeze-dried wild turkeys; mallards and buffalo and chipmunks and wolves; weasels and buffleheads and bobcats and jackdaws; big fish and little fish and razor-backed boar. The deer came in herds, in carloads, and on pallets: dozens and dozens of whitetail and roe; half deer and whole deer and deer with deformities, sneezing and glowering and nuzzling and yawning; does chewing apples and bucks nibbling leaves. There were millions of eyes, boxes and bowls of them, some as small as a lentil and some as big as a poached egg. There were animal mannequins, blank faced and brooding, earless and eyeless and utterly bald: ghostly gray duikers and spectral pine martens and black-bellied tree ducks from some other world. An entire exhibit hall was filled with equipment, all the gear required to bring something dead back to life: replacement noses for grizzlies, false teeth for beavers, fish-fin cream, casting clay, upholstery nails. The championships were held in April at the Springfield, Illinois, Crowne Plaza hotel, the sort of nicely appointed place that seems more suited to regional sales conferences and rehearsal dinners than to having wolves in the corridors and people crossing the lobby shouting, "Heads up! Buffalo coming through!" A thousand taxidermists converged on Springfield to have their best pieces judged and to attend such seminars as "Mounting Flying Waterfowl," "Whitetail Deer--From a Master!," and "Using a Fleshing Machine." In the Crowne Plaza lobby, across from the concierge desk, a grooming area had been set up. The taxidermists were bent over their animals, holding flashlights to check problem areas like tear ducts and nostrils and wielding toothbrushes to tidy flyaway fur. People milled around, greeting fellow taxidermists they hadn''t seen since the last world championships, held in Springfield two years ago, and talking shop: "Acetone rubbed on a squirrel tail will fluff it right back up." "My feeling is that it''s quite tough to do a good tongue." "The toes on a real competitive piece are very important. I think Bondo works nicely, and so does Super Glue." "I knew a fellow with cattle, and I told him, ''If you ever have one stillborn, I''d really like to have it.'' I thought it would make a really nice mount." That there is a taxidermy championship at all is something of an astonishment, not only to the people in the world who have no use for a Dan-D-Noser and Soft Touch Duck Degreaser, but also to taxidermists themselves. For a long time, taxidermists kept their own counsel. Taxidermy, the three-dimensional representation of animals for permanent display, has been around since the eighteenth century, but it was first brought into popular regard by the Victorians, who thrilled to all tokens of exotic travel and especially to any domesticated representations of wilderness--the glassed-in miniature rain forest on the tea table, the mounted antelope by the front door. The original taxidermists were upholsterers who tanned the hides of hunting trophies and then plumped them up with rags and cotton, so that they reassumed their original shape and size; those early poses were stiff and simple, the expressions fairly expressionless. The practice grew popular in this country, too: By 1882, there was a Society of American Taxidermists, which held annual meetings and published scholarly reports, especially on the matter of preparing animals for museum display. As long as taxidermy served to preserve wild animals and make them available for study, it was viewed as an honorable trade, but most people were still discomfited by it. How could you not be? It was the business of dealing with dead things, coupled with the questionable enterprise of making dead things look like live things. In spite of its scientific value, it was usually regarded as almost a black art, a wholly owned subsidiary of witchcraft and voodoo. By the early part of the twentieth century, taxidermists such as Carl E. Akeley, William T. Hornaday, and Leon Pray had refined techniques and begun emphasizing artistry. But the more the techniques of taxidermy improved, the more it discomfited: Instead of the lumpy moose head that was so artless that it looked fake, there were mounts of pouncing bobcats so immaculately and exactly preserved, they made you flinch. For the next several decades, taxidermy existed in the margins--a few practitioners here and there, often self-taught and usually known only by word of mouth. Then, in the late 1960s, a sort of transformation began: The business started to seem cleaner and less creepy--or maybe, in that messy, morbid time, popular culture started to again appreciate the messy, morbid business of mounting animals for display. An ironic reinterpretation of cluttered, bourgeois Victoriana and its strained juxtapositions of the natural and the man-made was in full revival--what hippie outpost didn''t have a stuffed owl or a moose head draped with a silk shawl?--so, once again, taxidermy found a place in the public eye. Supply houses concocted new solvents and better tanning compounds, came out with lightweight mannequins, produced modern formulations of resins and clays. Taxidermy schools opened; previously, any aspiring taxidermist could hope to learn the trade only by apprenticing or by taking one of a few correspondence courses available. In 1971, the National Taxidermy Association was formed (the old society had moldered long before). In 1974, a trade magazine called Taxidermy Review began sponsoring national competitions. For the first time, most taxidermists had a chance to meet one another and share advice on how to glue tongues into jaw sets or accurately measure the carcass of a squirrel. The competitions were also the first time that taxidermists could compare their skills and see who in the business could sculpt the best moose septum or could most perfectly capture the look on a prowling coyote''s face. Taxidermic skill is a function of how deft you are at skinning an animal and then stretching its hide over a mannequin and sewing it into place. Top-of-the-line taxidermists sculpt their own mannequins; otherwise they will buy a ready-made polyurethane foam form and tailor the skin to fit. Body parts that can''t be preserved (ears, eyes, noses, lips, tongues) can be either store-bought or handmade. How good the mount looks--that is, how alive it looks--is a function of how assiduously the taxidermist has studied reference material (photographs, drawings, and actual live animals) so that he or she knows the particular creature literally and figuratively inside out. To be good at taxidermy, you have to be good at sewing, sculpting, painting, and hairdressing, and mostly you have to be a little bit of a zoology nerd. You have to love animals--love looking at them, taking photographs of them, hunting them, measuring them, casting them in plaster of Paris when they''re dead so that you have a reference when you''re, say, attaching ears or lips and want to get the angle and shape exactly right. Some taxidermists raise the animals they most often mount, so they can just step out in the backyard when they''re trying to remember exactly how a deer looks when it''s licking its nose, especially because modern taxidermy emphasizes mounts with interesting expressions, rather than the stunned-looking creations of the past. Taxidermists seem to make little distinction between loving animals that are alive and loving ones that are not. "I love deer," one of the champions in the Whitetail division said to me. "They''re my babies." Taxidermy is now estimated to be a five-hundred-and-seventy-million-dollar annual business, made up of small operators around the country who mount animals for museums, for decorators, and mostly for the thirteen million or so Americans who are recreational hunters and on occasion want to preserve and display something they killed and who are willing to shell out anywhere from two hundred dollars to mount a pheasant to several thousand for a kudu or a grizzly bear. There are state and regional taxidermy competitions throughout the year and the world championships, which are held every other year; two trade magazines; a score of taxidermy schools; and three thousand visits to Taxidermy.net every day, where taxidermists can trade information and goods with as little self-consciousness as you would find on a knitting website: "I am in need of several pair of frozen goat feet!" "Hi! I have up to 300 sets of goat feet and up to 1000 sets of sheep feet per month. Drop me an email at frozencritters.com . . . or give me a call and we can discuss your needs." "I have a very nice small raccoon that is frozen whole. I forgot he was in the freezer. Without taking exact measurements I would guess he is about twelve inches or so--very cute little one. Will make a very nice mount." "Can I rinse a boar hide good and freeze it?" "Bob, if it''s salted, don''t worry about it!" "Can someone please tell me the proper way to preserve turkey legs and spurs? Thanks!" "Brian, I inject the feet with Preservz-It. . . . Enjoy!" The word in the grooming area was that the piece to beat was Chris Krueger''s happy-looking otters swimming in a perpetual circle around a leopard frog. A posting on Taxidermy.net earlier in the week declared, "EVERYTHING about this mount KICKS BUTT!!" Kicking butt, in this era of taxidermy, requires having a mount that is not just lifelike but also artistic. It used to be enough to do what taxidermists call "fish on a stick" displays; now a serious competitor worries about things like flow and negative space and or
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