The Gay Talese Reader: Portraits and Encounters - Gay Talese, Barbara Lounsberry

Having grown up in a household that limited its magazine reading to glossy periodicals from Time-Life, I missed these magical essays, most of which appeared in Esquire in the 1960's. They are remarkable in every way. Not only does Talese employ a masterful literary style to capture the essence of his subjects, he also presents an honest appraisal of who they are and why he finds them exceptional. It's easy to understand why he wrote so eloquently about celebrities from the world of sports and movies-his pieces on Frank Sinatra and Joe Lewis are classics- but I was most struck by what he wrote about people not so famous. Mr Bad News, about a New York Times obituary writer and The Brave Tailors of Maida, a folk tale about his father's boyhood in Sicily, rise above the other articles because they spotlight what is extraordinary in the lives of ordinary people. He explains in an excellent essay, Origins of a Nonfiction Writer, that his formula for success was simple: pay attention to what is said by and about your subjects and avoid passing judgement on them. He succeeds at both.

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