Talese and The Paris Review

One of life's joys is reading a great a novel or long-form work of journalism, but sometimes an author can really show his brilliance with collections, from Hemingway's Complete Short Stories and Wolfe's Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby to Lawrence Block's Collected Mystery Stories. This is also the case in Talese's exquisite Portraits and Encounters, a well-crafted, detailed, and--most importantly--interesting collection of his magazine pieces.

While his portraits of Sinatra, DiMaggio, and Floyd Patterson are all individually amazing, I've really been considering his article "Looking for Hemingway," a somewhat critical review of the 1950's Paris Review set. After reading last year's mediocre George, Being George, an obeisant biography on the Review's editor and co-founder George Plimpton, I had this nagging feeling about that whole scene, something that was just a little off, something that Talese captured brilliantly, which is that they were pretending. The Review group was comprised of somewhat talented people who had the benefit of being born into staggering wealth, which allowed them to live the adventure of a starving artist--being inspired to take risks--while having a very protective safety net. Essentially, Talese submits that they were attempting to live the life of Hemingway, the preeminent artist as a man-about-town. While Talese failed to mention that Hemingway also was born into wealth, his hypothesis about The Lost Generation is still correct--that they lived an authentic life, where political and financial concerns were not an adventure, but a reality.

This is not to condemn the Plimpton or the Review set (blessed with the means, I probably would have done the same thing) but I think Talese's point is to be careful in not canonizing an echo chamber that had the benefit of being in New York. Essentially, the group was talented, but not that talented.

Also included in the reader, if you're into fashion, is his humorous short piece "Vogueland".


  1. I'd highly suggest A Writer's Life if you haven't already read it. It is also a collection of sorts, where he pieces together the many incomplete book ideas that he dedicated so many years to. Its a fascinating book about the life experiences of a nomadic journalist

  2. Thanks so much for the nice insight to some new books I need to check out. Great blog, can't wait for more.