Gay Talese, the nattily attired New York-based reporter, writes non-fiction pieces in the style of short stories, with omniscient third person narrators, vivid descriptions of the commonplace, and surprising, revelatory endings. High Notes collects many of the greatest works from his sixty-year career. His most famous act of reportage, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” (Esquire) dwells on the private side of the man known as The Chairman of the Board, without interviewing the subject directly. Talese later revealed more details of the assignment with the essay “On Writing ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’” ( The Best American Essays 1987). Other well-known Esquire articles that explored the Italian-American experience include “The Kidnapping of Joe Bonnano,” about the famous mob boss, and “Wartime Sunday,” which ends with the author’s family seeing Joe DiMaggio eat spaghetti at a family restaurant in Atlantic City. “High Notes” (New Yorker) documents a recording session between two Italian-American superstars of different generations: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.
Gay Talese spent most of the 1970s researching the sexual revolution. Two Esquire articles from this period, “A Matter of Fantasy” and “Charles Manson’s Home on the Range,” are both a reflection of the evolving sexual mores of the time. Talese explores the august history of the New York Times in “The Kingdoms, the Powers and the Glories of the New York Times” (Esquire) and “The Kingdom and the Tower” (New York Observer). In “Travels with a Diva” (New Yorker), Talese shadows the young Russian opera star, Marina Poplavskaya. “The Homeless Woman with Two Homes” (New York Magazine) profiles one troubled woman who has chosen to be homeless. Two short pieces from the New Yorker, “Gino’s Long Run” and “Four Hundred Dresses,” are reminiscences of two local restaurateurs.
Talese is able to fuse journalist, reporter, raconteur, master of the English language in these essays, which display the best of a very unique style.