Book Review: The Orchid Thief

18Jun09

I finished in no time at all. It’s an easy read. This isn’t the kind of book with that you-just-can’t-put-it-down quality. This is the kind of book whose writing and depth draws you in. Even if you’re like me, not an orchid (or even plant person for that matter) person or enamored with Florida, Susan Orlean’s writing makes it worthwhile. She has this ability to turn a seemingly insignificant, extremely local event into a book about not just the orchid world and Florida, but the over-arching idea of obsession and desire that anyone who has ever been passionate about something can relate to.

Since I’m not an orchid fan or a Florida fan, why would I pick up this book? Well, first because of class, but when I didn’t finish it (because of other classes) I just had to go back to it because I love Orlean’s writing. She writes the way I want to write. If you read this post you know that Orlean is my current contemporary journalism hero. I’ll sum up why she’s one of my faves. She writes the way I want to, and she approaches journalism the way I want to. She has the same fears, hangups and hesitations that I do. From what I’ve read and heard so far, anyway.

Anyway, back to the book and the writing. Orlean makes the most original metaphors in her descriptions that you would never think to make yourself but once you read her similes you think, “Yes. She’s right. That’s exactly what that looks or feels like!” Such as near the end when on page 272 she describes John Laroche as having “the bulk and shape of a coat hanger.” Who looks like a coat hanger? But if you look at pictures of him, his frame is beyond wiry. Backing up to page 174 she says “…from the west a breeze lifted and dropped pieces of Bob’s blond hair like and idle shopper…” I can see that. I know exactly what she’s seeing.

That’s the other great thing about this book. It’s Orlean’s experience in Florida with orchid fanatics, and she lets us live it with her through the book. She gives us snippets of conversations she overhears walking through a crowded orchid show. Her writing is funny, matter-of-fact, and real like this example from page 172 “Martin [Motes] and Bob Fuchs don’t like each other, largely because both are vanda men and they have very different philosophies about petal shape and size and because businessmen are naturally competitive, and because they just don’t like each other.”

But after she’s done making authentic and sometimes humorous observantions, Orlean takes feelings we’ve experienced but never been able to put into words and puts them into words! Like back on page 174. “I just wanted to sink into the greenness and the accidental melodies and the rich, hot laziness of the day.” I’ve had moments like that, and she was able to do what I was not. Describe it to me in a way that I could understand what she was talking about.

If you decide to read this book, I suggest the version that comes with the reader’s companion. It’s a small section in the book where Orlean answers questions regarding the book that really adds something to the whole reading experience.

Next on my summer reading list: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Light-hearted, fun reading just in time for our Branson vacation! I just have to get to Barnes n Noble and buy a copy.

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