Saturday, January 12, 2013

First Read of 2013: Required Reading

And not in a cheeky, "ZOMG, this is required reading for the entire human species" kind of way. More like the way your teacher assigns something to you, so you have to read it. As in, mine did, and so I did.

But here it is, anyway, because I'm nothing if not a good girl who follows through with stuff.

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief, was expanded from an article she wrote originally for The New Yorker. She traveled to Florida to report on a case of orchid poaching and a man named John Laroche.

Short version of my review: This was great writing, but not my thing. It would have made a great article. A 300 page book? Too much for me. Way too much.

The main gist of the book is this: Florida is weird. Orchid people are not only weird, they're obsessed. John Laroche is weird, obsessed, toothless, and alluring. Orlean spends the better part of the book following him around Florida, in and out of swamps, and in between she gives a not so brief history of the odd world of orchid growing, orchid hybridization, orchid stealing, orchid growers/stealers/showers, etc.

Here's the best thing I have to say about this book, and perhaps it's the only thing that matters: the writing is, on a sentence level, quite stunning. But after about 100 pages, I got it, you know? I didn't need or want it to keep going for so long. I didn't really care about any of it. Because basically there isn't a lot of plot, and hearing how interesting John Laroche was just got old because there was no change in his behavior. There was a lot (lot lot lot lot) of pausing to explore the many facets of the orchid world. The whole orchid world. And after one or two of these bird walks  I couldn't do it anymore. I know there are people who are gaga for this kind of minutia. I'm just not one of them. So did I admire her writing? Yes. Orlean is in a league I can't even imagine for myself. Did I like this book? Not particularly.

I don't mind reading books that are not about something I'm "in to". For crap's sake, I just finished a book about earthquakes that I really liked. But I like books that respect a wide readership, and this one didn't feel like that. I think this was written for the kind of people who live in cities (and have for their whole lives) who like to marvel at the crazy bumpkins who live in rural America. So much of it started to border on disdain or judgmental fascination that it started to put me off.

My recommendation: If you have to read it, just don't go in expecting a rip-roarin' good time. If you're into orchids (like, REALLY into them) then this is the book for you. The rest of us could probably live and die without cracking the cover and be just fine.

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