Review The Orchid Thief

“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…”  ” –Isaac Asimov

Review  totbso The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
1998, 282 pages, ***
For the Science Challenge and the Lit Flicks Challenge

WARNING – I suspect this will be a LOOoooonnng post and I’m just getting started.  I’m wondering if I should do this in pieces/parts…   Why am I telling you this?!?

I have been curious about this book ever since seeing Adaptation, a crazy nutty awesome movie (one of my very favorites) starring Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Nicholas Cage.   I can only recommend this movie if you like the really strange ones.    I have a crush on Charlie Kaufman.   If you don’t know who he is, you probably won’t like him.

And, so I liked the book.   I like the book especially because it really reinforces the theme of the film!  [To me, the theme of the movie is that some books are impossible to adapt into a film…]      The book is good but really should be considered a stand alone book that is mostly about flowers – and fascinating flowers they are!  but not as a true ‘story source’ for the movie.     It makes the movie hilarious!  but it is not the movie in book form.     And if you don’t get that, forget it.  (I’m wasting my time, aren’t I?  trying to explain this?    the fun is you can’t explain it!   you either get it or you don’t.)

Enough about the movie.    But it’s great fun to read about John Laroche, the orchid thief that Susan Orlean uses as her subject for this nonfiction expose into the culture of orchid collectors.     It was terrific to imagine Chris Cooper when I read this and thankfully, the book’s cover jacket has a photo of Susan Orlean so I could imagine her instead of Streep.   Thankfully.

The writing style is engaging; she makes the subject very interesting.   Lots of history on orchid hunting and the strange characters that found new species and the guys who hired them in order to add unique flowers to their collections.    This could also be a book for the World Citizen challenge since they travel all over the world.   I was also intrigued with the debate of whether or not delicate protected plants should be ‘rescued’ while jungles are being destroyed or if harvesting these precious specimens are part of the problem.

I wish this book had more pictures of the flowers…

The ghost orchid, polyrrhiza lindenii:   ghostorchid This is what the author most hoped to see in her quest to write this book.     She is very much a character in the story, as she pursues everything about orchids, learns more about Florida and attempts to discover what the passion is for this exotic plant.    She wishes to know what makes some people have such passion, any passion.

A bromeliad:  bromeliad (there are many varieties but it so helps to have any image pop in my head when I read about them…)

The winner of the 1984 World Orchid Conference Best Orchid was the Vanda Deva Robert.   This image pops up when you google for it:  vandadevarob

This image of a child paxtonchildlily on a water lily ‘…became a photographic cliché.’     The few mentions of Joseph Paxton fascinated me and I will be reading more about him and his Crystal Palace* some day.   Don’t you love when a book suggests something and off you skip to go learn more?     Maybe that’s one of my thrills with reading nonfiction.     People are so darn fascinating;  I love history and architecture and …   oh!  lots of things!!   


avuncular: Regarded as characteristic of an uncle, especially in benevolence or tolerance.    (I always look up this word!   When will I remember its definition already!?)

impecunious:  hard up;  not having enough money to pay for necessities

stupefaction: a feeling of stupefied astonishment  (I know ‘stupified’ but something about this form of the word and how it was used, made me write it down…)

changeling: 1: a person of subnormal intelligence [syn: idiot, imbecile, cretin, moron, half-wit, retard] 2: a child secretly exchanged for another.

Passage from page 252:

… and I thought to myself:   I am standing amid millions of dollars’ worth of flowers.  I breathed in deep and held my breath while I swung my head so that the $4 million of flower colors smeared like lipstick.  It was in the nature of Florida, this kind of abundance, the overrichness of living things – so many of everything that all of it blurs together and you have to decide whether to be a part of the blur or to be a distinct and separate being.

Finally, no, I will NOT be starting an orchid collection.   I will avoid attending an orchid show no matter how much I think I want to go!     However, I will admit, I do have a buried faded dream** of being a botanist…

OH!    One of the quotes on the back of the book jacket is by Katherine Dunn!   This excited me because her novel Geek Love was one of my favorites from 2008.   I love it when I know one of the authors so featured and (maybe?) not many others do…



* Further reading:   Kate Colquhoun – A Thing in Disguise: The Visionary Life of Joseph Paxton

** and a photographer, an architect, a novelist, a college professor, an artist, a wealthy eccentric philanthropist, a retired US Senator, a greeting card designer, a quaint stationery shop proprietor, a travel guide…)

14 thoughts on “Review The Orchid Thief

  1. I consider Charlie Kaufman one of my top 10 favourite writers. Scripts count too 😛 Adaptation is one of my favourite movies. And I really liked this book…especially the writing. And the fact that it made me care about orchids, something I wouldn’t have thought possible.

  2. This book has been in TBR Purgatory for literally YEARS. I enjoyed Susan Orlean’s essay collection, “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup,” but just haven’t gotten to “The Orchid Thief” for one reason or another. Thanks for the great review – it just may be the nudge I need.

    Hope you enjoy it!

  3. Yeah, I enjoyed this book. Like you, I found it to be strangely compelling. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but maybe now I will! I’ve been so busy at work that I’m just burned-out on everything, so maybe the movie will be a good escape.

    ok – the book is only a starting place for the movie! don’t expect ANYTHING. 🙂

  4. You seem to have a knack for making me want to read books I never would have considered otherwise…

    ah, really? I love when my heartfelt just-let-em-roll kind of reviews are so nicely received. Thanks.

  5. Thank you, Care, for the note about leaving my URL … honestly, sometimes, my tech management is disastrous (and am married to an IT company guru! But I don’t ask him stuff about blogs, etc. Anyway, thanks!
    As for THE ORCHID THIEF, I had forgotten about it and now that I”m using the librry (more), I will look for it. Surely it’s available. I did see the movie ADAPTATION and for some reason, liked it. I dunno why. OK, that book is next in line (behind two others but they’re quick reads.)
    signed, Oh

    I learned this url thing in WP the hard way… did you find the box I was referring to? I’m glad you liked Adaptation – it was kind of quirky!

  6. I don’t get it. But, that’s because I have no idea who Charlie Kaufman is.

    Right! Exactly.

    Care, I bought one of your favorite books, this weekend. It’s all your fault! Well, that and I opened the book up and read the beginning. It was awesome, so I did my flip test (flipped to random pages and read a bit) and they passed, as well. Guess what it is? Hint: funky purple and yellow cover.

    I don’t keep my books so the colors aren’t giving me a clue! Is it the Kidder book? I’m intrigued, I’ll go look. 🙂

  7. Is Adaptation by the same Kaufman that wrote Being John Malkovich? I loved BJM, it was so quirky.

    The very same!

    Totally awesome that Geek Love is one of your 2008 tops – the other day on Amazon I saw that Dunn wrote an intro for a book called “The Pilo Family Circus” which looks fantastic!

    I should look for that, too. Thanks!

  8. Yay, I’m glad you liked it! I think I owed you this book because you won my 100th post giveaway, but since you already read it I will send you something else. Did you find a copy of Gods Behaving Badly yet? If not, I can send you a copy of that book?

    THANK YOU!!! that would be great.

  9. hmm, this book keeps popping up in my perifery. Maybe it’s time I actually read it rather than simply reading other’s reviews.

    It’s interesting when a book keeps popping up, isn’t it? I had that happen to me for Margaret Atwood and ever since I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I don’t see her name much.

  10. I just loved this review! It has such personality to it! It was so fun to read! And you nailed it about Charlie Kaufman and the movie … my husband –who is a very literal and logical person — HATED it and was really mad when I made him go. Just brought me back thoughts about that film.

    oh, THANK YOU! I think my hub knows me well enough to just play along. Last night, we saw For Your Consideration. My hub said, “Well, I’m not sure what to think of that.” That troupe has bizarre humor but I love it. I adore Jane Lynch.

  11. I think I heard a long time ago that Adaptation was adapted from a book, but I forgot. It sounds like I should read it!

    Thanks for the entry.

    Thank YOU Blake! I’ll have to go see if you’ve ever reviewed Adaptation…

  12. This was a fun review and a welcome addition to our Book Notes section:
    here, helping to get the Science-Book Challenge off to a good start!

    I hope to write a more professional review for my next entry. I will be picking up the next book from the library today.

  13. Adaptation was kind of a bizarre-o movie to watch. I got the impression that the book was a little too weird to faithfully adapt for film. Is that your impression, having read the book?

    Congrats on finishing another Lit Flicks Challenge selection!

    The Orchid Thief is NOT bizarre-o! That’s the point – Kaufman had to make up and extrapolate a whole bunch of imaginated crazy ideas in order to do write a screenplay! The book is a good nonfiction account of a strange dude and the orchids he chased. In fact, most of the book is the history of orchids and the passion they inspire. (yes, I realize that ‘imaginated’ probably is not a real word. I like to do that.)

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