I'm a sci-fi writer and reader, although, let's be honest - I'll read just about anything that moves me, regardless of the genre.
I like reading, botany, orchids, and non-fiction. You would think I would love the Orchid Thief. While I didn't quite love it, I liked it well enough. Here's why.
It seems that Orlean became entranced with a newspaper blurb about a guy who stole some orchids from a state preserve in Florida. She hopped a plane from New York to Florida to learn a bit more and ended up writing a book not so much about Orchids, but more about the type of person it takes to truly love orchids. The Orchid Thief dives into the already weird world of Florida, and piles on a whole new level of odd as Orlean takes her readers through the highly specific and neurotic world that is orchid collecting.
The Orchid Thief teachers its readers about the history of orchid collecting (from a Western World perspective), the strangeness that is Florida, the personal history of the one of the odder of the odd orchid collectors, John Laroche, along with the history of the Fakahatchee Strand State Park.
When I say that the Orchid Thief teaches its readers, that's true, but not so much in a traditional sense. Reading the Orchid Thief was a bit like wading through a swamp. There was nebulous information everywhere, and sometimes, while in the middle of a chapter, I would forget what the original point of the chapter was, and have no idea where the chapter was going, or where it had come from.
This isn't to say the book was bad, rather it just lacked the traditional linear narrative that I associate with non-fiction books. The book mirrored the world that it exposed. As a reader I always felt mired in an abundance of highly specific information regarding highly complex plants. I literally felt like I was struggling through the swampy Fakachatchee Strand, mugged by bugs and humidity, with no clear understanding of which way was out, or from where I had come.
Overall, this was a good book, but I feel like it appeals to a very specific audience. I'm not sure who that audience is, exactly, other than highly neurotic and a little odd.