Sunday, October 21, 2007

On caring passionately...

The last few weeks have been a little crazy and this blog has been sadly neglected. Suffice to say that you should never trust a tradesman who says they can fix your bathroom in a week.

But while I haven't been able to post anything, I have, luckily, had a bit of time to read. At the moment I am totally enthralled by The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. I love this book and it continues my recent enjoyment of non-fiction, something I don't usually read much of.

Orlean's book began as an article she wrote for the New Yorker on John Laroche, a Florida man charged with stealing orchids from the Fakahatchee Strand. It quickly becomes obvious that Laroche is a fantastic subject- fascinating, infuriating, eccentric and unpredictable- and that the world of orchid collecting is awash with such characters. Hence Orlean extended her article into this book which loosely follows the trial of Laroche with many detours into the wider world of orchid cultivation, natural history, Florida, Native American culture and, well, almost everything really.

Before I began reading this book I had no interest in orchids. I picked up the book because I had seen Adaptation, the crazy Spike Jonze/ Charlie Kaufmann attempt to film it. The film was about much more than the the book, although I'm beginning to realise it was quite true to the spirit of Orlean's writing. Orlean herself approaches her subject from the perspective of an outsider. She knows little about the orchid world but is fascinated by the passion that these plants inspire in others. She explains her desire to see the elusive and rare ghost orchid:
The reason was not that I love orchids. I don't even especially like orchids. What I wanted was to see this thing that people were drawn to in such a singular and powerful way.

It seems that The Orchid Thief is really about the nature of obsession:
I wanted to want something as much as people wanted these plants, but it isn't part of my constitution. I think people my age are embarrassed by too much enthusiasm and believe that too much passion about anything is naive. I suppose I do have one un-embarrassing passion- I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.

Orlean is so successful at conveying the passion that others feel for orchids that I have found myself going as far as checking out the orchids in my local nursery and actually considering buying one. Apparently this passion is contagious. In the meantime I'll try to hold off from being swept up in the world of orchids and instead be content with being swept up in The Orchid Thief.


Fay Sheco said...

It has been years since Peter Weir's film The Plumber has come to mind. In case you never saw it (it was produced in 1980), here's a capsule summary that I found:

"Made for Australian television, this is the bizarre story of a woman who finds her life turned upside down when a plumber comes to 'fix' her bathroom and proceeds to make him self at home." It sounds like this might be one you could relate to at this point. "Bizarre" is a pretty good description, but I remember liking the originality and oddity of the script.

jess said...

Wow, I like the sound of that film. Sounds a little familiar right now!

LK said...

This is a great book.

(As an aside, the film The Ghost Orchid is very different, but complementary to the book. Worth a look, if you haven't already seen it.)

Amanda said...

I absolutely love the Orchid Thief, one of my favorite books ever! I think John LaRoche can teach us something about life and living... isn't caring passionately what it's all about? What is life if you aren't passionate about anything? This book has a fantastic message about life, underneath the expository look at LaRoche and the orchids.