I recently read and reviewed The Library Book by Susan Orlean and really enjoyed it. Her writing style is informal and fun and her non-fiction pieces really are engaging. So, I was excited when I realized that one of her earlier books was well regarded, The Orchid Thief. Like The Library Book, The Orchid Thief was a fun read too, and I'm happy to have picked it up.
If not familiar, this book started as a New Yorker essay about a person in Florida who was charged with stealing rare orchids from a state protected swamp. The article was well regarded so the author decided to write a fuller book about his story along with many related and interesting people and side stories that relate to the orchid stealing.
Like The Library Book, Orlean followed a similar format (well, really, she followed a similar format for The Library Book since that came later, but I read them in reverse order). This included a quick synopsis of what occurred right in the beginning, then a slow retelling of how we got to this spot while taking a bunch of interesting and fun detours along the way, while you get introduced to LaRoche - main protagonist - early in the book. She slowly veers away from home as she shares about her musings about Florida, the fauna/flora of the area, the Seminole tribe, the incredible history and variety of orchid plants, and much more. And this is truly the strength of the book - her diverging from the original action to share all these other thing she learned. Oddly but also interestingly, she often inserts herself into the narrative. How she is feeling, what she is thinking, etc.; which feels odd in a non-fiction book but is often entertaining and welcome.
As it comes to the end, she does bring it back around to where the book started and, by now, explained what happened and theorizes about why the original crime actually occurred. Of course, by the end, you really don't care so much about some of the things you did at the start as her navigating and sharing of so many other related and interconnected pieces actually seem more interesting.
Of course, like any book, there are some slow parts; some diversions that go on too long; occasionally, I just didn't have as much interest in a specific subject as she did. In general, you have to like her style to enjoy these types of books. If you do, this is one is another treat, and I'd be surprised if you don't come away with a greater interest and desire to learn more or go see some orchids - I know I certainly did!