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The Orchid Thief Response

Crane 1
Lauren Crane
Dr. Lewis
ENG 453
6 February 2019
The Orchid Thief Response
Much like the growth of an orchid, this book was beautiful but painfully slow and
anticlimactic. The lack of plot left me meandering through the little narratives of orchid
collectors and forced a focus on the people Orlean interviews throughout her time in Florida. I
could not help but wonder how this book became a New York Times bestseller. The popularity of
this book speaks to our culture’s interest in what I will call “characters in society.” On page 109,
Orlean writes,
“The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas
and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason
it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a
more manageable size.”
This is the crux of the book to me – that Orlean’s trip to Florida and her investigation of the
characters in the orchid community give her the opportunity to care passionately about
something and her journey seems to be therapeutic for her. She does not seem to be complete
until the last few pages where she comes to the realization that she feels sorry for all of the
fruitlessness experienced throughout the book.
This journey with Laroche and the other orchid community members she meets along the
way reminds me of a podcast called S-Town hosted by Brian Reed. In 2012, John B. McLemore
sent an email to the producers of the podcast This American Life asking them to come to
Woodstock, Alabama to investigate a murder that was covered up by the upper class in the town.
A few episodes in, it is discovered that no murder took place, but the podcast keeps going
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because it is more focused on the character that is John McLemore. He was a homosexual
antiquarian horologist living in rural Alabama and shared a lot of his wild ideas with Brian Reed.
When the podcast was still in production, McLemore took his life by drinking cyanide in 2015.
And then the podcast still continues after his death!
I am reminded by this podcast because, like The Orchid Thief, there is no driving plot line
but is more propelled by the real-life characters and their identity in their unique community.
While the book feels fruitless, the reader has experienced this therapeutic and meditative journey
with Orlean and has captivated people with the human stories that the orchid has historically and
presently provided. The popularity of this book can be attributed to our interest in peoples’
stories, the same reason why people listen to podcasts like S-Town or follow the photoblog and
Instagram “Humans of New York.” As a society, we are interested in meeting people with niche
interests and unusual stories, and Susan Orlean gives the world a way to meet this unique
community of people without having to trek to into the unforgiving swamps and find them
490 words
"On my honor I have neither given nor received unauthorized information regarding this work, I
have followed and will continue to observe all regulations regarding it, and I am unaware of any
violation of the Honor Code by others." - ____________________________
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