Similar to how before I had a bus knitting project and a home knitting project (in the mad rush to make Christmas gifts), I am now reading two very different books. The Orchid Thief is my all-absorbing read for the train. You may remember that the movie Adaptation is the story of trying to write a screenplay of this wide-ranging nonfiction book. Every time I pick it up, I am completely and utterly enthralled by Susan Orlean’s attention to detail and skill at describing the personalities of the orchid world. John Laroche (played brilliantly by Chris Cooper in Adaptation), his thefts and attempts at breeding ghost orchids, and court case forms a central thread to the book. But I also loved the way she describes topics such as Florida history, real estate schemes, Victorian adventurers and orchid hunters, the subcultures of people obsessed with smuggling and collecting exotic plants and animals. I am not even finished the book yet – the latest chapter deals with the history of the Seminole Indians and a famous warrior named Osceola. Somehow, Orlean manages to tie all these stories, characters and places together under the theme of orchid collecting.

A while back, I picked up a collection of essays she wrote on how people around the United States spend their Saturday nights; it was called (of course) Saturday Night. Again, a fairly simple topic that she absolutely explodes into brilliant pieces on spending Saturday nights in a homeless shelter, serving steak dinners, cruising and clubbing with teenagers in Beverly Hills, preparing for a dinner party in New York society hostess’s apartment, zydeco dancing, a Miami diet center on Super Bowl weekend, and guarding a missile silo in Colorado. And there is even a chapter on watching TV.

The other book, my Home book, is Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Would you believe I have never read it, never been assigned to read it? You’ve probably all read it, so I don’t know what else I can say about it, except that every time she writes about her hopes for after the war and growing up, it just hits me hard knowing that this brilliant writer never got that chance. I think the most interesting parts are her writing about the daily irritations of living so closely with the eight other people in the Secret Annexe, the daily irritations that anyone can remember from being 13 or 14 with adults who label you spoiled, lacking sense or lazy when you’re just trying to live and figure out who you are. And yet after she writes about the hardships of living in an attic with your parents and others for over a year, she also thinks of the people who had already been frog-marched to the concentration camps and thinks about how fortunate she is to be in hiding with friends bringing them food and books and treats, at their own risk.

I am a lucky girl indeed. I probably covet too many handbags and shoes but my life is filled with small luxuries. In no particular order: rice crackers, sashimi, books, DVDs, wine, computer, dinners out at romantic Italian restaurants, Fluevog boots, knitting supplies, and a really kickass set of dishes.

Speaking of books, Freedom to Read week is coming up soon. As writers, we should be especially grateful to live in a place where we can still write about challenging and controversial topics in the face of so much spin and bullshit and lies. You know what I’m talking about. Wink, wink.

See you in the cafes.

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