Our Favorite Books by Susan Orlean

Who is Susan Orlean? In her own words:

“I’m an author, a staff writer for The New Yorker, a dog owner, a gardener, a parent, a frequent lecturer/speaker, an occasional teacher, a very occasional guest editor, a once-in-a-blue-moon movie inspiration, and doodler.”

Author, journalist, dog owner, and so much more, Susan Orlean has delighted readers for decades with her stunning narrative journalism and dramatic, nuanced retellings of true stories. As one of our book club leaders, Orlean handpicks and shares her favorite books, featuring exquisite narratives and captivating themes, from her personal library.

Voracious readers will know that Orlean’s own books frequently grace lists for the best books of all time and best non-fiction books. That’s why our Literati curation experts have selected four of our favorite books by Orlean to help our readers fall in love with her unique and boundary-pushing storytelling.

Her First Book: Saturday Night

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Saturday-Night-Susan-Orlean/dp/1451660987 

What are you doing this Saturday night?

How about peeking in on an entire nation’s weekend revelries?

In her debut book, Saturday Night, Susan Orlean presents a portrait of Saturday night across America. 

To create this eclectic story, Orlean traveled across the country to spend Saturday nights with a wide range of quirky characters—hipsters in Los Angeles, car cruisers in small-town Indiana, college students in Boston, homeless people in New York, a lounge band in Portland, and quinceañera guests in Phoenix.

What Orlean creates is a fascinating piece of narrative journalism that seeks to understand how Americans spend their precious leisure time each Saturday night.

We love this book because…

  • As a cultural snapshot of a diverse range of people, it’s one of the best non-fiction books of all time and sets the bar high for future journalists.
  • It makes you think about how you spend your own Saturday nights and what that says about your place in the world. 

Her Most Famous Book: The Orchid Thief

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Orchid-Thief-Obsession-Ballantine-Readers/dp/044900371X 

Susan Orlean’s most well-known book, The Orchid Thief, is also one of this century’s best biographies. Orlean introduces readers to John Laroche, an eccentric, attractive man obsessed with cloning the rare and endangered ghost orchid at whatever cost necessary.

Orlean follows Laroche into America’s hidden flower-selling subculture through Florida’s swamps and beyond. This best-seller was later adapted to the big screen as a movie starring Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton, and Meryl Streep. 

We love this book because…

  • Laroche is a quirky but undeniably-charming underdog.
  • Orlean brings her readers into this strange subculture and, along the way, reveals the power of passion and determination.
  • You’ll never look at a bouquet the same way again

Her Book for Animal Lovers: Rin Tin Tin

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Rin-Tin-Life-Legend/dp/1439190135 

Rin Tin Tin—a dog so beloved he lived on in hearts (and on the silver screen) for decades. Who is this amazing furry friend?

In Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Orlean celebrates the most famous dog in the world and his journey from World War I orphan to Hollywood blockbuster star.

This incredible true story spans the 20th century as Orlean follows Rin Tin Tin and his descendants, who carried on his name and cemented his legendary status. Orlean explores the enduring bond between animals and humans that brought the original Rin Tin Tin from the battlefield to the movie set.

We love this book because… 

  • Thanks to almost 10 years of research, this book blends Rin Tin Tin’s story with a fascinating history of 20th-century entertainment. 
  • Orlean combines humor and heart, creating an irresistible fusion that will leave you on the edge of tears.
  • Rin Tin Tin’s story feels like a fuzzy, almost documentary-style spin on Captain America’s origin. What could be better than that? 

Her Latest Book: The Library Book

Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Library-Book-Susan-Orlean/dp/1476740186 

Unexplained fire. A library in danger. A librarian with a nose for the truth. 

Don’t you want to check it out? (We couldn’t resist!)

In her latest offering, The Library Book, Orlean examines the true story of the disastrous and unsolved fire at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986. Building on this story, Orlean introduces a remarkable cast of characters who occupied the LAPL throughout history, from 18-year-old Mary Foy, who became the head of the library in 1880, to the library’s current staff.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the fire, Orlean explores the origin of libraries and the essential value they offer society. Focused on the mystery at the heart of the fire, she reinvestigates potential suspects and even attempts to burn a book herself as she studies arson.

We love this book because…

  • Orlean demonstrates the fundamental value of libraries and the physical book, even in this digital renaissance.
  • Book lovers will gain a deeper understanding of the role libraries have played across history and across the world.
  • It will make you want to send a personalized thank you note to every librarian you’ve ever talked to.

Access Susan Orlean’s Personal Library

If you love Susan Orlean’s masterful storytelling and exhaustive journalism, can you imagine what it would be like to peruse her own bookshelves? You can (figuratively) with Literati’s book club subscription, where Luminaries like Susan Orlean recommend and discuss with you the books they love. 

By joining Susan Orlean’s Literati book club, you’ll receive a monthly book box with a new book chosen by Orlean herself, as well as exclusive access to in-app discussions, book guides, and author interviews. Enter the new, amazing age of book clubs with Literati

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