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Read IN BED: Oranges

Review & image by Hannah-Rose Yee

“The custom of drinking orange juice with breakfast is not very widespread, taking the world as a whole, and it is thought by many peoples to be a distinctly American habit. But many Danes drink it regularly with breakfast, and so do Hondurans, Filipinos, Jamaicans and the wealthier citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. The day is started with orange juice in the Colombian Andes and, to some extent, in Kuwait. Bolivians don’t touch it at breakfast time, but they drink it steadily for the rest of the day. The ‘play lunch’ or morning tea, that Australian children carry with them to school is usually an orange, peeled spirally halfway down, with the peel replaced around the fruit. The child unwinds the peel and holds the orange as if it were an ice cream cone.”– John McPhee, Oranges

A whole book about oranges, I can hear you groan. Why would I want to read that? Because did you know that Florida produces more oranges than Italy, Spain and Morocco put together? And that there’s an Orange baron in the state worth more than $20 million? Do you know what the lives of orange pickers are like, the men who live and work and subsist on oranges in the fields of Valencia and Andalusia? And why is an orange orange, and does it have any bearing on flavour? (Spoiler: no. But you’ll have to read the book to find out why).

John McPhee is a celebrated New Yorker writer, and the main portion of this slim title – where he travelled to California and Florida in search of a glass of perfect OJ, only to find concentrate wherever he went – was written on assignment for that publication.

It’s a perfect piece of creative nonfiction, an exquisitely constructed narrative work that reads as fiction even though you know that it’s true. There’s interesting, quirky characters, and twists and turns, and beginnings, middles and ends. And above all else, a curiosity that characterises all great works of journalism.

At the end of the day, this is a whole book about oranges. But oh the things you’ll learn when you read it. And yes, it will make you want a big old glass of juice. Drink up.

 


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