Monday, July 1, 2013

Book Review: A Book of Bees by Sue Hubbell

In recent months, my family has accused me on a daily basis of being obsessed with bees. So I've been trying not to write too much about them, but I just can't help myself. They're right, so I'm going with it.

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me a book called A Book of Bees by Sue Hubble. I cannot rave enough! Even if she had picked fleas as her subject, I think I still would've been riveted.

Hubbell certainly covers the tasks that a beekeeper performs throughout the course of the year, but this is no dry manual or scientific treatise. It's really more like a journal or memoir in which a solitary woman explores her relationship with her bees, with the land, and with her community.

Her style, as she covers nature's rhythms, is elegant, wry, understated, humorous, intelligent. She mixes in poetry, myth, scientific observations, and casual conversations from a diner -- and it all works so seamlessly.

There are so many passages that I'd love to quote (but won't just in case you decide to read it). However, this is one of my favorites because reading it, I had such a vivid impression of this woman, and I think we would be very good friends if we lived next door.
It is silly to talk to bees -- for one thing, they can't hear -- but I often do anyway. I tell them encouraging things, ask them for help and always thank them for doing good work. It is said that when a beekeeper dies someone must go and tell his bees about his death or they will fly away. Whittier wrote a poem about the practice, which dates back as for as long as humans have kept bees. In the West Country of England, the custom also requires tapping on the hive giving the news with each tap. If this ritual is not observed, someone else in the beekeeper's family may die within a year. It all sounds very superstitious, but I like the courtesy toward bees implied by the custom; I hope someone remembers to tell my bees when I die.
Of course, if you can't take my word for it that this is an awesome read, the New York Times Book Review listed it as a Notable Book of the Year when it was first published.

If you've read it (or plan to read it now), let me know what you think! Did you have a favorite passage?


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