Reviews of Recent Reads (Scroll Down for Review):
1. Plan Bee by Susan Brackney
2. Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede
3. Anthill: A Novel by E.O. Wilson
Keeping the Bees by Laurence Packer
Frogs Flies and Dandelions: The making of species by Menno Schilthuizen
The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann, Gary Paul Nabhan and Paul Mirocha
Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind by Stephen Buchmann and Banning Repplier
Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior by Deborah M. Gordon
Diversity Of Life by Edward Wilson
Wild Thoughts from Wild Places by David Quammen
1. Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet by Susan Brackney
(ISBN-10: 0399535985; ISBN-13: 978-0399535987)
$14 at Amazon
A guided tour inside the world of bees: Overtaxed and under-recognized, and now disappearing in alarming numbers, bees are the unsung heroes of the food chain, essential for the pollination of more than ninety of the crops we eat. The hardworking, humble, and matriarchal bee finally gets her due in this engaging and expertly written guide that will appeal to anyone who’s ever been curious about the mysterious and always-buzzing world of bees.
This book is written by a woman who set out to keep chickens in her backyard and ended up getting a deal on a beekeeping set up instead. She falls in love with the role of beekeeper and shares her enthusiasm and discoveries with her readers as she bumbles her way through the trial-and-error experience of keeping bees alive through the winter, harvesting some sweet rewards, and noting how paying close attention to these insects can clue you into the subtle frequencies of your natural surroundings. It’s a light read in terms of scientific content but is full of enjoyable, humorous biophilia.
2. Honey and Dust: Travels in Search of Sweetness by Piers Moore Ede
(ISBN-10: 0747579679; ISBN-13: 978-0747579670)
$1 at Amazon
Born in 1975, Piers Moore Ede was educated at Winchester College, Exeter University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. While living in San Francisco he was involved in a hit and run accident, during the recovery from which he conceived of his first travel book, a global adventure in search of wild honey. Honey and Dust documents his search for wholeness, while looking for the last of the tribes that still hunt wild honey in jungles and cliffs. He visits Bedouin tribesman in the Syrian desert, Gurung mountain people in Nepal, the Veddhas or Wild Men in Sri Lanka, and even a rooftop beekeeper on the skyscrapers of Manhattan.
The Guardian called Piers Moore Ede ‘a talented young writer… acutely aware of light, landscape and mood.’ The Daily Mail called it ‘thoughtful and uplifiting.’ The Telegraph[disambiguation needed] wrote: ‘While Moore Ede’s enthusiasm about honey is engaging, it is his quest for a personal, spiritual regeneration that makes this such a compelling book.’
Honey and Dust won the non fiction category of the DH Lawrence prize, and was nominated for the Jeremy Round first book award with the British Guild of Food Writers.
I’ve wavered on my opinion of this book while it hovered around my bedside table for about two years. It certainly weaves a fantastic tale of honey-inspired adventure and opened up many windows into global ‘beekeeping’ culture for me. As part of a personal journey towards emotional and physical recovery after he was the cycling victim of a devastating hit-and-run accident, Ede travels the world “in search of sweetness” by charting a course motivated by a desire to experience exotic honey scavenging cultures around the world. He takes part in honey hunts in the Middle East, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India, all places I could easily picture myself trekking in search of a glimpse at unusual beekeeping customs. However, his journey often seems irritatingly unfocused and arbitrary and I’m not sure whether he knows if he is writing a memoir, travel guide, or science piece. These are all genres I enjoy reading, but the disordered combination of the three, interspersing sentimental metaphors (cheesy), with hurried descriptions of destinations and travel modes, and inexpertly described scientific principles, kept me chipping away slowly at this book for far too long and often wondering where his editor was. Furthermore, the heart and soul of the book was presented as a process of self discovery and renewal, but no conclusion was ever discussed and a lingering romantic relationship was left to linger. Perhaps I am overly American in my desire for resolution, but the reflective tone of the book’s prologue does offer promises left unfulfilled in my mind. I wonder if there will be a sequel. I wonder if I would read it. I am unfairly harsh. In a slightly hypocritical conclusion, I absolutely do admire his gusto, sense of purpose and adventure, and sincere effort in offering up his experiences to the world and applaud him for this effort. If you are curious about little-known honey hunting practices in distant corners of the world (as you should be!), pick up a copy of Ede’s book for $1 on Amazon.
3. Anthill: A Novel by Edward O. Wilson
(ISBN-10: 039333970X; ISBN-13: 978-0393339703)
$4 at Amazon (a steal!)
Publisher’s description: Starred Review. A Pulitzer Prize–winning nonfiction author and Harvard entomology professor, Wilson (The Ants) channels Huck Finn in his creative coming-of-age debut novel. Split into three parallel worlds—ants, humans, and the biosphere—the story follows young Raff Cody, who escapes the humid summers in Clayville, Ala., by exploring the remote Nokobee wilderness with his cousin, Junior. In one adventure, sneaking onto the property of a reputed multiple murderer to peek at his rumored 1,000-pound pet alligator, 15-year-old Raff faces down the barrel of a rifle. Raff’s aversion to game hunting, ant fascination, Boy Scout achievements, and Harvard education all support his core need to remain a naturalist explorer. A remarkable center section meticulously details the life and death of an ant colony. Nearing 30, Raff’s desire to preserve the Nokobee reserve from greedy real estate developers galvanizes an effort to protect the sacred land and a surprise violent ending brings everything full circle. Lush with organic details, Wilson’s keen eye for the natural world and his acumen for environmental science is on brilliant display in this multifaceted story about human life and its connection to nature. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Roughcut edition.
I should probably preface this review by admitting that, along with much of the rest of the bio-savvy world, I adore E.O. Wilson. I am enamored of his career and biological insights and have long shared his love of the complex world of ants. I struggle to be objective about any work he deigns to produce for us all, but I am not so enamored to hesitate to say that I do not actually consider him to be a great novelist, at least not yet. He has written so many works of popular science and biological theory, all of which are amazing (though at times a bit dry and dense). But unfortunately, and to my own never-ending chagrin, schooling oneself in the (non-) art of scientific (manuscript) writing can transform you into a hapless a robot, unable to veer from your programmed path. I am constantly yearning to add a little flavor to my technical writing, and finding a kernel of personality in scientific journal articles always greatly improves my reader experience, but there seems to be an attitude that having a sense of humor about your subject is a sign that you are a sloppy scientist. So I must solider on in my robotic ways (except in this blog, which is my outlet). E. O. Wilson has been writing scientific manuscripts for over half a century, so I think it understandable that he is still struggling to break free of the rusty, constraining bolts of his technical writing habits. His characterization is weak, with pseudo-autobiographical sketches that seem conflicted about how much they should reflect Wilson’s own experience as a southern boy, obsessed with nature (specifically ants), who ultimately pursues these interests at Harvard Graduate school, in creating his main character: a southern boy, obsessed with nature (specifically ants), who pursues these interests at Harvard…Law school. I always feel an uneasy resistance to novels that obviously draw heavily from the author’s own very specific experiences, but are not supposed to be an actual autobiography–it’s an odd, difficult line to walk and I don’t like the opaqueness about what is fact and what is fiction, like they are refusing to commit to either, or even differentiate. The pace and flow of the story is jarring and has the skeletal feel of a scientific journal article, broken into segments with all the excitement and meaning packed into the final “conclusions” section. The first three hundred pages are written in a wistful, naturalist tone, packed with detailed descriptions of ant life minutiae. Raff, the main character, drives the story from the backseat without emotionally engaging the reader in his journey. Then, suddenly, in the final sixty pages, chaos erupts in Raff’s ant-watching life and the novel morphs into a dime-store tale of shallow criminals and random chase scenes. It smacks of a writing deadline to me–finish this novel, now, in whatever way brings about needed action and conclusion. These debut-novel glitches aside, however, I think this novel has broad appeal and was overall a delight to read. You will learn about ants. You will learn about southern culture. You will learn about E.O. Wilson’s young life (sort of). You will learn about environmental politics. It is an accessible, informative read. As I alluded to earlier, I personally love when a book blends science with plenty of flavor so that I can learn technical facts while enjoying an engaging story. With the rusty technical bolts loosened up and his storytelling techniques honed a bit, I think we can expect greatness from Wilson’s next novel attempt. There is nothing this man can’t do.