I’ve always loved bees. To my father’s chagrin, I got my first tattoo when I was 22 years old–a honey bee on the left side of my back. It hurt, but the moment I saw the bee in the mirror, I loved him.
The bee has now been with me for five years and to celebrate the anniversary, I popped by a tattoo studio in London and had him upgraded, adding colour, lengthening wings and overall making him a little more organic. I love the tattoo just as much as I did before, but now it’s brighter and looks more ‘complete’, for want of a better word.
When I was 20 (and 21), I went through a horrible few months of depression and anxiety. It was a rotten time that I hope never to re-live again. Every day was a battle to just get out of bed and get through the day. It was miserable. On my 21st birthday, a friend of mine gave me a little silver chain with a bee hanging from it. Bees, she told me, are hardworking, self sufficient, intelligent and strong. She said the moment she saw it, it reminded her of me.
Not long after, the dark clouds started to clear. The world seemed better. Life moved on. My affection for bees was solidified and I seek them out on the flowers every summer, amazed at their capacity and relentless diligence.
Bees are dying at a prolific rate with colony collapse disorder consistently threatening bee populations, both for managed colonies and wild populations. You might think you don’t like honey, but bees are pollinators and a third of all food consumed in the US is the product of that pollination– from fruit to coffee beans. Pesticides, climate change and disease are affecting bees too. Without them, the global food network will become less varied and more expensive. It is a legitimate environmental crisis.
I’ve taken to reading as many books about bees as I can– fiction, non fiction, poetry, it doesn’t matter. Below is a list of my top five. Not many people realise how incredible bees are- some of these books about bees shed a little light on them.
The Bees by Laline Paull
When I first started reading this, I struggled with the reduction of my world to the world of the hive. When I finished, I was in love. This is the story of a heroine, Flora 717, who alters her pre-described destiny. Rife with religious symbols, divine matriarchy and a tension that reminded me of The Handmaid’s Tale, this one is an absolute must-read.
The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy
On a completely different tack in this list of books about bees, Carol Ann Duffy is the current Poet Laureate in Britain. In 2011, she published The Bees, a collection of poems in which the bee is both a literal conceit and a light metaphor for human experiences. My favourite is The Human Bee, which resonates when you know that bees are intricately linked to human survival.
The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
On the back of Duffy’s prophetic poem, The History of Bees tackles the past, current and potential future of humanity without bees, linking the history of the bee with family bonds. The stories that intertwine in the book can be a little grim and sometimes it seems unlikely that Lunde could really pull it all together to make a satisfactory ending- but she really does.
A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson
Dave Goulson has been pottering through fields and meadows seeking information about insects for decades. Even as a child, he was obsessed- which is perhaps why this book is such a delight. This is pop science at its very best- accessible but smart. While I was reading, I found myself Googling and going down the rabbit hole of bee history.
A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum
So, what does happen when there are no bees left? Can we save them? What happens if we don’t? A World Without Bees attempts to address all of this with cold, hard, facts. The book is predominantly a good piece of journalism- it’s obvious that the authors love bees, but their work is based on strong research ahead of emotion.
What are your favorite books about bees?