by Nicola Mason
Suddenly, I am a beekeeper. This is entirely due to the poet Liz Tilton, who some time back completed a brilliant stint as CR’s associate editor. She was an amazing officemate back then (We laughed; we cried; we swapped beet recipes), and she continues to amaze me, only at a slightly greater remove (she’s still on campus, just not in my building). As a beekeeper going on three years now, she is an arthropod enthusiast of the highest order, and she cleverly drew me into her tiny-winged world with the promise of adventure: “I’m going to capture wild swarms,” said Liz. “Do you want to capture wild swarms with me?” My response was something along the lines of, “Um, YEAH.” Five swarm adventures and four stings later, I have two bustling hives in my backyard (one of which Liz helped me build: Nicola, meet table saw; table saw, Nicola), and friends far and wide are recommending bee books, which I thought would be fun to share. Here goes:
Matt McBride: Sylvia Plath has a series of five poems in Ariel about beekeeping, a hobby she took up shortly after the birth of her son Nicholas. In the sequence, Plath both disavows and takes ownership of her domestic role as a mother while also dealing with the dissolution of her marriage. My favorite of these is “Stings,” which has some not so subtle digs (Plath’s sense of humor is always overlooked) at her soon-to-be-ex-husband Ted Hughes.
Jamie Poissant: Check out Natural Order, Jonathan Penner’s novel. It’s the best novel about beekeeping I’ve ever read.
Jennifer Wright-Thomas: Another good bee book that is more about mystery is The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King. The first book in a whole series, it’s Sherlock Holmes but with a feminist twist. I love them! She also writes about a lesbian detective in San Francisco named Kate Martinelli—also wonderful!
Trent Stewart mailed me a copy of Sue Hubbell’s A Country Year, a book of nonfiction. The author lived on a ninety-nine-acre farm at the end of a dirt road in Southern Missouri for twenty-five years—many of them alone after her marriage ended. She learned beekeeping and eventually became the largest honey producer in the region.