Monday, June 13, 2011

Bees are Better

I'm about a hundred pages in to The Time Traveler's Wife and I gotta say, it's pretty terrible. This is why I never read the BIG book of the season, the one all the ladies-who-lunch propel to greatness. Those books are usually pretty terrible. Sure, there are some exceptions, like Olive Kittredge, or Little Bee. Though, truth be told, Little Bee was simply a compelling story, not an exceptionally well written book.

Anyway, I think I'm done with The Time Traveler's Wife. I mean, I wasn't enjoying it and then I found a few typos and some sentences that made no sense and that just pushed me over the edge. Things like this: "Dad was resplendent in dark blue pants and a white short sleeved shirt, providing a quiet background for Mom's flamboyance." Resplendent? Really? And in the same sentence you say his resplendence is a quiet background. Nope. Not buying this.

And what about this strangely punctuated paragraph? "This room is full of birds. Birds in simulated flight, birds perched eternally on branches, bird heads, bird skins. I open one of the hundreds of drawers; it contains a dozen glass tubes, each holding a tiny gold and black bird with its name wrapped around a foot."

Why the short declarative sentences then the random list of descriptive phrases disguised as a sentence and then the two clauses joined by a semicolon? I'd like to be so engrossed in the story that I don't get distracted by the strange punctuation. The punctuation and structure should serve the story. Like a well laid out buffet or silently passed hors devours, I should notice the arrangement but only in as much as it contributes to my overall appreciation. I don't want to spend all my time analyzing the presentation of the food when I could actually be enjoying my food. You feel me?

And, writing style aside, the story creeps me out. Particularly the sexual tension between the old man and the young girl. And the fact that he knows so much that she can't know and the inherent power disparity in such a relationship and yet they are supposed to be in love. Yuck.

Maybe it gets better, but I don't really care. If there weren't so many other amazing books in the world I may have stuck with it, but since I received two new titles from Harper Perennial in my mailbox I tossed TTTW to the curb and instead read The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus, which is a damn good book. It provides tons of information and manages to have interesting characters and a compelling narrative arc. I never knew I cared about bees, but now I do. I care and I know that I care. And I now want to go on a honey tasting tour of America. (And while I'm on that honey tour I'm going to read the other book that arrived in my mailbox, Men, Women & Children by Chad Kultgen!)

Hannah Nordhaus is not necessarily an objective reporter of facts; she becomes a character in the story and presents her material with a strong, clear and concerned voice. She is obviously fond of John Miller, the beekeeper at the center of this narrative, but does not seem blind to his flaws. I never felt like I was being preached too, though it is clear that Nordhaus, like anyone who actually pays attention to where our food is coming from, is troubled by the state of American agriculture.

For obvious reasons, this is my favorite passage in the book.

"But the attention to beekeepers has also wrought some long overdue recognition- of the hard work required to keep bees alive these days; of the superhuman sacrifices required to make their living; of the quixotic delight beekeepers take in pursuing a difficult professional path. Perhaps that's why I was drawn to Miller. Though I had long been exceedingly fond of honey, I had no particular affection for bees. Beekeepers, though, are a different story. They are heroic characters, tragic characters, anomalous characters. They do the hard thing. I could appreciate that. I had alit on a profession that's even less commonsensical, even more economically obtuse, even lonelier than being a writer. Beekeepers deserve a little recognition for that."


  1. I love the last line. You care that you care. Makes me want to care about bees.

  2. Thanks, Kimber. Bees are worth caring about, especially if you like almonds, melon, apples, or flowers! I was always wary of bees because my sister is allergic and we had some scary moments as kids. But, now, as an adult, I can see the bigger picture. Makes me wanna figure out how to plant some flowers on my fire escape!