Summer is officially in full swing, and if you’re anywhere near a flower garden, there are probably bees busily buzzing around it right now.
As you probably know, bees, through pollination, are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we consume, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts.
But bees are in trouble. Over the last five years, we’ve lost over one-third of the honey bee colonies in the US to a combination of factors like viruses, mites, chemical exposure and poor nutrition (a phenomenon known collectively as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD).
Bees have a fascinating and complex societal structure – plus they can dance, count to four and make a delicious food.
Learn more about bees and beekeepers, both real and fictional with these 16 books:
The Bees by Laline Paull (FIC PAULL) – Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive. A feat of bravery grants her access to the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are overshadowed by a greater power – a fierce maternal love that brings her into conflict with her conscience, her heart and her society, and leads her to perform unthinkable deeds.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (FIC KIDD) (not at Montclair) – Fleeing racism in 1964 South Carolina, 14-year-old Lily Owens and her beloved nanny are “taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters [and] introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey.” (Goodreads)
Generation A by Douglas Coupland (FIC COUPLAND) (not at Montclair) – “In the near future bees are extinct — until one autumn when five people are stung in different places around the world. This shared experience unites them in a way they never could have imagined.” (GoodReads)
The Language of Bees: A Mary Russell Novel by Laurie R. King (MYS KING) (not at Montclair) – Returning home after seven months abroad, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are met with a problem concerning one of Holmes’s beehives and the reappearance of his estranged son, Damien, who needs their help in finding his missing wife and daughter. (King also wrote about a beekeeping Holmes in her earlier book, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.)
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh (FIC HESKETH) (not at Montclair) – A never-married octogenarian, still residing in the house in which he was born, Albert makes a modest living as a beekeeper, just has his father and his father’s father had done before him. Deeply acquainted with the ways and workings of the hives, he knows that bees dislike wool clothing and foul language; that the sweetest honey is made from the blooms of the eucalyptus; and that bees are at their gentlest in a swarm. But Albert is less versed in the ways of people.
The Beekeeper’s Ball by Susan Wiggs (FIC WIGGS) (not at Montclair) – Isabel Johansen is a celebrated chef transforming her childhood home in Sonoma into a destination cooking school when she decides that the only thing she’s lacking is organic honey. The beekeeper, when he arrives, is a bit of a surprise.
The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch (not in OPL) – Every spring Sugar Wallace coaxes her sleepy honeybee queen out of the hive and lets her crawl around a treasured old map. Wherever the queen stops is their next destination, and this year it’s New York City.
The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus (638.13097 NORDHAUS) (not at Montclair) – Recounts the experiences of John Miller, one of the foremost migratory beekeepers, who, despite mysterious epidemics that threaten American honey populations–and the nation’s agribusiness–forges on and moves ahead in a new natural world.
Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, the Sweet Liquid Gold That Seduced the World by Holley Bishop (638.16 BISHOP) (not at Montclair) – A comprehensive exploration of the life of bees and the process by which they make honey follows the daily life of a Florida panhandle beekeeper, traces each step of a bee’s honey-making process and offers insight into the product’s key role in business, food and culture.
Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind by Stephen Buchmann with Banning Repplier (638.1 BUCHMANN) (not at Montclair) – A glimpse inside the world of the honeybee records the traditional practices of beekeeping around the world, the contribution of bees to the pollination of plants and the culinary and medicinal uses of honey.
Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis by Rowan Jacobsen (638.15 JACOBSEN) – Traces the significant 2007 and 2008 reductions in honeybee populations, identifying the causes of Colony Collapse Disorder to explain the link between bee pollination and industrial agriculture and predict dangerous reductions in food output.
A Book of Bees…and How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell (638.1 HUBBELL) (not at Montclair) – Chronicles a year in the lives of beekeeper and bees, describing and explaining the activities of both and the rewards of having bees of one’s own.
Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D. Seeley (595.79915 SEELEY) (not at Montclair) – Honeybees make decisions collectively—and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or-death problem of choosing and traveling to a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective fact-finding, vigorous debate and consensus building. These incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to collective wisdom and effective decision making.
Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation by Tammy Horn (638.10973 HORN) (not at Montclair) – Explores the connection between the honeybee and the cultural, national and economic development of the United States. “During every major period in the country’s history, bees and beekeepers have represented order and stability in a country without a national religion, political party or language.” (GoodReads)
Sweetness & Light: The Mysterious History of the Honeybee by Hattie Ellis (595.799 ELLIS) (not at Montclair) – Integrating popular science and social history, an intriguing global history of honeybees examines the hive society of the bee, as well as the influence of bees and honey on diverse cultures around the world and throughout history. The story of bees and honey from the Stone Age to the contemporary cutting edge; from Napalese honey hunters to urban hives on the rooftops of New York City.
The Queen Must Die and Other Affairs of Bees and Men by William Longgood (638.1 Longgood) (not at Montclair) – “Longgood’s quiet little thirty-year-old book…is a kind of meditation on beeness: an exploration of the motivations, desires and attitudes of the simple honeybee as she goes about her business.” – Stephen on GoodReads
If you’re inspired by all these bee books, here are 3 Ways You Can Help Bees:
1. Plant a bee-friendly garden to provide a source of food for bees. Find lists of flowers bees like here and here.
Make sure you buy seeds and plants that haven’t been treated with neonicotinoids, a nerve-agent class of pesticides linked to CCD – scientists found high levels of these bee-killing pesticides on plants at many big-box garden centers, although Home Depot announced last December that it has removed neonicotinoids from 80% of its flowering plants, and will phase them out completely by 2018.
2. Help pass laws to protect bees. Contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (and your congressperson) to urge them to pass H.R. 1284 – the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2015” – which would suspend the use of neonicotinoids.
3. Learn more about bees. Join the Great Sunflower Project to report your pollinator observations; visit the Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis to learn about bees and the plants that support them; and check out the exhibit Bees: Tiny Insect, Big Impact at the Oakland Museum of California – through June 2017. (And don’t forget you can use the library’s Discover & Go program to get in free!)