A Book of Bees, by Sue Hubbell, is an honest, informative account of beekeeping that I found to be an overall pleasant read.

This node is a slightly revised essay that I wrote for a seminar on beekeeping.

Published in 1998, in her book, Hubbell travels through each season of the year and explains the inner workings of the beekeeping business, going through such detail that the book also teaches the biological facts of bees and specific beekeeping problems and responsibilities. However, through the wonderful matrix of detail and facts, I found myself being repulsed and annoyed by Hubbell’s writing. Through her descriptions of her work, Hubbell conveys a tone of superiority of her beekeeping life that I felt took away from the unusual life she wants to share with her readers.

A major point that stuck out to me was that throughout the book, Hubbell takes delight in knowing that what she does is unusual and surprising to most observers. While this is true, and is a key point in Hubbell wanting to share her experience, I found this tone become significant to important ideas. At distinct points in the book, Hubbell takes on a high and mighty tone while describing her work with the bees. She even describes beekeeping as “farming for intellectuals,” implying that she feels beekeeping is superior to other animal farming, or that she and other beekeepers are intellectually superior (53). These descriptions take away from what I feel is Hubbell’s purpose in teaching the readers about beekeeping.

Hubbell takes the reader through the many problems beekeepers deal with describing the effects on her work and on others. Hubbell does think of herself as a great beekeeper, but this has two effects. Specific descriptions on better beekeeping included are not only very interesting but also advance the educational purpose of her books, which I believe is a main concentration in her writing. However, through reading her stories, I felt that Hubbell enjoys seeing her advice and opinions proved right, showing the reader just how correct a beekeeper she is, creating a picture-perfect image of herself even saying that “the best beekeepers Hubbell knows are those who let themselves, not the equipment manufacturers be their teachers,” connecting herself to these ideals (38). Hubbell also goes out of the way to describe that not only is her methods right but that she is willing to help others. An example of this is when she attempts to help a beekeeper using who was using methods of requeening that Hubbell disapproved of: “Against my better judgment, I agreed, and we began opening hives…the farmer was effusive in his thanks, but although I was glad I had been able to lighten his cares, I did not think I had done a good day’s work by the bees…I met him some months later and asked how the requeening had worked out. He shook his head sadly” (118). By stating that there are differences in beekeeping methods and that some are more effective than others is one thing, but going further to push the idea that one is definitely right is another. Although Hubbell never states specifically that it is because the farmer did not follow her advice that his hives failed, this fact is implied. This I thought gave these examples a negative undertone, which took away from the point of the story.

Throughout the book, Hubbell takes the reader into her personal life that revolves around her beekeeping. This is a strength of the book since it allows the reader to truly be brought into her full life and understand what effects beekeeping has had on Hubbell’s life. Hubbell does, however, discusses some of her interactions and uses them to press upon the readers how different she is, which ends up giving her a superior tone. Hubbell appears to be overly pleased with her self when discussing the differences between her opinions of insects and the popular view. For example, she and her friend talk “about how off and special it is to develop an affection for bugs” (132). Hubbell is proud of that she has this connection to bees. It seems that through the book, Hubbell wants to show how special bees are. Yet when she makes comments such as with her friend, it gives her the tone that she wishes to prove to the reader that she herself is special, not just the connection. This is not only somewhat astray from her main ideas but is also annoying.

This idea continues with her overall descriptions of nature and insects – for example, her descriptions of the cicadas. “To hear people talk down at the café, you’d think we were being invaded by hostile aliens from a Grade B science-fiction movie,” she says about the talk of a swarm of cicadas (139). The purpose of talking about cicadas is so that Hubbell can show the reader that bugs that are considered annoying and ugly to some are actually quite interesting and beautiful. However, the way that Hubbell uses this description is irritating. The way she treats the people in the town is rather surprising. She actually demeans their talk to mere childish and ill-informed comments. Hubbell makes a point to show how incorrect the people’s opinions are on the cicadas, which are of course “beautiful, spectacular bugs,” and “should be regarded with interest and appreciation like a comet or a rare bird” not as nuisances (139). While this might be true, this left me feeling that Hubbell considers herself superior and knowledgeable. This is emphasized by the fact that she later comments “the cicada sounded pleased with himself; I know I was mightily pleased with him” (141). She is so happy with herself that she alone understands these bugs and that the other people are simply crude and ignorant. This of course takes away from important points, leaving me, the reader, wondering why Hubbell takes this tone.

Hubbell seems to want to use her writing to show the readers her life with bees. However, throughout the book she seems to want to defend her lifestyle. This is an unclear argument to make since the purpose of her writing seems to be to present the reader with her life. Her descriptions of beekeeping, the skill, manual labor, and thought involved, seem to prove by themselves that beekeeping is demanding and distinctive. Her stories of conferences and talks with people demonstrate that her job is often misunderstood. However, even with these descriptions, Hubbell seems to take one step further and press upon the reader that her job as a beekeeper is unique, maybe more so that may be believed at first. She mentions specifically that she her friends “invite her to dinner because they suspect she is not eating properly” (110). With this one comment she shows the reader that her friends are very concerned about her and that Hubbell’s life is especially demanding. This point is emphasized in the fact that it seems she enjoys being called the “Bee Lady” (24). Hubbell wants to show the readers her identity and prove to them that she is in fact the hard working bee lady. However I see no purpose in these ideas since her story alone seems to prove these points. I am left seeing these points as defensiveness of her lifestyle and an attempt to prove herself to the readers, which does not seem appropriate in her writing. The overall tone of superiority and defensiveness of her life left me very much annoyed at Hubbell. Hubbell wrote the book to show this collage of her life experiences with bees. Hubbell, however, takes away from these descriptions by allowing herself to go further in enforcing her ideas of the extraordinary components of beekeeping.

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