Fans of Sue Hubbell and Diane Ackerman will take to this like—well, bees to honey.
Six years ago, first-time author Bishop bought a house in Connecticut, just a few hours north of her New York City apartment. While visiting a beekeeping neighbor, she tasted some recently harvested honey and felt as though she’d “really experienced honey for the first time.” And there began an obsession. Bishop not only began to read everything she could find about honey, but she began to keep bees herself. She needed a mentor and was happily adopted by Donald Smiley, a beekeeper in Wewahitchka, Florida. Robbing the Bees is the story of her apiary love, part memoir, chronicling Bishop’s beekeeping learning-curve, and part reportage—Smiley, with his fraying baseball cap and his cup of coffee, “brewed to opacity,” jumps to life early on and makes a very good guide to the world of the beehive. And it’s part history lesson. Bees have been the subject of human fascination since Homer (his heroes make honey-wine libations), but modern beekeeping—as a science—didn’t come into its own until the 17th century. And, finally, it’s a treasure trove of bee lore. England’s first Royal Bee Master? A fellow named Moses Rusden, so designated by Charles II, in the 1670s. Bishop reports, among other curiosities, myriad uses for bee wax; it not only makes silky lipstick, but it’s a useful agent for removing stains from marble. Who knew? If you want to read up on the invention of Crayolas or the medicinal and aphrodisiacal uses of pollen, this is the book for you. The assorted illustrations—a 16th-century woodcut of two beehouses, a 19th-century magazine drawing of the proper way to handle bees—are, as it were, icing on a very sweet, very scrumptious cake. Not to mention the appendix of recipes: the Robbing the Bees martini is simple, and to die for.
As golden as its subject.