The Bees

by Laline Paull
First sentence: “The old orchard stood besieged.”
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Content: There is exactly one swear word used. There is some graphic violence, but nature is graphic, I guess. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Flora 717 isn’t your normal, average sanitation worker bee. She can speak, for one, and she’s incredibly curious. So, she breaks the norms of the hive and instead of working in sanitation, drearily cleaning up after more important bees, she goes to take on the jobs of several other of the kin clans, working in the nursery, serving the male drones, foraging for pollen and nectar, and even serving the Queen herself.

This book was simultaneously really really weird — anthropomorphizing bees is not something I’d ever think needed to be done — and also really really compelling. I was fascinated by the way that Paull depicted the hive (do bees really act like that? — not the speaking and everything, but the actions — How much, exactly, is rooted in science and observation?) and the interactions between Flora and the different classes of bees. For not a lot happening — it basically follows Flora through the year of her life (how long do bees live, anyway?) — it was incredibly captivating to read about.

Weird as all get out, though.

When I was telling the family about it, they mentioned that it sounds a lot like Watership Down and I think that’s a super apt comparison. Which is also a pretty good marker for whether or not you’d like a book about an odd little bee in a beehive.

Running with Sherman

by Christopher McDougall
First sentence: “I knew something was wrong the second the pickup truck pulled into our driveway.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 15, 2019
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It will be in the sports section of the bookstore.

When our Random House rep came and pitched this book, he said (something to the effect of) he didn’t think that a book about burro racing would be a good read, but that this was fantastic. Since we all love him, we took him at his word, and I picked it up. And you know what? He’s right. This IS a fantastic read.

Chris McDougall and his wife ended up in Amish country by choice. They liked the idea of a simpler life, and so chose to get out of Philadelphia and live next door to people who shun most of modern technology. And so, when one of his neighbors (a Mennonite, not an Amish) begged Chris to take a neglected donkey off of a hoarder, Chris didn’t blink an eye. They christened the donkey Sherman, and had to figure out what to do with him. Another one of his friends mentioned that donkeys need a job, and Chris got a harebrained idea: he had heard of (and attempted to run, once) burro racing in Colorado and maybe, just maybe, that would be a goal for Sherman.

So, Chris and his wife Mika and some friends set about attempting to train Sherman for the World Championship Burro race. And the trip is SO worth the ride. Chris takes us through the ups and downs of healing a donkey — and a few people, as well — and prepping and how everything got figured out. And along the way, I was reminded that 1) connection with animals is important for humans (it’s a good thing we have a dog!); 2) connection with community — friends and wider than that, if possible — is important; 3) exercise and being out in nature is important; and 4) fear the thing, do the thing.

And the ending? The chapter in which Sherman got to run the burro race? I legit cried. It’s such a heartwarming and special and wonderful book!