I read the books I love again and again. I want to re-experience writing that bowled me over and blew my mind. Many of my favourite books are about wild creatures and/or set in nature; the ones listed here influenced Mad Honey by astonishing and inspiring me with astute and compelling writing about the biosphere we share with birds, bees, elephants and trees. I will return to these books repeatedly over time and greet them like old friends.
hard 2 beleev, by bill bissett
In 1991 I was living on East 12th Ave in Vancouver, getting into trouble and frightened about the future, when I saw a poster for a poetry reading at a Broadway café. I had encountered bill bissett’s poems at university. I remembered his poems had made me laugh, and I needed cheering up. I remembered that poetry made me feel, and I was numb. bill bissett’s powerful reading returned me to my senses. His poems were in his body; he released them passionately and they entered my body, his fierce love of language reminding me that I loved language too. I bought the collection and walked home singing stanzas like refrains after a rock concert. Shocked out of a dark slide, I took a job doing forestry surveys in Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, away from nefarious company and (temporarily) from bad habits.
“i gazd up at th biggr / pictur in my hed now / strings uv lite strings / uv enerjee awakening th /
hed n heet spirit to the / trew wonders uv the uni / manee verses ium glad / i dont control anee uv / it”
- in the karibu
Revery, by Jenna Butler
I read a small library of books about bees and beekeeping while researching Mad Honey, none as impactful and resonant as Revery. Jenna Butler describes the healing power of communing with honey bees, how anxiety must be relinquished in their presence, the moment embraced, the heaviness and horror of trauma shed. Writing elegantly and exactly, she takes us with courage and honesty through the change of seasons in her climate-change ravaged gardens and apiary. Revery puts into words something I had written around without confronting directly; generously sharing bee wisdom and personal experience, the author explains how bees can help us weather our most terrible inner storms.
Eating Dirt, by Charlotte Gill
For a one-time tree planter like myself, Charlotte Gill’s harrowingly accurate account of the job is particularly spellbinding. With engaging and painterly prose, Gill has done what many writer-planters dreamed of doing, leaning on shovels in the pouring rain: she has written the definitive account of arguably the hardest and most Sisyphean occupation in resource-raped BC.
Eating Dirt gave me the weird vertigo of recognizing myself—literally—in its pages: Charlotte and I lived in the same co-op house for a year at the University of Toronto. I appear in the book as “Amy” whose romantic reminiscing led the author to her first tree planting contract, a buggy and boggy trailer camp north of Thunder Bay. I’m not proud to confirm that “Amy” fell in with dissolute day-off drunks and lovers, leaving her rookie friend to find her way in the wilderness.
Decades later, I learned that the brilliant woman I had beguiled into planting had become both a beautiful writer and a career silviculturist, wise to the forestry industry’s ironies and tragedies and capable of describing these things with intense precision. I contacted Charlotte; she has been generous with encouragement as I fumble my way back to writing. Eating Dirt is a tour-de-force, a singular, un-put-downable book.
The White Bone, by Barbara Gowdy
If we have any hope of reconciling with nature we must imagine what life is like for Earth’s billions of other species. The White Bone is told from the perspective of Mud, a young elephant in a herd mostly slaughtered by ivory hunters. Gowdy’s climb inside the grey, wrinkled skin of these intelligent, communicative mammals is as convincing as it is disorienting. Humans are the villains in this story. I was devastated by Mud’s unforgettable journey, and awed by the author’s masterful use of language to convey the otherwise unknowable.
The Innocents, by Michael Crummey
No romantic rhapsody to benevolent nature, The Innocents is a survival story, rich in detail and unsparing in brutal realities of living directly off the land. Crummey’s writing is unique and wondrous. I loved learning new words contextually. The story strands us in a remote cove on a bleak Atlantic shore. Seasons turn, each bringing life-or-death challenges. The stark beauty of each scene was seared into my mind’s eye; I squinted to make out seals on pack ice, was bitten raw by insects, dropped fishing line into cold depths to find schools of cod. Stunning descriptions drive a riveting, thrilling plot that grips you with cold fingers and draws you into its pages.
Lands of Lost Borders, by Kate Harris
Acting on her keen desire to explore and embodying the spirit of adventure, Kate Harris looked up to the stars; in her gorgeously-penned memoir Lands of Lost Borders the author tells how she found horizons enough to explore right here on Earth. With her childhood friend Mel, Kate Harris cycled the entire Silk Road, discovering people and wild places along the way. Insightful, funny and observant, Lands of Lost Borders opens paths to both outward and inward journeys. While writing about bees I often reflected on the endless intelligent life forms that surround us, species we have barely begun to understand. Sitting near beehives or touching the bark of a giant maple, witnessing all that beauty and miraculous mystery, I’m reminded of the sense of wonder and discovery in the pages of Lands of Lost Borders.
When Beck Wise vanished his girlfriend Melissa poured herself into caring for the family farm, silently absorbing yet another man disappearing from her life. But when Beck reappears months later, thin, with memories of being part of a bee colony, a series of layered mysteries begin to unravel. Mad Honey immerses the reader in a search for truth bounded by the everyday magic of beekeeping, family and finding peace, while asking how much we really understand the natural world.
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