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The Bees

BeesI love my kindle. It’s much better not having to carry around several books and I run out of something to read much less frequently. I still read and buy physical books but I don’t think reading on the kindle is a less rich experience. The one downside of the kindle, though, is I can’t see what other people are reading. Maybe a display panel could be added to the back, because I quite often read books that I’ve seen people reading on the train.

The Bees, by Laline Paull, is one of those books. It’s about a swarm of bees and describes a cycle of their lives. It’s told from the point of view of Flora 717, a worker bee who is able to transcend the bees’ caste system and take on several roles from nursery nurse to forager.

Paull’s world is based on some facts about bees but is essentially magical realist in tone. The bees are anthropomorphised and the hive is turned into a golden palace. It does require some suspension of disbelief but if you’re prepared to give yourself over to this world it is truly lovely.

In order to relate the events of the book, Flora has to be able to move out of the caste she’s born into and this is unusual. Most bees have their role and stick to it. Except foragers. Any bee can become a forager. But Flora is special and only she can save the hive. Flora isn’t so much a character as a device, but for this type of novel, it works. It’s not perfect, and the lack of any real danger to Flora lets the book down in a couple of places. Point of view slips towards the end and an authorial voice intrudes.

I didn’t like the prologue and epilogue which offer a human view of the hive. The book would have been better without them, and the epilogue in particular was overly sentimental.

I enjoyed the world-building. I was completely sucked into the book and found it beautiful, lovely, and captivating. Paull evokes both devotion and menace very well.

There are some weaknesses to the book but, overall, I enjoyed it. It’s unusual, and what’s good is really good. And there’s a happy ending, which was the perfect choice.

Kindles and page fondling

I got a Kindle for Christmas. Yay me. Not exactly newsworthy on its own, but I noticed something interesting the other day. When I’m reading a book I get a tactile experience that reminded me of the habit forming behaviours that go along with smoking. With the Kindle, my hands are fidgety.

I’m not a luddite in any sense. I love technology and usually can’t wait to get my hands on new kit. I’ve only delayed getting a Kindle this long because of the sheer number of unread books in my house. I thought that having a Kindle would mean I wouldn’t read any of them and I promised myself I could have it when I’d read all the unread books. What actually happened was that I kept buying books so the unread books pile is not that much smaller. I decided I would ask for a Kindle for Christmas, continue to read the unread books and only buy new ones for the Kindle.

Over the last few days I’ve had a bit of a cold so I grabbed a couple of books and headed for a snuggly blanket-laden sofa. I finished Others in hard copy then picked up my Kindle on which I am reading the first book club book of 2012 (it’s awful, but more on that at the end of the month) and read that for a bit. Then I started on Finders Keepers in hard copy.

I had noticed with the Kindle that if I’m not careful I press the forward page buttons on the side and lose my place, so I have some difficulty finding a comfortable holding position. It doesn’t yet feel quite right in my hands. When I picked up an actual book to read I found myself fondling the pages. There’s something about the feel of the paper books are printed on – this particular book was using a soft but thick paper that was especially pleasing to the touch.

Part of the difficulty in overcoming addictions like smoking is the way our bodies get used to certain actions and sensations. So, it is not just the addiction to nicotine, but also the addiction to having something in our hands, to the feeling and motions, to the habit of the actions associated with smoking a cigarette. When you give up smoking, as I did five or six years ago, you have to give your hands something else to do.

It made me wonder if some people who are clinging to the printed book as the ultimate media for delivering fiction dislike e-book readers because they don’t feel right in your hands. They feel different, and therefore, a bit strange. A little disconcerting, even. I wonder if the nay-sayers have an addiction to the physicality of books rather than to the content of books.

Maybe I’ll just get a cover for my Kindle that is pleasing to the touch and that will solve the problem. Maybe that’s why most seem to be in suede.