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The Bees by Laline Paull

17 Apr

I’m notoriously picky about books so the fact that after reading the delightful and incredibly wonderful novel “The Word Exchange” by Alena Graedon I picked up ANOTHER lovely and engaging book can’t be coincidence. I think this is another year for great debut novels. Especially inventive debut novels.

Before I write this review let me get something off my chest: I’m not afraid of bees and I don’t usually run away from them when they approach but I don’t exactly find them cute or cuddly. After reading this book I’m so excited about bees I had to remind myself it isn’t prudent to start beehives while living in an apartment.

So: “The Bees” by Laline Paull.

What it’s about: A hive. Literally a novel about a particular hive and a particular bee named Flora 717.

What I thought it was about: Not bees. I sort of thought there were be a twist at the end or in the middle that was like JUST KIDDING it’s really about PEOPLE! I’m so glad Laline wrote this book and not me.

“The Bees” is great because it’s an entire beautifully written story about a worker bee (sanitation to be exact) who is sort of different. She can talk and she can think when really every other bee in sanitation doesn’t do that. She’s also curious. And she wants to be near the Queen so badly she does whatever she can to get there. I know it sounds weird that this is an entire book about bees but Paull’s able hand pulls it off. I forgot I was reading about insects and felt like I had been transported into a world where bees were anthropomorphic and looked like bee-people or something. The entire first half of this book I kept thinking of Pilar from “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood–how she loves the bees and talks to the bees and cares for the bees. 

Not only does Paull create an entire bee culture (which I will wager comes from extensive research) she makes it convincing. The language she so beautifully engages the reader with draws the reader in for more so that even when there is a violent battle between wasps and bees you don’t want to miss a single word this woman has written. The description is lovely. Some books I enjoy because the story, characters all come together. Some I love because I become so engaged with the story I can’t stop reading. This was one of those books. I look at flowers differently now, I want to smell the world like a bee (maybe just for a minute). Flora 717 is a strong female character who is full of resolve to do not only what’s right for Flora 717, but what’s right for her beloved hive and her children. 

Fans of dystopian lit and fantasy will eat this up. GO READ THIS! 

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

8 Apr

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this incredibly satisfying book before it was published!

“The Word Exchange” follows the story of Anana as she tries to locate the whereabouts of her recently disappeared father, Doug. Anana works with her father for the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) which is about to release the final print edition. Final? That’s because most print is dead. Everyone relies on their Meme for information. Their Meme, a tablet like device that not only gives users text and information but also orders taxis when users think they need one, diagnose user’s maladies (doctors are almost all out of work now), and other (unsettling) features. Anana, like most everyone else, loves her Meme. Doug, and his colleague Bart (who happens to be in love with Anana–but she doesn’t know it) don’t. In fact, Doug still uses email!! And still has pens and paper! While Anana searches for her father, a global pandemic breaks out: people are forgetting how to speak and depending more and more on the popular “Word Exchange” program that, for a fee, will define words for you.


This book was awesome. “The Word Exchange” belongs alongside “Super Sad True Love Story” by Gary  Shteyngart and “Lexicon” by Max Berry. Equal parts secret society mystery and commentary on the nature of language and the future of society if we continue to depend on our devices to interact with each other and the world around us. This book was thrilling! The character of Anana is the type of female character I enjoy. She’s flawed, does all the things you know she shouldn’t (so many times I just wanted to scream at her for not listening to instructions!!) but because of her decisions takes us on a wild ride. Bart (or Horse) is a character that speaks for those who are in love with the written word, those who are reluctant to accept new things just because they are new. In the end, the characters in Graedon’s book are familiar to all readers and lovers of the written word. Anana and Bart (Bartleby–a great and useful reference in the book) both contract the word flu and through them we experience what it would be like to slowly lose language. Both narrate the book in different chapters (each chapter is a letter of the alphabet and is accompanied by a definition which relates to the chapter) and the breakdown of their language becomes apparent very quickly. It was fun to highlight all of the “nonwords” that they both start using but scary at the same time. The Word Exchange is a program that I could easily see becoming a reality in the far future–so many people seem convinced that words can change meaning when and how they want. Even if a word flu isn’t possible–the ultimate dependance on smart devices and the demise of print (even email!) is a sobering concept and this book will surely light fires in readers everywhere. A smart and entertaining book, I will be purchasing my own physical copy to read and enjoy again.


2 Apr



When I was a child I urged time to move. To become a hummingbird and flit and fly 

as fast as it can. There I am sitting in my Grandmother’s den: if only time could spin 

faster and faster. Then sitting in class–any class, all the classes, every lecture I’ve ever 

been forced to sit through. Then suddenly the capriccio of life, I’m standing at my Mother’s  

funeral urging time to become amber, to preserve me as long as it can, to let me gaze 

out of the caramel lens and to achingly hold every moment in my mind like it was glued 

to every individual cell in my brain. My professor in college told me this would happen 

and like a kid I kept reading Plath, and Dickinson, not thinking that time would ever 

accelerate to the point that I would beg it to slow to the lazy trot of a worm in the garden.



\ kuh-PREE-chee-oh; It. kah-PREET-chaw \  , noun;  

1. a caper; prank.  

2. Music . a composition in a free, irregular style.  

3. a whim; caprice.


31 Mar


Out of the chaos there could have been the calm of a lake in the middle of the night
or the sound of the distant rustle of tall grass in the middle of a field

but my chaos could only emerge as the racket of imaginary birds pecking at the
imaginary ground of memory I will say this: even the birds knew when to sleep

but I chose insomnia persistent unreal and plastic I made it up until it became real
here’s the day when I think only of my Mother and tomorrow is the day I let

the memories of childhood roll over me like sheets of ice pushing me to the day
when it all echoes in my thoughts back then no chaos except the word the only chaos

I know is the chaos of death and I do not go back to that forest unless my brain
catches the light at the right angle reversing itself and letting the words reverberate

like time travelers until the only words I can remember are words from the past and
even then where did the words star? Stardust, maybe, or some ancient cloud in the

distant universe where I have begun to stash all of my bad dreams a planet where
I can send my chaos which doesn’t exist into a ship into the orbit of a distant

world where it will sit and sit until I discover it one morning eating toast (I never
just eat toast) or looking into the margins waiting for my notes to echo into my mind

and pull back the planet into my mind. Here the chaos was calm, for awhile, here
I thought of nothing to do with pain or hurt, I remembered my Mother the way

a daughter does, no more no less. Here I will be sitting, unassuming to what is about
to reverberate in my life. Again. Always again. Though with longer spaces between us.





1 :

to reflect or to become reflected

2 : 

to continue in or as if in a series of echoes : resound  


The sound of footsteps reverberated through the hallway.

“We take some comfort knowing that the guy who ran the backhoe-mounted pavement breaker that created weeks of ear-splitting din was able to feed his family and make his house payment. The money reverberated through the economy and left behind a roadway that will last long after we’re gone.” — From an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 2014 


28 Mar
ca·thar·sis [kuhthahr-sis]  Show IPAnoun, plural ca·thar·ses  [kuhthahr-seez]  Show IPA .1.the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art,as tragedy or music.2.Medicine/Medical purgation3.Psychiatry.a.psychotherapy that encourages or permits the discharge of pent-up, socially unacceptableaffects.b.discharge of pentup emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanentrelief of the condition. [Source:]


Even during the day you feel like you must explain yourself, at night it makes sense 

you open your journal, the internet, your cat’s ears–whoever you pour your heart 

out to. It evens out. You tell no one all day–maybe your therapist but that doesn’t  

count–but lately, even during the day, you feel the need to explain. 

We all emerge in the morning with our coffee our cars our desire to accomplish  

something even if it’s finishing this cup of lukewarm caffeine. But lately, you are 

telling everyone everything. Late one night you learn that even catharsis has its 

terms. No amount of telling will unbury forgiveness like a treasure, will give you 

the peace you need. Catharsis demands commitment to the cause. So here you are 

at 2 pm still trying to explain, years later, that really you were always doing your  

best being your best uncovering nothing. Recovering nothing after all these words. 



27 Mar

The Unending Michigan Winter of 2014 


The snowflakes began innocent 

Christmas lights distracted  

us all from the terror 

of the winter that would never end. 


January felt familiar 

like a friend you want to ask to stay 

just a little longer 

but not much longer 


February’s Valentine to us: 

I-275 littered with frozen wheels 

unable to stop unable to start 

We were all snowpeople by then. 


And now it’s March 27 and it’s  

raining ice pellets onto my car 

I’ve forgotten what warm is 

the cold besieges me 


My tea can only do so much

I give in to the unending winter: 

Another sweater, another cup

of resolve to never leave this beautiful place.


26 Mar

Perspicacious (per·spi·ca·cious) adj Having strong insight into and understanding of things. “She showed perspicacious judgment.

Upper Peninsula, 1994/2014

At night, sleeping soundly in the brown and white camper my father  

spent hours setting up just right 

I memorized the sounds of the pruned forest: 

leaves rustling like time travelers 

the distant lake lapping on the shoreline like  

a soothing remedy to loneliness 

loons with their long mourning conversations 

Later, as I try to translate these sounds of a place I call home 

and not home I perspicaciously retreat back into the  

sleeping bag, back around the campfire, around the stories  

the park ranger recited night after night after night– 

back to that time when the forest was just a forest 

when my Mother snored late into the night 

and all of time stretched 

lazily before me.

What do I read next?

17 Mar

I have a lot of conversations with people about books. Being a librarian this isn’t really surprising but what is surprising is the constant need people seem to have to justify to me, as a librarian and, presumably, as a book snob, that they do in fact read A LOT. If a patron isn’t justifying to me their reading preferences then they are confessing to me why they haven’t been reading (read two Dickens, one Atwood, and a collection of essays and thou art forgiven!). Usually people don’t have time or they can’t find the right book. As a librarian my job, generally speaking, is to help people find what they are looking for and usually what they are looking for is a book that will live up to the last book they read that was amazing. This isn’t always true but many times during a readers advisory interview (I sound so fancy!) I learn that the last book they loved was so wonderful and so engrossing and they want one JUST LIKE THAT. This is difficult for lots of reasons but usually if I can sell a book hard enough to them they almost always come back loving it. This doesn’t always work but usually if I listen well enough and tell them I loved a book a lot they will go away happy and come back beaming.

I enjoy my job. A lot. Even my colleagues sometimes tell me that I “like book A LOT. Like, A LOT.” (let’s be real  here: I haven’t read all the books and there will always be people smarter and people who are more well read than me). I love hearing it and I really do love books. The problem for me though is when I read a book I really love and I don’t know how to get out of that haze. You know the haze. The just-read-a-novel-that-challenged-me-and-now-I-only-want-to-read-a-book-that-will-give-me-that-reading-high haze. It’s the haze we all go through when we love a book so thoroughly, when we live with a book and learn from a book, that we never ever want to read another book because…what if it isn’t AS good as that book? We will lose that “so in love never break up with me” feeling we had with the last book we read.

Somehow, and I know we’ve all been there, this book so engulfs us that we suddenly find ourselves uninterested in reading at all. I know we’ve all been there because it happened to me recently. I’ve become that patron who can’t decide on what to read, decides she wants to read all the books, takes home six or seven and then ends up owing like $10 in late fees because she keeps telling herself to avoid the library at all cost to save embarrassment from the librarians that she “read” six books in three weeks when in reality she just watched all of True Blood for the second time. The shame!

Here’s my advice: Just do it. Just pick up the next book on your to-read shelf and read. Even if this isn’t your problem and you’re just full of excuses why you can’t pick up another book: just do it. Just do it! Just. Do. It. If you want to be a better reader or you want to find another gem in the wide world of published texts you have to read. In order to be a reader you have to read and being in love with a book and not wanting to sully its memory of how great you felt while reading it isn’t the right way to love books. Not all books will be homeruns but there are lots of books worth reading. If you’re having an especially hard time like I have been having give yourself 50 pages. 50 pages to like the book or you’d done. Then forgive yourself for not finishing a book. Life is too short to invest your precious time on a book that 50 or 100 pages into it you know you are probably going to keep hating. We’ve all abandoned books and guess what? Those books will hopefully still be there if we are ever ready for them again.

I know this honeymoon period is great. You’re still all “that book just got me.” And “Book, you were so amazing. How did I live my life before I had you?” Don’t worry: You can re-read it next year.


2013-A year in review

6 Jan

I resolved to read 55 books in 2013 and I surpassed that goal by reading 56! Here is my list of favorites and not so favorites:

Favorite book of 2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Least favorite book of 2013: I’m just kidding. I used to be the kind of reader who was so selective that I read like 2 books a year and loved them. Now that I’m no longer a student I have time to be both selective AND a prolific reader! I generally like everything I read because I try to find something good in everything I do read. I’m in 2 book clubs and maybe I don’t like everything we read but I try to find redeeming qualities in everything I put into my brain—as much as I can….I am sad to say I can never “unsee” that Doctor Who movie made in the 90s….

Top ten of 2013: since I’m writing this in Jan 5 my list will be slightly different than my Twitter Librarian faves list that I published in December.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I loved this sweeping history of Theo Decker’s youth and I’m only putting off reading this a second time because, like Jane Eyre, I want to savor it and savor it.

2. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I put this one off because I thought it was about baseball. How naive!!! Probably one of my favorite novels I’ve read in a long time and one I still lovingly remember whenever I pass it in a bookstore or at the library.

3. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I read this novel soon after my Mother passed away and, more than a post-apocalyptic novel, this is a novel of a man grieving the loss of not only his old life but his wife who also died during the epidemic. I found this book both healing and lovely and the images of his solitude and then new life with other humans was beautiful.

4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Dear Mr. Sloan: WRITE A SEQUEL NOW. Please?

5. Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran

After you read this you will always know Lord of the Rings should be shelved in Nonfiction as History.

6. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I finally finished reading the Harry Potter series and I can’t wait to read more by Rowling. She is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

7. Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

Atwood cleverly weaves together three books about the end of the world. And while doing so successfully shows us what our future could hold if we are not careful.

8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, if I ever meet you I will probably lose all ability to speak.

9. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

A little more graphic than I’m used to, I felt like this was the novel I was searching for in college. So glad to have read it.

10. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

This was my guilty pleasure this year. I really enjoyed the story and I can’t wait to read the next book.

A new year–a new blog post

5 Jan

Apologies, dear readers, for the hiatus. The holidays proved a little more difficult than I had anticipated, this being the first without my Mom, so I do hope you understand.

My first resolution of the year is to write more blog posts!!