Book Six: The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

I'm going to say right off the bat that my least favorite movie of all time is Forrest Gump. I hate this movie with a passion. I hate feeling emotionally manipulated, I hate trite catch phrases (think "box of chocolates"), and I hate playing off American sentimentality by glorifying the South. One of my least favorite books, you may be wondering, is The Prince of Tides. So you can imagine that I approached this book with an ookie feeling inside. I would never have chosen this book; it was picked for book club. I'm going to be honest and say that I liked it more than I thought I would. If Sue Monk Kidd can create a house and a life that I could clearly imagine and want to be a part of, then she did part of her job as a writer. She beautifully captures the beekeeping and the crazy pink house and the weather and the food and the atmosphere.

But I think the other part of being a writer is not relying on cliches and tidy story lines to tell your story. And the characters! I hate to say it, but I felt like there was a tiny bit of the magical negro going on here. It all just seemed too perfect. This group of Mary-worshipping black women, led by the beekeeping August, who all seem to have been plunked down in that pink house for the sole purpose of helping Lily discover who she is by learning about her mother. Sure, you can argue that they were strong and independent black women, yet without Lily (the young white girl) what are they really? What's their story? You get a glimpse of it, and yet it is absolutely secondary to Lily and her story and her needs, and that, honestly, makes me really uncomfortable.

Book Five: King Leopold's Ghost

King Leopold's Ghost, Adam Hochschild

This is one of those good for you books. The literary equivalent of broccoli. Oh wait, I love broccoli! Perhaps it's more like steamed liver covered in raisins and radicchio? Because that sounds like torture to me. Though honestly this book wasn't torture, just more of a moderately pleasant slog, at the end of which I thought, "Boy, I'm a better person for having read this book." And now I can't believe I'm bringing this truly great yet nearly soul crushing story down to the level of foods I kind of dislike. Boy, am I a jerk!

Really, though, if you know nothing of the atrocities that occurred under King Leopold's rule over his colony the Belgian Congo, then this will open your eyes. It's almost numbing after a while; after you hear about the thousandth hand cut off and the thousandth baby thrown in a ditch and the millionth native worked to death or shot outright or whipped or... gah! Anything! But the book is structured around a hero, of sorts, Edmund Morel, who became clued in to what was really going on in the Congo by observing goods coming into Belgium and those going out, and realized that there was no way there could be such a disparity without slavery taking place. He worked for many, many years to bring this to the attention of Europe and the rest of the world along with some really amazing people. Yes, they probably all weren't perfect, and yes, they all had some shortcomings, but it helps to know about those small figures in history who took a stand against something so monumental.

Book Four: Treasure Island

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

I can't remember the last time a read a book this freaking good! It's got it all, and I ate it up, holus bolus! You know, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, shiver my timbers, buried treasure, Long John Silver and his one leg, and the parrot, Captain Flint, shrieking "Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!" Scary! Oh, and the best hero and narrator ever: young Jim Hawkins, who made me want to be a little boy who finds himself on the Hispaniola... even in the apple barrel listening in on that fateful conversation with Long John Silver!

And I'm going to keep plugging these Puffin Classics editions because I think they are beyond adorable. I know they're meant for little kids but I absolutely love them. They're wider than mass-market paperbacks, but still small enough to be portable. And they've got some really nice author bios in the back, along with activities and a glossary and more.