Book Review: ‘The Secret Life Of Bees’ by Sue Monk Kidd

'The Secret Life Of Bees' By Sue Monk KiddWhen I finally got around reading it amidst several projects (a family wedding, relocating to another state, getting back to work after years, to name a few),  maneuvering through digital / physical library copies, whenever available, (oh, and some other books I finished during that period), I eventually did finish The Secret Life of Bees. The point of sharing my eventful summer activities is not to demonstrate my utmost capability and managerial skills (which I kind of did), but to emphasize that notwithstanding, the book stayed with me. Some thoughts and some feelings from sporadic readings staked themselves up in my heart and nudged me like the annoyingly persistent inner voice to take it up and finish it.  To mentally pick up from exactly where I had left every time, without any loss of interest or motivation is, I think, quite remarkable. In my case, it was not as much about the story (which was also very good), as it was about how it was told.

It is 1964 country deep in South Carolina  and the Civil Rights Act has just been passed (in theory), but the country has still to catch up (in practice). The story revolves around a 14 year old Lily Owens with no mother and a tyrant for a father. In a series of events, she and her black caretaker Rosaleen find themselves in another town, where Lily is trying hard to find clues about her deceased mother. There she meets the black beekeeper Boatwright sisters, especially the eldest (and my very favorite) August, and her life changes.
[On a side note, talking of bees, how often do you see the subject of a catchy book title carry over to the content (like that book with really no hedgehogs) I mean, who does that? This one actually has several bee references; now ain’t that funny, honey!]

To sum it up, The Secret Life of Bees has the prowess to cut through all the noise around you and suck you in and hold you there. How Lily talks to herself (and to the readers) about her emotions and stuff seems so deep and so believable. There were times I found myself letting out a cathartic weeping spell that seemed to wash my soul clean. Oh boy- did it feel good or what! This book is a coming-of-age drama, Steel Magnolias, Oprah kinda feeling all rolled into one. If the honesty and candor in the expression grips your heart, the alluring imagery makes it soar. I recommend this short book just for the experience of it. Four Stars on my Goodreads.

Extras:
The paragraph below conjured up images of bright sun, summer, humming bees and insects, and all the charm of country living and olden times (when life was different, quieter and, perhaps, simpler):
The woman moved along a row of white boxes that bordered the woods beside the pink house, a house so pink it remained a scorched shock on the back of my eyelids after I looked away. She was tall, dressed in white, wearing a pith helmet with veils that floated across her face, settled around her shoulders, and trailed down her back. She looked like an African bride. Lifting the tops off the boxes, she peered inside, swinging a tin bucket of smoke back and forth. Clouds of bees rose up and flew wreaths around her head. Twice she disappeared in the fogged billows, then gradually reemerged like a dream rising up from the bottom of the night. We stood on the porch in the pink light shining off the house. June bugs flickered all around, and music notes floated from inside, sounding like a violin, only a lot sadder.

The movie trailer (that I have not watched yet):

Book Review: ON WRITING – A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Stephen King_On_Writing_A Memoir_of_the_Craft. Book Cover pageLets first get this out of the way: I am not a Stephen King fan, nor have I ever read any of his other works, only because I was never into the genre he mostly writes. However, whatever connection I do have with him is through one of his novellas that was adapted into one of the finest movies ever made: The Shawshank Redemption (I resisted putting a couple hearts here). This is my first book by him, and the second on writing, after Bird by BirdOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft gives a zoomed in view of a successful writer’s entire process. If I was so amazed to read what all actually goes into writing a fiction novel (doubting if I could ever do all that), I was equally inspired to try it out, and excited to see the “magic” happen. In this book, King doesn’t give a success formula or a to-do list, but instead, discusses in detail some very fundamental aspects of writing, some of which are summarized below.

LIFE
The first few pages are about several stories about King’s early life. He and his older brother were raised by a single mother with limited means. Later, even as a father of two toddlers doing two jobs, King struggled to make ends meet, up until the commercial success of Carrie. While he was quite candid about his alcohol and drug addiction, his recovery and how he bounced back is very inspiring, destroying in the process any myths that stimulants are necessary to aid writers or artists in their art. Halfway through the writing of this book, he met with an almost fatal accident during one of his daily walks. Amidst series of operations and painful physical therapy, he resumed work on this book.

STORY
King believes that story is the boss in fiction writing and it is the most important thing readers will want. He says good ideas come sailing at you right out of the empty sky and that the writers job is to recognize them when they show up. Don’t know why, but I feel I am somehow violating trust by putting this very sacred and profound sentence out there, but I will: Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writers job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible. I think it is much like remembering a dream: you want to try hard recalling it, yet not inadvertently add your own details in the process, to get the dream as intact as possible.

READING
Read. Read. Read. Reading creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing. King reads ‘anything and everything he can lay his hands on’ and for those who want to know his recommendations, there is a long list of books at the end.

WRITING

  • Writers ‘toolbox’ should be well equipped with a strong vocabulary and solid grammar. Not surprisingly, he praises the classic Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.
  • He detests unnecessary use of adverbs and of passive voice (attributes it to a lack of confidence and/or affectation of authority), advises writers the same.
  • A serious writer would write between 4-6 hours everyday, without any distractions whatsoever (with doors closed and curtains drawn); this is the time to  dive deep within.
  • It is important to write about what you really know well. Write what you like and then imbue it with live and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work.
  • Write what rings true to you.
  • His little formula for editing: First completed draft = Second draft – 10%.  There is a sample passage showing his first draft and the edited second, with notes, which I thought is very useful.

The last part is about actual publishing, finding an agent and such. I think a lot has changed since 1999 making this information a bit outdated.

King makes a promise to his readers that this book is going to be to the point, without “any BS”, and he keeps it. There is lots of good advice and memorable sentences worth framing. Some of the paragraphs are so beautifully written that I typed the entire passages in my phone Notes for the fear of losing the beauty or wisdom in them to time or memory. When his writing is not clever or stylish, it is endearing. For instance, he gives you the reader a Permission Slip: If you feel you need permission to do all the reading and writing your heart desires, consider it hereby granted by yours truly.  

On Writing is a masterclass for aspiring writers or bloggers that should not be missed. 4.5 stars on my Goodreads.
Get it on: Amazon iBooks BN
Some of my frames are here: