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This Oprah-Approved Book I Just Read

After he finishes with this honeycomb, Mr. Bee’s gonna whip up a metaphor about hives and racial equality.
After he finishes with this honeycomb, Mr. Bee’s gonna whip up a metaphor about hives and racial equality.

This week’s book comes from my attempt to read the books I own but have not read, which I’m estimating to be 12% of the total. Books that I begin and can’t get past page 50 are going to some sort of charity that keeps people who have poor literary tastes supplied. Books I finish will fall into two categories: 1.) Keep, because who knows when I’ll need to use a quote from it in an acceptance speech / book epigraph / ransom demand and 2.) Sell on the lucrative paperback black market.

The book in question is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees which I read last week one afternoon when it was hot and I wanted to sit outside and read something that wouldn’t give me too many “thinking lines” on my forehead. My friend gave me this book two years ago before she moved. She also made me take a mini-vacuum that works in reverse and is for bullshit! The Secret Life of Bees came out in 2003, one of Oprah’s minions read it, and then America went apeshit for it.

It’s a heartwarming tale set in the South about women. Yes, that sounds exactly like 1,400 other books Oprah has approved. What makes this different? Bee metaphors. Rampant, uncontrollable, allergy inducing bee metaphors. Also, black people.

Set in 1964, the 14-year-old white protagonist, Lily, takes off with her black housekeeper, Rosaleen because of civil rights and mean dads and things. This isn’t to belittle the significance of the events in the ‘60s South, but more just to say that any discussion of the protests, voter registrations and arrests feels more like a plot device than a genuine exploration.

This wasn’t a totally horrible book. I liked some aspects, some descriptions, and the Black Madonna (I don’t have the energy to describe what this is). However, I thought the main character was largely uninteresting and derivative, while the others ranged from two-dimensional to unbelievable.

Tons of people loved this book. Like your mom. And your mom is a good person, and let’s face it, she’s read way worse stuff. So, where do I put this on my “Ladies Who Like Books and Are Ladies” scale? Let’s take a look at that scale:

1 (low): Eeek! A spider! Smash it!

2: I’ll go camping if you force me, but I’ll make a crinkly face.

3: Close eyes, think of England.

4: Well, just one more doughnut won’t hurt

5 (high): Scribble its last name after my first name on rose-scented paper

The Secret Life of Bees gets ... a ... 3!


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