The Quest for the Perfect Hive (and Other Books I Read in 2011)

illustration of Neighbour's Improved Cottage Hive from  1878

Neighbour's Improved Cottage Hive (1878) is one of the hives discussed in The Quest for the Perfect Hive by Gene Kritsky

I just spent a wonderful weekend with my aunt, during which we spent much of our time talking about books we have read and books we want to read. We are both avid readers of “real books” and don’t believe the dire predictions that e-books will take over the market so that no more paper books will be published. I mean seriously, you can’t read your iPad in the bath tub. My aunt prefers extremely long, well-researched biographies and current history and politics with hundreds of footnotes, but she also read a couple novels in 2011, including several science fiction books written by Philip K Dick in the 1960s and 1970s that have been reissued by the Library of America.

After hearing about the books she has read, I decided to go back and see if I could remember what I read during 2011. My list is less focused than hers. Many of the books I read are ones that people gave me or that I ran across on the new book shelf at the library or picked up in the break room at work. Here are the books I was clever enough to have written down (otherwise, I’m not sure I would have remembered all these):


  1. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. (I listed to this one in the car on our trip to Kentucky to attend the Christmas Country Dance School in Berea.)
  2. Deception Point by Dan Brown (I picked this one up in the break room at work; a very enjoyable fast read, with lots of twists in the plot)
  3. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (This one I borrowed from a friend, who thought it was extremely funny. She had gotten it from her 94-year-old father. The story was about an old man who married a young woman and upset his children. Some of the story was quite funny but the overall situation perhaps reminded me a little too much of gold diggers we have known.)
  4. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding by Alexander McCall (One of the charming books about the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. How can you go wrong?)
  5. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (I borrowed this one from my mom and really should return to her, but I loved it so much, I am tempted to hang on to it. Reading this book brought me close to the old feelings I used to get when I had the luxury of reading all day during the summers, up in a tree or on a blanket in the yard. I read Prodigal Summer basically in one setting. The novel “weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia.” I loved the characters, the setting, and the stories.)
  6. Hour Game by David Baldacci (I don’t usually read murder mysteries, but I picked this up in the break room at work and found myself hooked.)


  1. Ghosts of the Bluegrass by James McCormick and Macy Wyatt. (This was a birthday gift from mom, written by two of my professors from college.)
  2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. (I re-read this while at my mom’s.)
  3. I am America, and So Can You by Stephen Colbert. (We checked this CD out from the library and listened to it in short segments on the way to and from work each day. What a great way to take the stress out of a commute.)
  4. Dave Barry’s Book of Money Secrets: Like, Why is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar. (Another CD from the library that kept us laughing on our daily commutes to work.)
  5. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (I had read this one before but decided to read it again when my daughter-in-law brought it back after having borrowed it. Still seems odd to list it with the nonfiction.)
  6. Reading Between the Wines by Terry Theise (I bought this one as a possible gift for my brother last Christmas, but didn’t get it in time, so I kept it and read it myself. Hey Skip, if you want your Christmas present now, just let me know. It was a good read.)
  7. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (This was a birthday gift from mom, which I had put off reading for a while, because I thought it would be depressing. When I finally got around to reading it, though, I found the book very inspiring, even though the author writes about difficult subjects; I’d like to read more about her and about the topics she addresses; much to think about and try to figure out.)
  8. Four Seasons in Rome (This was a Christmas gift from mom, who thought I would enjoy the memoir about raising twin boys while trying to write a novel in a foreign country, and she was right about that; I’ve especially enjoyed the beautiful in-depth reflections on a city that I just barely met on a four-day trip with my son one Thanksgiving.)
  9. Hard Times Guide to Retirement by Mark Miller (Basically, the advice here was if you are lucky enough to still have a job during hard times, hold on to it and wait as long as possible to retire. Not was I was looking for.)
  10. Why Do Bees Buzz? By Elizabeth Capaldi Evans and Carol A. Butler (This book provided straightforward answers to lots of questions about bees, including: Do bees bleed? How do bees’ wings work? Do bees ever get fooled by predators? Do bees sleep? What is piping behavior? Not much of a plot, but interesting nevertheless.)
  11. The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture by Gene Kritsky (This book traces the evolution of hive design from ancient Egypt to the present and includes illustrations of some fascinating designs used by beekeepers before the invention of the Langstroth hive, which has been in use for the last century.)
  12. One Year to an Organized Life by Regina Leeds (It’s been almost a year since I read the next four books, and my life is still not organized, but I haven’t given up hope.)
  13. The Fast and Furious Five Step Organizing Solution by Susan C. Pinsky
  14. House Works: How to Live Clean, Green, and Organized at Home by Cynthia Townley Ewer
  15. The Office Clutter Cure: Get Organized, Get Results! By Don Aslett
  16. At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (I love Bryson’s books. In this one, he sets out to “write a history of the world without leaving home.”
  17. Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce by Cathy Thomas
  18. Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue with Roger Gittiner
  19. Wrong: Why Experts* Keep Failing Us–And How to Know When Not to Trust Them by David Freedman. (This one was more than a little depressing.)
  20. Honeybee Democracy by Thomas D Seeley (This fascinating book discussed the ways honeybees communicate and make group decisions, as when they are searching for a new hive.)
  21. Get Up Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite by Bruce E. Levine (This one left me feeling a bit unenergized and defeated.)
  22. How Did the Government Get in Your Backyard by Jeff Gillman and Eric Hererlig (I really enjoyed all the background information the authors provided on the science and the politics of many environmental issues I care about.)
  23. Big Dead Place: Inside the Strange and Menacing World of Antarctica by Nicholas Johnson (a fascinating book about contemporary life at McMurdo and South Pole, which my son let me borrow just before his most recent trip to Antarctica; apparently this is slated to be a TV series soon; too bad I don’t have a TV. I would totally watch this one.)
  24. The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith (to be truthful, I did not read all of this classic book on liberal philosophy.)
An illustration of a bee hive in a hollow log.

A horizontal hollow log hive (Butterworth 1892) from The Quest for the Perfect Hive

Children’s Books

  1. The Invisible String by Patricia Harst (a picture book that I bought for my grandchildren during my son’s most recent deployment, this time to Afghanistan)
  2. A Paper Hug by Stephanie Skolmoski (another picture book on deployment that I bought for my grandchildren before my son had to leave again to attend captain school)
  3. 39 Clues (I read this and several other books whose titles now escape me, while trying to decide which ones to bring along when we took the grandchildren to dance camp this past summer. I had forgotten how much I love to read children’s books. Those authors can’t afford to waste any time getting to the heart of a story, or the audience gets bored.)
  4. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull (This is the one we finally settled on, a book about grandparents who ran a sanctuary for mystical animals. While at dance camp with our grandchildren in July, we read a chapter or two aloud each night before bed.)
  5. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (we listened to this on CD while driving home from dance camp)
  6. The White Fox Chronicles by Gary Paulsen (a sci-fi book that my 11-year-old grandson wanted me to read, and I was very happy I did, not just for the insight into how he thinks, but it also happened to be a gripping story.)

At the moment I am about halfway through reading The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson and The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus. (I often have more than one book going at a time.)  I came home from my aunt’s with a 983-page novel called The Kindly Ones, originally written in French by Johnathan Littell and winner of two prestigious French literary awards. It is “the chilling fictional memoir of Dr. Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi officer who has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France.” My aunt  warned me that it is morally difficult reading but said it explained a lot of things that she often thinks about.


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