When I read The Secret Lives of Bees for the first time, I genuinely enjoyed it. "A sweet book," I thought, as I shoved it back into my overly packed bookshelf. Took me hardly more than a few days to finish, and definitely left me with that warm, fuzzy feeling characteristic of a sentimental, yet well-written novel that pleases with a happy but not too sappy ending. I can't say that the story lingered in my mind for long, however. Nary a second thought was devoted to it, and I didn't even think to recommend it to anyone.
I could not have been more wrong about my initially underwhelmed response. As I prepared to depart on my recent road trip with my MIL and SIL C, I opted to borrow a few good audiobooks from my mom's incredibly well-stocked library. Critical to a good audiobook is the presence of a good reader, and my mom, in her infinite wisdom, pulled out The Secret Life of Bees, praising the reader's performance. C had never read the book, and I thought it might be nice to hear a familiar story, without the pressure of concentrating on it too much while driving. We slipped in the first disc of eight early in our journey on the first day.
We were captivated immediately, from the very first moment of hearing the thick, perfectly delivered South Carolina accent of the reader. The story of Lily Owens, Rosaleen and the Boatwright sisters came spilling out, weaving its way into our minds and seizing control of our heartstrings. I could not believe what I had missed before! Hearing the story again was like finding a precious pearl in the crevices of a wave-worn oyster's shell. I laughed at Rosaleen's dry humor and Lily's affectionate pronouncement of Zach, the "ass-busting" lawyer. I cried to think of May shoving in the millionth slip of paper emblazoned "Neil and June" into the stone wall. I felt, REALLY felt that pang and longing that belong to first love when Zach and Lily discovered the purplish elderberry honey, lingering by the hives as "bees swirled around" their heads. Let me tell you, this book is SO GOOD.
For the rest of the trip, it was like an addiction. We turned it on almost immediately upon climbing into the car each morning. Being stuck for two hours in Hoover Dam traffic became tolerable because we were granted more time with the story. It was difficult, truly difficult, to pull that eighth disc out of the package, knowing it would be the last.
Immediately upon returning home, I found my copy of the book, thumbing through to find my favorite parts. There are many to choose from, so I think I'll narrow it down here to a select few.
She laughed again. "You know, some things don't matter that much, Lily. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart-now, that matters. The whole problem with people is-"
"They don't know what matters and what doesn't," I said, filling in her sentence and feeling proud of myself for doing so.
"I was gonna say, The problem is they know what matters, but they don't choose it. You know how hard that is, Lily? I love May, but it was still hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters."
Some things were not possible in this world. Children did not have two parents who refused to love them. One, maybe, but for pity's sake, not two.
There was a photograph of a woman smirking in front of an old car, wearing a light-colored dress with padded shoulders. Her expression said, "Don't you dare take this picture," but she wanted it taken, you could see that. You could not believe the stories I saw in that picture, how she was waiting at the car fender for love to come to her, and not too patiently.
"Did you know there are thirty-two names for love in one of the Eskimo languages?" August said. "And we just have this one. We are so limited, you have to use the same word for loving Rosaleen as you do for loving a Coke with peanuts. Isn't that a shame we don't have more ways to say it?"
"You know, Lily, people can start out one way, and by the time life gets through with them they end up completely different."
I can't wait to read it all again.