Auto-bee-ography – a new genre of writing?


In the post today I was pleased to find a copy of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s first book Dancing With Bees that she had kindly signed and sent after I reviewed some of the text.  It was great timing – I’ve just finished Mark Cocker’s Our Place, a really important historical and future road map of how Britain got to its present position of denuded and declining biodiversity, and what we can do to halt and reverse it. Highly recommended for anyone interested in environmental politics and action.  So Brigit’s book will be added to the pile on my bedside table and may be next in line, though I still haven’t finished Dave Goulson’s The Garden Jungle – perhaps I will do that before I start Dancing With Bees?

And thereby lies a problem – there’s just too many interesting books to read at the moment if you are interested in the environment, or indeed even just in pollinators.  Because a new genre of writing seems to be emerging that I call “auto-bee-ography”. A number of writers are using bees to frame their memoirs and anecdotes.  Dave’s trilogy of Buzz in the Meadow, Sting in the Tale, and Bee Quest is probably the best known. Then there’s Buzz by Thor Hanson; Following the Wild Bees by Thomas Seeley; Bees-at-Law byNoël Sweeney; Keeping the Bees by Laurence Packer; Bee Time by Mark Winston; Bees Make the Best Pets by Jack Mingo; Buzz: Urban Beekeeping and the Power of the Bee
by Lisa Jean Moore and Mary Kosut; The Secrets of Bees by Michael Weiler; and The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Kate Bradbury.

All of these books fall more-or-less into the category of auto-bee-ography, and I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed (feel free to add to the list in the comments below).  They follow a strong tradition in natural history and environmental writing of using encounters with particular groups of organisms, for example birds and plants, as a way of exploring wider themes  Which is great, the more high profile we can make all of these organisms, including pollinators, the better in my opinion*.

However there’s not enough written about the other pollinators, that does seem to be a gap in the literature.  Mike Shanahan’s Ladders to Heaven has a lot about his encounters with figs and their pollinating wasps, but that’s about it, unless I’ve missed some?  Perhaps in the future I’ll write something auto-fly-ographical called No Flies on Me.  But before that, look out for Pollinators and Pollination: nature and society which I’m currently completing for Pelagic Publishing.  It should be out in Spring 2020.

*Though not in everyone’s – I had a very interesting discussion on Twitter with some other ecologists recently about whether pollinators had too high a profile compared to organisms that perform other functional roles in ecosystems such as seed dispersers.  You can follow the thread from here:





11 thoughts on “Auto-bee-ography – a new genre of writing?

  1. trinitygrau

    Bees are a pretty fascinating species, especially given the fact that they are dying. The protection of and education about bees is something that I think anyone interested in learning should enjoy.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      True, though it’s not one species, there are 20,000 of them! And not all are going extinct by any means, especially not honey bees. In fact honey bees are arguably the LEAST threatened of any bee species.

  2. Kit Prendergast (@BeeBabette)

    I actually just wrote an autobeeography – I haven’t sent it to any publishers though, but, to quote my own “blurb”: “Abuzz About Dawson’s Burrowing Bee : a travel log by the Bee Babette, about her quest to find Amegilla (Asarapoda) dawsoni” is a book filled with the musings, observations, and fascinating factoids of Kit Prendergast on her roadtrip to see the world’s most wonderful and wicked of bees. In this 80+ page book you’ll be amazed by the beauty of these big beautiful bees, with high quality photographs featured throughout. You’ll also be privy to the inner monologue of a quirky scientist sheila as she narrates her journey.

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Nice 🙂 It sounds fascinating and very….Australian – “a quirky scientist sheila”! Not sure about “factoids” though – is that common Aussie usage? Why not just “facts”?

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Of course! How could I forget that? In fact I had some correspondence with Helen recently.

      There’s a bit of anecdote in the book I’m currently writing but I think a whole memoir would interest no one, my life is not as exciting as Dave G.’s!

  3. Pingback: Beexploitation in social media | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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