Marching into Microhistory!

Microhistory (the first nonfiction genre we're exploring this year) is a special branch of history, looking intensively at a very small area of study - on a single subject, for instance, or a single social movement. Rather than a general, inclusive look at the past, then, microhistories tend to be narrowly focused - giving the author (and the reader) the opportunity to dive deep into minutia that would bog down a work on a broader scale.

Microhistories are also an excellent way for fiction readers to branch into nonfiction, as they tend to have more of a narrative feel to them. The "hero" of the story might be an inanimate object, an abstract idea, or even a revolution - but it is a single thing, with a steady thread weaving throughout the work.

Our Main Read this month was chosen by our third Readers Advisor Sherlock Holmes, so the topic won't be much of a surprise to those familiar with his retirement years activities. Check it out:

Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey -- The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World

http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/56510206
That's a jar of honey from a friend. It's delicious, by the way, and I'm never going back to store honey.

Until six years ago, I had no acquaintance with bees or honey.
No childhood memories of painful stings while playing in the yard or climbing a tree, nor neighborhood friends who could boast of such a dramatic experience. There were no eccentric suburban beekeepers to spy on in my early days, no busy oozing tree nests, and never an ounce of honey in the kitchen of the house where I grew up. Preferring the Hardy boys and Nancy Drew to Winnie-the-Pooh, I had not learned to appreciate bees or honey. Bees were a vague, somewhat menacing presence, like malarial mosquitoes or the bogeyman. I had never personally met any and was perfectly happy to keep it that way.

Then....

Unsurprisingly - at least, to those of us who have learned to love both honey and its fastidious, industrious creators - Holley Bishop becomes instantly and deeply infatuated with bees. In Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey -- The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World, the author introduces us to the history of bees and honey, and they way they have shaped human history. From ancient Egypt's ubiquitous use in medicine, religion, and cosmetics to the modern-day revival of its use in many of the same ways, Bishop explores how the gifts of the hive bring sweetness into our lives. Woven throughout this history is Bishop's own story as a beekeeping hobbyist, as well as the daily duties, joys, and woes of her friend Smiley, a commercial beekeeper. An absolutely delightful read, you'll be left with a greater appreciation of bees, as well as deeper insight into their importance to humanity. (Also, there are recipes in the back! Sweet!!)

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Sherlock also offers this Quick Read, a subject he has just as much familiarity with, he claims:

Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified US History
http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/703546344
Check out the illustrations, too! They're really awesome!

So what is this? It is a collection of U.S. government documents that have been declassified. At one time they were Top Secret. Confidential. Very hush hush. Now, these documents have been declassified, sanitized, redacted, and made public by the government. All of the documents shown here have one common theme: food!

This short microhistory of declassified documents begins with "the Secret Doughnuts Memo," which is slightly silly (honestly, why was that a state secret?), but quickly turns more serious. In Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified US History, Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow show food's role, incidental or not, in the U.S. government's inner workings. From the assassination of a prominent Black Panther leader to President Reagan's "free market evangelism," the stuff we eat and drink is inextricably tied to international relations. (Sherlock recommends never accepting chocolate milkshakes from the CIA, by the way.)

Have any questions about microhistory? Want some more reading recommendations? Just let me know, and I'll ask Sherlock, as soon as he's done gathering honey.

Bon app├ętit, and we'll see you next month, for yet another reading recommendation, courtesy of the next member of my Readers Advisory Committee!

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