ADVANCED REVIEW: ‘Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Honey and Venom Cover

Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper by Andrew Coté, published by Ballantine Books, is an amazing memoir by an urban beekeeper and international nonprofit educator, encompassing an all-around journey through the many seasons of Coté’s life as a beekeeper. The book is simultaneously deeply personal and colorfully captivating as each chapter meanders through stories from the author’s career, his personal life, and endless interesting facts about the incredible honey bee.

Andrew Coté is the founder of the New York City Beekeeper’s Association and the executive director of Bees Without Borders, an international nonprofit that assists in developing beekeeping projects and educating new generations of beekeepers in every corner of the world. While a fourth-generation beekeeper who often works alongside his father and other family members, Honey and Venom takes readers through how Coté came to keep bees on his own accord and the countless journies it has taken him on ever since.

Honey and Venom is broken down into 12 chapters, one for each month of the year. This framing device allows every chapter to begin with one story taking place in that month of the year for Coté to come back to as he weaves tale after tale of his, his family’s, and his friends’ lives as beekeepers. The structure helps set a sense of progression as the seasons change and the stories can build off one another chapter-to-chapter as Coté explains the life and business of bees (and their keepers) living in the northeastern United States.

Coté’s mastery over words in Honey and Venom alone is enough to make every last page utterly captivating. The way he is able to tell stories within stories is phenomenal and his wide vernacular is just bold enough to teeter the right side of the line between exciting and excessive. He has countless ways to describe the majesty of bees throughout the book without ever having to repeat himself or blunder. While the book holds a crude joke or description here or there, it is clearly a reflection of Coté’s joviality and not his lack of creative expression.

One might think that a beekeeper would run out of tales to tell after only so long; a few bad bee stings, a poor honey yield, and maybe something about Colony Collapse Disorder. One would, however, be so, so wrong. Coté’s experiences over his beekeeping career are so varied, eclectic, and unexpected that as soon as you begin a new chapter you are instantly enthralled with a new story and then three more equally engaging ones emerge over the next five pages alone. His ability to deliver so many unique and worthwhile stories is, in part, the result of having his hand in so many pots at once. Coté’s various urban beekeeping and honey-selling ventures around the world are always interesting. What really helps everything shine though, is all of the ways Coté shines lights on his friends and family as well.

Virtually all of the stories in Honey and Venom feature the life and times of the many people Coté has met along his way. The way he pays love, respect, and reverence to so many of his friends, family, and mentors helps not only provide him with even more diverse stories, it simply makes the book stronger.

Coté is perfectly aware of the vast privileges he holds and has taken advantage of over his life to achieve the success he has. He makes reference to it frequently. However, he also pays enormous respect to the folks he works with who do not enjoy the same privileges and makes it clear not through any specific words he writes, but through the reverence for all of these people he pays along the way. While Honey and Venom is a memoir from a single man’s perspective, it is palpable just through his own love and admiration for the people in his life that he strives to do all he can to lift others up through the success and good fortune he has enjoyed.

I wholeheartedly recommend Honey and Venom to not just readers with interests as eclectic as mine, but to anybody who simply enjoys reading well-written and absolutely captivating stories. One needs not to have any experience with honey bees or their keepers to learn a lot and be enthralled by Coté’s writing and the stories he tells.

Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper will be available June 9th wherever books are sold.

Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper
5

TL;DR

I wholeheartedly recommend Honey and Venom to not just readers with interests as eclectic as mine, but to anybody who simply enjoys reading well-written and absolutely captivating stories. One needs not to have any experience with honey bees or their keepers to learn a lot and be enthralled by Coté’s writing and the stories he tells.