It’s actually quite sunny today where I am right now—Outrigger’s Royal Kahana Resort
in West Maui. A couple walks the beach, taking turns snapping pictures of each other that are probably already posted to Facebook. A mother and her young daughter practice sun salutations. A skin diver circles a reefy patch off-shore, trailing a scuba flag attached to an inflatable. Three snorkelers flick the water with their red, yellow and blue fins. Below me, on the grass, a family of four sips the same strawberry-rose-colored smoothies. A woman reads a Kindle. A man reads a hardback book. A magazine’s pages flutter in the breeze. As I write this, a man glides by with powerful strokes on an outrigger canoe. I look for the telltale signs of humpback whales, but the only wrinkle in the day are the strong winds that create white flecks of sea beyond the reef and make spotting the blows and pec slaps and flukes of whales all but impossible.
I made this list over the weekend when it wasn’t sunny. In fact, yesterday, when I checked in, the weather wasn’t so great. I could barely make out the outline of Molokai some 15 miles across the Pailolo Channel.
One of the first things I do upon settling into a vacation rental like these privately-owned condominiums in West Maui is to browse the books. The selection here reflects a vacation mindset. There are numerous guidebooks, one of which I co-wrote. There are a couple Maeve Binchy books. A Fern Michaels. A couple Kasey Michaels—are the authors related? Several Michael Connelly books. Only one Tom Clancy. And a book by James Patterson appropriately titled
. The back copy reads: “A breathtakingly beautiful supermodel disappears from a swimsuit photo shoot at the most glamorous hotel in Hawaii. Only hours later, Kim McDaniels’s parents receive a terrifying phone call. Fearing the worst, they board the first flight to Maui and begin the hunt for their daughter.” I may have to read that one. Just to see how Patterson represents Maui. Writer’s research, you know. Wink. Wink.
I only occasionally find books in vacation rentals that I want to add to my “to-read bookcase.” That’s because my to-read stack has grown from a nightstand to a bookshelf to a whole bookcase. And that’s not counting the megabytes taking up space on my Kindle that I’ve all but forgotten about. So, I try to be discerning when selecting new books to read. They must relate to research I am doing. Or they must come from an author I adore. Or come with outstanding accolades from friends who know my reading—and writing—tastes. But I still look. I still gaze at the covers. I still re-organize the piles into some sort of order that makes sense to me. Because I love books. Period.
The past few days—well, weeks—have made for fabulous reading in Hawaii. Here are four books, all Hawaii-related, that I’ve read or purchased or smelled. (C’mon. Don’t you love the smell of books? Both new and old. I wish they made a face mist for that. Ola Hawaii
, are you reading this?)
1. Don’t Look Back: Hawaii Myths Made New
This is a wonderful collection of stories inspired by the ancient myths and legends of Hawaii. Some names you’ll recognize. The poet W.S. Merwin writes an updated rendition of “The Bird Man of Wainiha.” Maxine Hong Kingston reinterprets the every day (and night) spirits of Hawaii known as menehune and night marchers. I particularly like my friends Darien Gee’s and Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui’s two pieces. But, really, I like how the anthology keeps the ancient stories alive. Come to think of it, most of our modern day stories—whether they be told in the form of books or movies or, even, songs—are really re-makes of stories that have been around for generations.
2. Paddling My Own Canoe
Audrey Sutherland is my kind of woman. I first read about her in the current issue of Hana Hou
, the in-flight magazine for Hawaiian Airlines. Look for it, if you’re traveling this month. She’s in her 90s now but spent the better part of the past 50 years paddling a kayak solo around the Hawaiian Islands and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia. According to the Hana Hou
article, Audrey has paddled the equivalent of half the circumference of the globe. That’s an estimated 12,000 nautical miles. And here I thought a few 40+ mile crossings from Molokai to Oahu were something special. In Paddling My Own Canoe, published in 1978, Audrey tells the story of paddling the north shore of Molokai in the 1950s and 1960s. The first two paragraphs give an indication of the woman’s approach to life.
“Hula’ana, in the Hawaiian language, is a place where it is necessary to swim past a cliff that blocks passage a long a coast, a sheer cliff where the sea beats. I first glimpsed the sea cliffs and waterfalls of Moloka’i while flying by, en route to other islands in the Hawaiian chain.
“There were no roads, no trails, no people, no access except by sea. Looking down on it was not enough. I wanted to be there, but I couldn’t afford to hire a boat. All right, I’d have to swim.”
3. Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure
Julia Flynn Siler recounts that tale of Hawaii—from missionary arrival to takeover to territorial status--using more than 275 sources, according to a recent review in The New York Times
. I haven’t read the entire book, but it starts with a cast of characters, a glossary of Hawaiian words, an introduction and a preface. I think it is fair to say this is a meticulously researched book. From what I understand, it is more a historical account that a nonfiction narrative but one that centers its tale on Queen Lili’uokalani, who was born, as the book opens, 18 years after the first Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii and at the same time the foundation for the extraordinary Kawaiaha’o Church was being dug and the first Hawaiian-language Bible was completed.
4. Our Hawaii
The more famous London is her husband, Jack, but Charmian penned a book or two of her own. The one that caught my eye at a recent Kauai Historical Society book sale was Our Hawaii
, and, somehow, I paid $40 for it. I’m glad I did. There is no way the reproduction copy on sale at Amazon could preserve the scent of it, which, alone, takes me back to 1907 when the Londons sailed to Hawaii aboard the 43-foot Snark.