The good news for those of us who still write books is that the rest of you still buy and read books. Bookstore chains may be dead or merely dying, but the act of writing something longer than a blog post still remains very much alive.
And this is good, because reading (and I guess opposable thumbs) is pretty much all that separates us humans from the rest of the oxygen-breathers on this planet. We don’t like to think about it, but civilization requires reading. Without reading, we all might as well go back to hunting and gathering. And given all of our collective knowledge of such subjects, the human race’s days would definitely be over.
Seriously though, these are good times to be a reader. Even out here in Hawaii, there’s no shortage of good books–paper and electronic–by and about this place. And I’m just going by the review copies we receive at MauiTime; the good people over at HawaiiBookBlog.com are swamped with book review requests.
Regardless of your preference for fiction or non-fiction, there’s something new and juicy out there from a writer here in this very state. So sit back and relax, possibly with a few of the following selections that we found noteworthy.
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HALEAKALA: A History of the Maui Mountain
By Jill Engledow
Maui Island Press
Geologists refer to Haleakala as a “dormant” volcano, but most tourists seem shocked when told that the two million-year-old volcano is still very capable of erupting. Lava last poured from its vents only a few hundred years ago, and it takes 10,000 years of inactivity before geologists will consider a dormant volcano to have gone extinct. In geologic terms, Haleakala–the place where the Polynesian god Maui lassoed the sun–is still very much alive.
Those wishing more insight, history, explanation or simply gorgeous photos of the island’s dominant feature should consult Jill Engledow’s new book of the same name. Filled with 177 pages of stories, illustrations and photos, Engledow has compiled a sizeable but still readable guide (much like a DK book) on everything Haleakala–be it the mountain itself or the national park that bears its name.
Want to know more about the tectonic forces that formed the mountain? Check. Curious about how Haleakala’s famous “crater” isn’t actually a crater? Check. How about the critical role 1893 Overthrow leader Lorrin Thurston played in the founding of Haleakala National Park? The wanton destruction of Silverswords and nene geese? Tales of brave and foolish people who ventured across the mountains without guides a century ago? Check, check and check.
Engledow, a former Maui News reporter whose previous books include Exploring Historic Upcountry and Island Life 101: A Newcomer’s Guide to Hawaii, even makes a compelling case that Haleakala wasn’t even the mountain’s true name.
In 2010, Engledow writes, kupuna working with Ranger Jeff Bagshaw on the mountain’s role in Hawaiian culture told him that the original name for the land was “Alaheleakala,” which means “the road to get to the sun.” The name “Haleakala,” the kupuna told Bagshaw, denoted “two peaks and a high connecting ridge on the south rim of the crater,” and that perhaps “early English writers heard that name, assumed it belonged to the mountain as a whole, and the name stuck.”
Available at Haleakala National Park, the Bailey House Museum, other island retailers, Amazon.com and Mauiislandpress.com
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By Mark Panek
Mark Panek, an associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii’s Hilo campus, is an excellent writer. His books Big Happiness: The Life and Death of a Modern Hawaiian Warrior and Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan are outstanding non-fiction works. Big Happiness is an especially heart-wrenching account of Oahu sumo wrestler Percy Kipapa’s tragic struggle with drugs.
Hawai‘i, Panek’s first work of fiction, is in many ways more ambitious than Panek’s earlier books. The back cover plot synopsis reads like a fresh local news story:
“A nine-term U.S. senator and political patriarch is dead, leaving Hawaii at a crossroads: crumbling public education at all levels, a crystal meth epidemic, Native Hawaiians getting shipped to Arizona prisons, and class divisions so deep that even State Senator Russell Lee has to scramble to avoid eviction from his family’s dream home.”
Consider it a political thriller, but it’s not a beach read. Hawai‘i is long, though not only because it weighs in at 551 pages.
“Hawai‘i is a big Tom Wolfe-ian look at the current state of things in Hawai‘i, aimed at the same audience that regularly reads Maui Time,” Panek wrote in a Mar. 1 letter to me. In the book’s Acknowledgements, Panek takes the Wolfe connection a bit further: “The writer is indebted to the work of of that great chronicler of late 20th century America, Tom Wolfe, whose fans will recognize the genre, and particularly its reliance on point-of-view, as one Wolfe himself borrowed from Dickens, Thackeray, and Zola.”
Forgive yourself if you didn’t realize Panek was referring to Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and Emile Zola, which is part of the problem with Hawai‘i. Wolfe, especially in his later works, has a tendency to overwrite, and Panek at times falls into that trap. Pidgin can run thick through the book’s paragraphs, italics pop up everywhere and sentences can get clunky. Here’s one of many examples:
“Sean whirled and looked up into the understanding face of Alan Ho, the long-time behind-the-scenes power broker upon whose career he’d long dreamed of modeling on his own. Hero may have sounded hokey, too, but what else would you call the very orchestrator of local development throughout the yen-crazed 1980s and beyond? And to think: here was Alan Ho himself, greeting Sean Hayashi as though he belonged on the 21st floor, the two of them here early to go over their strategy one last time. Alan Ho! Could you even begin to believe it? Pulling it off!”
But–and this is a huge BUT–Hawai‘i is an investment well worth your time. Panek says his book is based on extensive interviews with lobbyists, reporters, activists, developers and public officials, and it shows. The book reads and feels like the true state of affairs across the state.
Available at Amazon.com
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MA‘I LEPERA: Disease and Displacement in Nineteenth-Century Hawai‘i
By Kerri A. Inglis
University of Hawaii Press
This is an ambitious book. And while not exactly something to curl up with in bed, or on your beach towel, it’s nonetheless an important and engaging look at an utterly horrible time in Hawaii’s history.
Disease, as anyone with even a cursory understanding of our state’s history knows, changed everything for the Kanaka Maoli. Within a century of Captain Cook’s arrival, the kanaka people went from comfortably running the archipelago to clinging to life as an ethnic minority in a plantation economy. All sorts of diseases ran amok in Hawaiian society, obliterating whole families in just a few years time. The most famous of these–which is also the subject of this book–was the terrible, disfiguring leprosy (Hansen’s Disease).
Written by Kerri Inglis, an associate professor of history at the University of Hawaii, Ma‘i Lepera attempts to “translate the silences” and “give a voice” to those who suffered from both leprosy and forced exile to Makanaluna (what we now call Molokai’s Kaluapapa peninsula). This is, as Inglis freely notes, a “formidable” task that she addressed using her “imagination as well as evidence.”
“It is my contention that through the use of Hawaiian and foreign metaphors and models, combined with an attention to the environment of Makanalua, another layer of understanding can be added to the history of leprosy in the islands–in particular the daily struggles of living with a disease such as leprosy,” Inglis wrote. “It is time that we give a voice to those who contracted and suffered from the disease and gain some insight into their daily lives, that we go beyond those histories that have focused on the exemplary service of one Catholic priest [Father Damien], and tell the story of–or give a voice to–those he served.”
Though the back cover text calls the book “accessible,” Ma‘i Lepera is a very academic book. “The introduction of infectious diseases to the indigenous (and isolated) population of Hawai‘i by foreigners resulted in high rates of depopulation,” is how Inglis described the way various diseases nearly wiped out all the Kanaka Maoli.
Inglis succeeds in recreating the world of those suffering from leprosy–indeed, too well at times, as this quote from a 19th century physician attests:
“A native woman on this Island bore five children by a leprous husband; the disease was developed in each of these children, between the ages of eight and twelve years, and they were taken to the Leper Asylum where they have since died.”
It’s a difficult story to take in, but as Inglis shows, it’s also a vital one to understand the kanaka people then, and now.
Available at UHPress.Hawaii.edu, Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com
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BAREFOOT WALKING: Free Your Feet To Minimize Impact, Maximize Efficiency, and Discover the Pleasure of Getting in Touch with the Earth
By Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee
Three Rivers Press
Though this book doesn’t deal with Maui or Hawaii per se, authors Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee (who are also married) live in Kula. But it does deal with a subject that dates back to ancient Hawaii: their view on the importance of walking barefoot.
“When you’re barefoot, something special happens,” the authors write in their introduction. “You’re connected and interconnected; you receive a flood of new information, yet everything’s quiet. You feel the ground and suddenly all your anxiety dissipates.”
Hey, going barefoot is fun. It’s also just plain nice–the mostly shoeless culture in Hawaii is far more desirable and relaxing than walking around on the Mainland.
This book has everything you want to know about the benefits of walking around barefoot. Unfortunately, the authors also dip their toes into pseudo-science that is both distracting and disappointing. It all stems from their view that walking barefoot allows people to take in “Vitamin G,” with the G standing for “ground.” In their view, standing barefoot on the ground has a healing effect on the human body. This is rather silly but mostly harmless. What isn’t harmless is when they attempt to describe actual physics.
“If you’ve ever heard of lightning striking a car, the reason the people inside the car aren’t killed isn’t because of the thin rubber tires,” the authors state in a chapter titled “Vitamin G: The Lost Supplement.” “It’s because the electricity travels around the car instead of into it, and then exits through the ground.”
So far, so good. But then they write this: “Our skin works the same way when we’re connected to the ground,” they write. “Electrical waves with lower charges than a lightning strike hit our skin and go around our bodies to the ground when we’re barefoot. In this way grounding protects us from the incredibly harmful electromagnetic pollution.”
Actually, no. Lightning travels around the car because the car is made of metal, a conductor. But whether we’re standing barefoot or in rubber slippers, electromagnetic radiation can and often does pass directly through our bodies.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with walking (or running) barefoot. Human beings had feet before there were shoes. The Kanaka walked barefoot around Hawaii without complaint until the missionaries got here. If you want to walk around barefoot, go right ahead. You might feel better, or you might not.
The book does a reasonable (if overly long) job explaining various stretching and walking exercises. But feel free to ignore the book’s bad science.
Available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com