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15 Hawai‘i Books to Read This Summer

Our annual quest to track down this year’s can’t-miss books from local authors and publishers.


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Local Book Picks

Cherished Elders of Hula

By Ishmael Stagner II 

Nā Hulu Kūpuna O Hula is the last scholarly work of revered po‘e hula (keeper of the hula tradition) Ishmael Stagner. The son of a kumu hula, Stagner’s life work was spent learning from kūpuna, and, presented here as Cherished Elders of Hula, are his personal insights into Hawai‘i’s dance and chants. Stagner’s work reminds us that hula is a sacred art form, often passed from one generation to the next in selective bits. Both practitioners and hula lovers alike will find something here: insightful reflections, along with some 30 pages of photos of Stagner’s family and hula connections. Mutual Publishing, March 2015, 96 pages


A Pocket Guide to Nature on O‘ahu

By Michael Walther

With all the development and urban sprawl, it’s easy to forget that O‘ahu is home to some of the world’s most spectacular natural beauty. In Michael Walther’s new guidebook, you’re treated to dozens of photographs of the Gathering Place’s wildlife and plants, along with maps showing where to find these stunning creatures. From Hanauma Bay to Makapu‘u, Ka‘ena Point to Kapi‘olani Park, Walther’s guide will convince even the homiest of homebodies to get out and enjoy the view. Mutual Publishing, April 2015, 160 pages


Hawai‘i’s Scenic Roads: Paving the Way for Tourism in the Islands 

by Dawn Duensing

From the roads of foreign settlers meant to spur economic growth (think: sugar cane), to the scenic roads that used our islands’ beauty to drive the economy, Dawn Duensing takes a wide-lens look at the politics and social dynamics surrounding our highways and byways. Roads, Duensing argues, were a primary factor in redefining the Territory of Hawai‘i as a state (leaders argued that our federal highway funding confirmed we were an “integral part of the Union”). Hawai‘i’s Scenic Roads includes the stories surrounding some of our most loved drives, such as Pali Highway, Haleakalā Highway and Hāna Belt Road. UH Press, March 2015, 328 pages


The Blind Writer: Stories and a Novella

By Sameer Pandya 

UH Press is primarily a publisher of scholarly works, so we were excited to see literary fiction included in this year’s offerings. In this collection of short stories by  India-born author and University of California, Santa Barbara professor Sameer Pandya, we experience the lives of first- and second-generation Indian-Americans living in California. The stories are anchored by a novella, The Blind Writer, which follows an emotional love triangle over a period of several months, culminating in a life-changing moment for all. UH Press, January 2015, 216 pages


The Confessions of a Number One Son: The Great Chinese American Novel

by Frank Chin 

Frank Chin, author of the play The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon, penned a novel in the 1970s that went unpublished and was later presumed to be lost. UH Press has published this full-length work that continues the story of Chicken-coop’s main character Tam Lum. In Confessions, Lum has fled San Francisco’s Chinatown for the simple life of Maui, only to fall in love with Lily, a former nun, and befriend her father, a once-famous Hollywood actor. UH Press, March 2015, 280 pages


Līhu‘e: Root and Branch of a Hawai‘i Town

by Pat Griffin 

In this gorgeous hardcover, coffee-table volume on Līhu‘e town, Pat Griffin takes us on a trip, building by building, block by block, through the heart of Kaua‘i. Starting with kings and their men (Kaumuali‘i, the great ruler of Kaua‘i, who was subdued by Kamehameha the Great) to its plantation days (for 160 years, Līhu‘e sugar mill played a significant role in the town’s economy), Līhu‘e: Root and Branch of a Hawaiian Town is a meticulously researched look at one of the oldest hamlet-turned-town-turned-urban-centers in the Islands. Kaua‘i Historical Society (UH Press, distributor), January 2015, 322 pages


Bamboo Ridge 35th Anniversary Issue 

by multiple authors

It’s hard to believe that Bamboo Ridge is just 35 years old—we’re hard-pressed to imagine a time when Hawai‘i’s literary scene was without it. In this stunning issue featuring local favorites Wing Tek Lum, Juliet Kono, R. Zamora Linmark, Cathy Song and so many others, Bamboo Ridge says goodbye to its two founding editors, who are equally an institution in our literary scene: Eric Chock and Darrell Lum. Guest editors Lee Cataluna and Lisa Linn Kanae have put together this issue, and contributed some new work of their own. As far as we can tell, Bamboo Ridge’s future is bright. Bamboo Ridge Press, December 2014, 280 pages


A Nation Rising 

by multiple authors

In this volume of essays split into three parts—Life, Land and Sovereignty—contemporary readers are challenged to revisit key moments in the Hawaiian social movement that emerged in the 1970s. As much of a look back as it is a look forward, this volume is edited by the University of Hawai‘i’s Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua and Erin Kahunawaika‘ala Wright, along with The Hawai‘i Independent’s Ikaika Hussey. From the re-emergence of the Hawaiian language to resistance of the Akaka Bill, A Nation Rising is a call to action for Hawai‘i’s new generation. Duke University Press, September 2014, 416 pages


Why Smart Men Do the Same Dumb Things

by Rosalie Tatsuguchi

From the author of Why Smart People Do the Same Dumb Things comes a follow-up aimed at men and our penchant to repeat the same mistakes over and over again (though we’re curious why women don’t get a gender-specific version). Like its predecessor, this new volume uses psychology and Buddhist thought (Tatsuguchi is a veteran Hawai‘i psychologist) to create a road map to become a more mindful and happier you. We’re all for that. Watermark Publishing, May 2015, 144 pages


Language Contact in the Colonial Pacific: Maritime Polynesian Pidgin before Pidgin English

by Dr. Emanuel J. Drechsel

​How exactly did European explorers communicate with Native Hawaiians upon their initial arrival in the Islands? Most of us assume it was some sort of pidginlike English, but research from UH Mānoa professor Emanuel Drechsel reveals that it’s more likely that Europeans spoke some form of reduced Polynesian language called Maritime Polynesian Pidgin. It’s essentially a meld of Tahitian, Maori and Hawaiian, which are grammatically similar. Drechsel’s fascinating thesis turns a lot of our assumptions about Hawai‘i’s contact with the west upside down. Cambridge University Press, May 2014, 349 pages


A Common Virtue  

By James Hawkins

Honolulu resident James Hawkins draws on his experience as a U.S. Marine in the Vietnam War in his new novel A Common Virtue, which takes us into the jungle as sniper and reconnaissance expert Paul Jackson, sole survivor of a massacre at the hands of the Vietnamese foe. Like the Marines of today, many of these men are still kids (the character at the heart of this story is just 18), and, while it’s hard to see a story about the horrors of war as a coming-of-age novel, that’s exactly what we have here. A book with this caliber of vividness can only be written by someone who has been there.

Naval Institute Press, November 2014, 240 pages


Two Tyrants

By A.G. Roderick

Former political staffer in the state legislature and Honolulu City Council A.G. Roderick has written a new book that critiques our national two-party political system. Essentially arguing that, since both parties are cut from the same cloth of corruption and corporate influence, the American populace is left in a “crisis of creativity,” he says. With another Bush and Clinton likely to run for president in 2016, Roderick argues we’ve reached the point of an American monarchy, where surnames have become a political qualification. Two Tyrants is a call to action to take back our political system.


Photos: Odeelo Dayondon 




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