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Publisher’s Page: Booked Up

Filling your time—and shelves—with books is a longtime HONOLULU habit.


Alyson Helwagen
photo: karen db photography

Joseph L. Mrantz, the first publisher of this magazine after it was renamed HONOLULU from Paradise of the Pacific, wrote a small, one-third page note to readers each month. The first issue, July 1966, was actually called “HONOLULU Today”—but by August, the “Today” was gone, and a tagline was born: “A topical, tropical magazine.”         


In his column, Mrantz introduced the editors, gave behind-the-scenes insight into last-minute cover swaps, told of cocktail parties where stories were discovered and recounted reader feedback he had received.


In the January 1967 issue, Mrantz wrote a full-page piece with the results of the magazine’s first subscriber survey. The magazine had asked readers all the typical questions about age, income and spending plans over the next year. Even then, HONOLULU readers were among the most educated and affluent on the island. The signifiers of social position in those days, however, were so much different. For instance, 94 percent of readers had more than one radio in the house. Twenty-six percent of households had an FM radio. Ninety-two percent of households had a television; of those, 15 percent of them owned a color set.


And one detail he shared was that the HONOLULU subscriber’s family bought two new hardcover books and at least five paperbacks per month!


In the days before cable TV, 24-hour news cycles, Netflix, Prime movies on demand, video games, Facebook and countless other smartphone apps, reading books was the most common way to while away your free time.


In my tenure as publisher, we have never asked our subscribers about buying books. How would you answer? How many hardcover or paperback books do you buy each month? How many books do you buy on Audible or for your Kindle each month?


Maybe you should wait to answer until after you’ve read this month’s “50 Essential Hawai‘i Books.”


50 Essential Hawaii Books


It’s a great list of must-reads assembled by senior editor Don Wallace. He worked for months, gathering input from authors and literary types across the state, condensing it, polling them repeatedly with follow-up questions and finally tallying the opinions.


I will confess to being able to check off only two books on the list. It’s likely you’ll find dozens you haven’t read, either. Catching up to the seven books a month purchased by the bookworms who read this magazine 50 years ago is a tall order. But there’s ample inspiration to swap your screen time for page time for at least a few weeks.


So, what are you reading? And what books from our list do you want to read first? Email me at alysonh@honolulumagazine.com.


Thoughts about the magazine? Please email me at alysonh@honolulumagazine.com.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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