Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read: The Next 134
Our first list—50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime—was one of our most popular stories ever, but it didn’t do justice to our flourishing regional literary scene. So here we go again: More of da kine, only bigger, broader, deeper.
In 2018, we made a list of the 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime, after polling 100 authors, booksellers, reviewers, academics and critics. We had an immediate success on our hands, and the story remains one of our most popular posts ever, with nearly 96,000 views.
But success created an appetite for more—meaning a larger, more generously constituted list. So here we are, back with Part II. And this time it’s a fulsome 134 with 13 categories that should give new blood to your reading lists. They are:
World War II as You’ve Never Seen It
We devised the categories the way readers arrange their bookshelves, by genre, topic, tone, chronology and entertainment value. We hope you’ll find one or two books that take you out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll try a poetry collection; along with being magicians with words, our local poets are powerful storytellers. See how a surf tale like Eddie Aikau’s becomes a story of political awakening. Check out the Hawaiian Resources section, and you just may end up using ho‘oponopono to settle a family or neighborly dispute.
What isn’t here? As in 2018, we didn’t tackle children’s and young adult books. We also didn’t do plays since these are meant for performance; the same goes for oral storytelling and slam poetry. That doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of the vital contributions of these genres. Also, with regret, we aren’t listing the most boundary-stretching post-post-modernist poetry and fiction, and we didn’t include writing in Native Hawaiian, though it’s clearly growing in audience and practitioners.
How the Voting Worked
This time, we polled 45 voters, and like before, the criteria was impact, influence and readability. Books had to clear a bar of receiving multiple votes, awards, sales popularity and/or critical appreciation. For the write-ups, we checked each title against a variety of sources. Quotes in the capsule reviews are from our anonymous reviewers and from published reviews. For more information about how we came up with our list, we have a full explanation here.
Now, the list.
The Hawaiian Center
1 | Place Names of Hawai‘i by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel Elbert and Esther Mookini. What’s in a name? Only the special, sacred value of each geographical feature, so that the landscape speaks.
2 | Kingship and Sacrifice: Ritual and Society in Ancient Hawai‘i by Valerio Valeri. The author demonstrates how in a socially stratified society like Hawai‘i’s the assumption of the divine through rituals can be read as a key to an entire religious culture.
3 | The Mo‘olelo of Davida Malo (Volume 2) edited and translated by Charles Langlas and Jeffry Lyons, with contributions by Noelani Arista. Continues the project of bringing to light the writings of the most important pre-Contact Native Hawaiian chronicler.
4 | A Shark Going Inland is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawai‘i by Patrick Vinton Kirch. Working back from the arrival of Captain Cook, noted anthropologist Kirch spent four decades tracing the routes of Hawaiian and Polynesian settlement to a possible origin in the South China Sea.
5 | Journals of Captain Cook by James Cook. Like peering through a telescope into a past that you’re powerless to change, the journals from 1771 to 1779 are best read in excerpts. Each of Cook’s first encounters with societies and islands are memorable while coming across as tragic anthropological errors.
6 | The Kingdom and the Republic: Sovereign Hawaiʻi and the Early United States by Noelani Arista. Unearthing a trove of articles and documents from early Contact, Arista reconstructs the often fraught circumstances under which the chiefs and aliʻi created the first written indigenous laws and extended them to kanaka maoli and foreigner alike.
7 | Facing the Spears of Change: The Life and Legacy of John Papa ʻĪʻī by Marie Alohalani Brown. Remarkable and gripping, this life of a central figure in the transition of Hawai‘i, deftly recovered from his own writings by Brown, allows us a front-row seat to personal transformation, from serving a divine king as a child—in an atmosphere where a mistake could lead to severe punishment or even death—to deftly navigating decades of political and career upheavals as a statesman.
8 | Reclaiming Kalākaua: Nineteenth Century Perspectives on a Hawaiian Sovereign by Tiffany Lani Ing. Drawing on contemporary international, American and Native Hawaiian accounts of the reign of Hawaiʻi’s king, Ing refutes the negative portrait painted by more than a century of overthrow propagandists.
9 | The Diaries of Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, 1885-1900; edited and annotated by David W. Forbes. A magnificent life labor by the late Forbes brings the queen to life in her own words—and, as we know, she’s quite a writer and observer.
10 | Dismembering Lāhui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887 by Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio. Covers the kingdom’s first constitutional government in 1840 to the Bayonet Constitution that forcibly placed political power in the hands of white businessmen, while tracing the economic and social development of the Islands.
11 | Return to Kahiki: Native Hawaiians in Oceania by Keaulani Cook. The story of how Native Hawaiians, from 1850 to 1907, set forth to rekindle connections to other Pacific Island nations.
12 | Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaiʻi co-edited by Hōkūlani K. Aikau and Vernadette Vicuña Gonzalez. Perfect to give to that remote worker visitor from Silicon Valley—or leave around for family and friends to pick up and learn on their own. “The essays, stories, artworks, maps, and tour itineraries in Detours create decolonial narratives in ways that will forever change how readers think about and move throughout Hawai‘i,” a voter writes.
The World Builders
13 | Typee by Herman Melville. This debut memoir from 1842 made 26-year-old Melville one of the country’s best-known authors, and the de facto authority on Polynesia, while plunging him into controversy for its cold-eyed view of the “riot and debauchery” of sailors in Honolulu and Tahiti. This and his contemptuous view of Hawai‘i’s missionaries and Western civilization in general attracted so much criticism, which continued with his sequel Omoo, that a fed-up Melville turned to fiction, culminating in Moby-Dick.
14 & 15 | Hilo Rains and Tsunami Years by Juliet S. Kono. When Hilo Rains came out in 1988, its quietly earthy subject matter said here was one poet who would not let her beautifully disciplined lines blunt her emotional force. About growing up Japanese American in Hilo, it received many votes. “This one is fundamental,” one voter says. Hilo Rains has a famous tsunami poem, “Tsunami: April Fools’ Day, 1946,” but the wave really hits in her 1995 book of poetry, Tsunami Years, a spare and unsparing chronicle of the time of life when everything starts coming undone—and there’s no way to reverse the losses, except to write about them.
16 | Wayne Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake, edited by Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki. His work scattered and overlooked due to an untimely fatal traffic accident in 1984, Westlake was a poet of imagination and a key figure in modern Hawai‘i poetry, incorporating Taoist influences and translating haiku while helping to define a Native Hawaiian poetics. Yet his work was difficult to find until this collection of more than 200 poems was pulled together in 2009, 25 years after his death. A writer who did not seek the limelight, he has ended up influencing generation after generation with his spare, stripped-down, almost ideogrammatically pure lines. “Wayne Westlake lives on!” says a voter.
17 | Miss Aluminum by Susanna Moore. This surreally deadpan ’60s memoir starts with Moore as a Kāhala waif hānai’d by her wealthy next-door neighbors whose last name is Kaiser and moves her on, Candide-style, into modeling and the Hollywood ’60s scene, where hanging around Joan Didion and Jack Nicholson and acting in a spy spoof with Dean Martin only underscore her lack of agency. But it’s there in the brilliance of the prose.
18 & 19 | Song of the Exile and House of Many Gods by Kiana Davenport. Besides her powerful, boundary-pushing language, the second and third novels in Davenport’s Shark Dialogues trilogy are linked by how they trace the lives of Native Hawaiians who make bold choices—choosing to follow careers as well as lovers, to venture to Europe and Asia, to give themselves to political activism—but also in how they don’t gloss over the sacrifices, tragedies and guilt that come with the territory. Exile tracks star-crossed lovers Sunny and Keo from the 1930s in Germany and Shanghai up to statehood. By following Keo’s jazz career to Europe at the edge of war, Sunny will end up a “comfort woman”—and live out a Doctor Zhivago-esque epic that never pulls its punches. House follows two Native Hawaiian women, mother and daughter, as they confront contemporary political responsibility and the confusions it wreaks on family life; it’s also an unromanticized portrait of a matriarchal household in a Wai‘anae struggling with crime, drugs and violence. Both books are unusual for the freedom of plot and worldly experience they offer their characters.
20 | Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Unstinting devotion to the sensory details and scarring incidents of a teenager’s Japanese American life in 1970s Hilo gives Yamanaka’s story the feeling of a tweener Blue Velvet. Worth every shiver.
21 | Volcano: A Memoir of Hawai‘i by Garrett Hongo. Uprooted as a child from Hawai‘i Island thanks to a family quarrel over an inheritance, Hongo is raised to forget Hawai‘i, only to return as an adult with a family of his own. Settled in the town near the family store where he was born in a back room, he writes movingly of inhaling the dramatic natural landscape, reconnecting with people and their stories, and even confronting the stepmother who cut them out of the will—and, almost, the town of Volcano.
22 | Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka. Three sisters are sent away in 1913 to St. Joseph’s orphanage because of TB, but only one, Anah, survives, setting the stage for a multigenerational ghost story about guilt, love and healing. “Her absolute best, and that’s saying a lot,” one voter says. The Washington Post: “A novel with impressive scope and emotional power.”
23 | Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. This time-traveling bestseller blew minds by tying together characters through literary reincarnation across the ages and into the future. It also won over many local readers with how its theme of justice and freedom applied to Hawai‘i, Polynesia and North Korea as well as the USA and, most amusingly, a totalitarian senior residence outside of London. Bravura set pieces include an 1850s ocean voyage to Hawai‘i with a stealthy maniac killer on board and a dystopian Hawai‘i Island in the far future where the remains of Island humanity battle atop frozen Maunakea and inside a TMT-like telescope. It all works quite magically.
24 | Boi No Good by Chris McKinney. After his suburban novels of quiet desperation Bolohead Row and Mililani Mauka—both of which received votes—in 2012 McKinney let loose on his other Honolulu: a place tearing itself apart over the divide between rich and poor. In this tale he contrasts the struggle of three Native Hawaiian children abandoned by their ice addict mother with a narcissistic surf-hero governor who has a vision of mandatory birth control for welfare recipients. Social realism and magic realism collide as the plot pounds us with extraordinary scenes and drop-dead lines like “The rich have lawyers, the poor have their fists.”
25 | Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son: One Hawai‘i Okinawan Journal by Lee Tonouchi. Pidgin poems by the peerless and tireless Tonouchi tell a semi-autobiographical story that mixes recognition, heartache and humor with the inventive genius of Pidgin. “His level of perception and insight into people is astonishing,” says Jon Shirota, author of Lucky Come Hawai‘i. “Da buggah, terrific ear for storytelling.” A successful theater adaptation has only added to its fame. Winner of the 2013 Association of Asian American Studies Poetry/Prose Book Award.
26 | This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila. Casting a Gen X eye over what has become of this place, the California-raised Native Hawaiian author crafts short stories whose characters wrestle with the frustration of belongingness and separation. To see their carefree joys so often punctured by awareness of the struggles of family and friends, against a backdrop of a land that is no longer theirs, underscores the depredations of colonialism’s heir, tourism.
27 | Still Out of Place by Christy Passion. Winner of the 2017 Cades Award for an emerging writer, Passion set literary Hawai‘i on its ear with these plain-spoken, understated poems of contemporary hard-luck island lives. She can bewitch a lurid scene into beauty: “Fish heads, heads as big as mine, / with their purple lungs trailing / like party streamers / are held up for approval.” Her quiet, incisive authority produces a kind of emotional whiplash.
28 | Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. A strongly written novel of a Native Hawaiian family blessed, and then torn apart, when one of their three children is acclaimed for supernatural powers of healing. Despite the magical realism frame, it’s the real realism that sticks with you: “The story starts with night marchers and shark ‘aumakua watching out for this broken family. And then it gets deep,” a voter writes.
29 | Midnight, Water City by Chris McKinney. Powerful sci-fi noir, driven by murder, gene-splicing and climate change, set a century from now in a nearly underwater Hawai‘i whose culture has been all but erased—except for an enormous telescope. “The spawn of Asimov and Tesla,” says 50 Essential pick Kiana Davenport. Adds a judge: “[McKinney’s novel] The Tattoo wuz da bar he wen set and I love how he reinvented himself with Midnight, Water City. It’s like he wen create one whole new bar, brah.” The book’s made several best lists, including Newsweek’s, and is part of a trilogy.
30 | To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara. With her bestseller A Little Life Yanagihara found a huge audience eager to give themselves over to intense, emotional stories saturated in operatic misery. In To Paradise the dramas also soar, in this case to the rafters of a New York townhouse over three different eras, each a variation on a different future. But in each the characters are gay men dealing with sex, inequality, class bias and emotional trade-offs; with each era’s shift, they trade characteristics of their previous incarnations, like a shuffled identikit. The result is “dazzling and less grueling,” one voter says, although “the Hawai‘i parts feel the least effective.”
31 | Light in the Crevice Never Seen by Haunani-Kay Trask. Two opposing reviews by the top two review services seem an apt way to explain why this 1994 book of poetry made several lists. From Booklist: “In heavily cadenced, musical language, Trask explores the social realities affecting Native Hawaiians today, from youthful suicide to loss of language, from verbal racism to physical violence. But there is also in her work a deep connection to the islands’ beautiful, ocean-ringed land and to the sustaining strengths of family and of love.” From Kirkus Reviews: “For a debut collection, it is extraordinarily angry. An activist and an academic, Trask resents what she sees as the subjugation of Hawaii by the Japanese and the Americans … few who are not already sympathizers will be moved by Trasks (sic) shrill, two-dimensional verse.” Both cited it as the first publication of a book of poems by a Native Hawaiian woman; we’re with Linda Hogan, who said it “takes us through a plundered world where woman gods rise up, strong and resilient, where life is defended with ‘a spear of memory.’”
32 | Kaho‘olawe: Na Leo o Kanaloa under the guidance of Barbara Pope, Rowland B. Reeve, Maile Meyer, Nelson Foster and Puakea Nogelmeier with foreword by Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli. The essence of Kaho‘olawe unfolds in this gorgeous 1996 book of chants and photographs by Wayne Levin, Rowland B. Reeve, Franco Salmoiraghi and David Ulrich.
33 | When the Shark Bites by Rodney Morales. Evicted from their apartment, a Native Hawaiian construction worker and his wife head for Waimānalo, where his past as an activist catches up with him. Telling truths only novels dare to broach, it’s an unsparing look at the soul-killing compromises forced upon so many in the Islands—on most of us, when you think of it. And it could’ve been written this morning.
34 | Hawaiki Rising: Hōkūle‘a, Nainoa Thompson, and the Hawaiian Renaissance by Sam Low. The grand drama of reestablishing Polynesian navigation and building the traditional canoe to prove it. Winner of the Kamakau Award in 2014.
35 | Ē Luku Wale Ē by Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf; photos by the authors as Piliāmo‘o. That one of the most beautiful books of photography of Hawai‘i represents its violation is the point here. When protests failed to stop H-3, the worst pork barrel project in O‘ahu history until rail came along, the authors slipped onto the job site after hours for months to photograph the extraordinary beauty of the North Hālawa Valley as its canopy was being cut down and its ‘āina gouged open, revealing Hawaiian temples that would barely be noted, let alone preserved. The copious endnotes are not to be missed, providing a scrupulous and detailed history.
36 | A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty edited by Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘ōpua, Ikaika Hussey and Erin Kahunawaika‘ala Wright. This 2014 book is a much-cited resource for understanding the history and context—and complications—of the sovereignty movement. With two dozen activists, scholars and others contributing essays, many voices and viewpoints are represented; of particular interest to “mainlanders, colonizers, and their descendants,” says one reviewer.
37 | The Value of Hawaiʻi 3: Hulihia the Turning co-edited by Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, Craig Howes, Jonathan Kay Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio and Aiko Yamashiro. The latest installment in what is now a series—the first made the 50 Essential—this volume has a wide range of contributors of shorter personal essays that together suggest directions for the future in response to catastrophic times. Can either be purchased as a book or downloaded for free here.
38 | Remembering Our Intimacies: Moʻolelo, Aloha ʻĀina, and Ea by Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio. A remarkable combination of memoir, personal essay and detailed scholarly analysis by one of Hawaiʻi’s best-known artists, scholars and activists, this won the Best First Book Prize from the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
39 | Nā Wāhine Koa: Hawaiian Women for Sovereignty and Demilitarization by Moanike‘ala Akaka, Maxine Kahaulelio, Terrilee Keko‘olani-Raymond and Loretta Ritte, with Noelani Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, editor. Oral histories present the political lives of the four co-authors, the wāhine koa (courageous women), leaders in Hawaiian movements of aloha ‘āina.
40 | The Queen and I: A Story of Dispossessions and Reconnections in Hawaiʻi by Sydney Lehua Iaukea. A stirring tale of how the author went from growing up in the Maui projects to coming into her own while bringing to light the neglected, and revealing, archives of her great-grandfather Curtis Iaukea, court chamberlain and adviser to Kalākaua and Liliʻuokalani.
41 | Ask The Brindled by Noʻu Revilla. One of five winners of the 2021 National Poetry Series, a major national honor conferring publication by venerable indie Milkweed Editions, originally subtitled Indigiqueer Poetry from Hawai‘i, this assured and visceral volume is comprised of fugues on queer life, always anchored by its acute awareness of the politics of language, blood, identity and sovereignty. It does it all with discipline, breath and fierce commitment, always arriving at beauty.
Lucky We Live Hawai‘i
42 | Small Kid Time Hawai‘i edited by Eric Chock. “Priceless and enduring classic anthology of poems written mostly by 8-to-12-year-old public school children in the Poets in the Schools Program, inspired and guided by Eric Chock,” one voter says.
43 | Kauai Tales by Frederick Wichman, illustrated by Christine Faye. Carefully researched series about Hawaiian legends associated with landmarks on Kaua‘i and beautifully illustrated. Also by Wichman: More Kauai Tales and Pele Ma.
44 | Aloha Rodeo: Three Hawaiian Cowboys, the World’s Greatest Rodeo, and a Hidden History of the American West by David Wolman and Julian Smith. The rousing true story of how the Hawaiian paniolo came to be and why they were the world’s best, as was proved at the 1908 Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming—where they defied racism, trick ponies and poor sportsmanship to win the whole shebang.
45 | Obake: Ghost stories in Hawai‘i by Glen Grant. These supernatural tales collected from residents by historian Glen Grant and printed first in the Hawai‘i Herald are a familiar sight on local bookshelves. They would launch Grant on a multiplatform story hunt, leading to the Obake Files, Chicken Skin Tales, radio hosting and ghost tours—all in addition to a distinguished teaching record.
46 | Best of Bamboo Ridge edited by Darrel H.Y. Lum and Eric Chock. Published eight years after the 1978 start of the famously tenacious journal of local writing, the book was adopted by a number of schools and classes—putting local literature in the hands of young locals in school, perhaps for the first time. Still a classic.
47 | In Good Company by Cedric Yamanaka. Eight short stories by Yamanaka that build on character, neighborhood and quirk: In 2002 these were to many readers quintessential insider’s stories. Local treasures, they portray just folks (albeit with some colorful nicknames) living average, mostly working-class lives, their conversations code-switching into and out of Pidgin. His new book of stories, Made in Hawaii, came out in 2022.
48 | The Blue Tomato: The Inspirations Behind the Cuisine of Alan Wong by Alan Wong and Arnold Hiura. In his second book the noted Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine pioneer explains how he stays open to possibilities—including the theoretical blue tomato of the title—that become new recipes, 70 of which are collected here.
49 | Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux. 2002. “After a trajectory in many ways mapping the author’s own,” writes a New York Times reviewer, Theroux’s alter-ego character gets a job managing the eponymous hotel—where things get spicy thanks to a colorful and libidinous clientele whose stories he observes. Have fun matching his fictional characters to the (possibly) real ones.
50 | The People’s Race Inc. Behind the Scenes at the Honolulu Marathon by Michael S.K.N. Tsai. The rise of an underdog race to a big-time, big-money event powered by intrigue and sports politicking.
51 | The Healers by Kimo Armitage. Forget the hobbits: This smart, swift, psychologically acute novel conveys indigenous knowledge and healing in the everyday life of two children, Pua and Keola. Light on its feet, the story follows their growth and understanding of their elusive powers, which don’t spare them the pain of family and interpersonal conflicts. The drama intensifies when a channeler arrives from Tahiti, whose dark spirit feeds off his abandonment. The book is for younger readers, but the magic of the language and perceptual shifts repay readings on several levels.
52 | Cook Real Hawai‘i: A Cookbook by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder. More than just recipes, author/chef Simeon includes lots of talk story anecdotes about growing up local and food as a metaphor for our diversity/multicultural way of life. One judge says: “To me dis da definitive Local cookbook. Chef Simeon does his chef take on ALL da Local classics and creates some new classics along da way. My family from Maui so I always heard about Fry Soup, but no more hardly any information about what dat wuz. Chef Simeon wen even research dat!”
The Immigrant Experience
53 | Jan Ken Po: The World of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans by Dennis Ogawa. An influential if hard-to-find sociology study first published in 1978 and reprinted several times, Jan Ken Po used the popularity and spread of the rock-paper-scissors game as a starting point for its catalog of customs, traditions and adaptations of the first generations of Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i.
54 | Picture Bride Stories by Barbara F. Kawakami. This, the second of Kawakami’s books, tells the life stories of 16 women who came as picture brides to Hawai‘i from Japan and Okinawa. Stripping away the veneer of plantation nostalgia, it reveals their harsh struggles but also their inner strengths and resourcefulness. “Meticulously detailed and documented,” one voter says.
55 | The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway. Even now the improbable tale of how a dog paddling Soichi Sakamoto turned a group of poor Japanese American plantation kids into Olympians still gives chicken skin. This deeply researched New York Times bestseller gave the tale its full due with vivid storytelling.
56 | Comfort Woman by Nora Okja Keller. Historically important, the novel’s arrival in 1997 changed the discussion of World War II’s victims in Asia; “it brought up comfort women and made it a more mainstream discussion,” one voter says. Though only one section is set in Hawai‘i, it was cited by two local Korean writers as the book that opened up a space for them in literature.
57 | Balikbayan: A Filipino Homecoming by Michelle Cruz Skinner. Published when the author was just 22, these short stories felt like breakthroughs in 1986 and still hit hard today. Skinner, says Bienvenido Santos, “knows her American bases in the Philippines, the bars, the beggars … and the tragedy of the returning native who is a stranger in her own land.” Also recommended: In the Company of Strangers, 16 stories about Filipinos “tongue-tied and alienated in the motherland, or scattered across the map of heartaches and homesickness,” says R. Zamora Linmark.
58 | Last Days Here by Eric Chock. Perhaps no one has his name attached to more anthologies of Hawai‘i literature than Chock, who organized the first Talk Story Writers Conference and co-founded Bamboo Ridge. His own poems, some in Pidgin, some in a voice of clarity earned by contemplation of the pain we inflict on each other and our planet, often explore the Chinese immigrant experience in the Islands.
59 | A Ricepaper Airplane by Gary Pak. A dying field worker in the 1920s, who’s lived a hard life as laborer, organizer and would-be revolutionary, recalls his bold attempt to build an airplane out of scraps that would take him back to Korea and his wife and child. The source of his pain feels as fresh today as in 1998.
60 | Hamakua Hero: A True Plantation Story by Patsy Iwasaki, illustrated by Berido. What one voter describes as “a predecessor to the boom in graphic novels,” this 2010 book tells the true story of the 1889 lynching of labor organizer Katsu Goto in Honoka‘a. The manga style by Avery Berido is perfectly suited to the dark dealings in the vast sugar cane fields, where crimes in service to plantation owners went unreported but not unremembered.
61 | The Nanking Massacre: Poems by Wing Tek Lum. Drawing on documents, personal histories and eyewitness accounts, Lum uses poetry as a tool to scrape away the fog of war and forgetfulness, placing us in the whirlwind of an atrocity. Hawai‘i’s role in the creation of modern China—and China’s in the creation of modern Hawai‘i—means this happened to us, too.
62 | Swimming in Hong Kong by Stephanie Han. A range of Asian ex-pat, immigrant and next-gen lives gives this diaspora short story collection a wide sweep and opportunity for commentary. In one, a Korean immigrant works in a salon, “plucking pubic hair for a living” while putting off her claustrophobically Christian fiancé. In another, set on an East Coast summer-people island, a scholarship girl working in a laundry enjoys a brief fling with a sensitive golden boy before the inevitable door of class slams shut. Winner of the Paterson Fiction Prize.
63 | Pidgin Eye by Joe Balaz. From Lee Tonouchi’s 2019 Star-Advertiser review: “Pidgin Eye stay broke da eye good. As one fan of one of Hawai‘i’s most underrecognized poets, I wuz supa-excited to learn that Ala Press came out with his book of poetry.” The Hawaiian/Pidgin poet started off writing conventionally but in the 1980s made the switch to Pidgin. His work was scattered in local small magazines such as the Chaminade Literary Review, Hawai‘i Review, and Kaimana and thus hard to find until this collection. “His work stay important,” Tonouchi writes. Balaz is a Cades Award winner.
64 | Nuclear Family by Joseph Han. A rising star of the next generation of local writers, Han’s novel delights as a screwball comedy of a struggling Korean family’s restaurant misadventures in Honolulu, but also dives deep into the pain of immigrant separation when the owners’ closeted son makes a futile attempt to cross the DMZ into North Korea. The trauma is real—as is the ghost that’s fighting to take over the boy—and so are the laughs of delighted disbelief. Han is a “5 Under 35” selectee of the National Book Foundation.
Land & Power
65 | Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure by Julia Flynn Siler. A very readable narrative of the rise and fall of the Hawaiian Kingdom with a moving portrayal of Liliʻuokalani and her battle royal to stave off the white business establishment coup, with expert economic sleuthing into the role of debt and sugar in undermining the kingdom.
66 | Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawai‘i by Carol MacLennan. This unique and accomplished study, buttressed by expert analysis of data from decades of sugar production, reveals the steep price we’ve all paid for the brutal terraforming of the Island environment, pollution, pesticide use, destruction of Indigenous ecosystems, arduous labor conditions for workers, and manipulation of the political system, up to the overthrow of the kingdom—all for a crop that couldn’t make a profit elsewhere without slavery, or, in the Islands, without a captive labor force, beneficial tax status and subsidies.
67 | The Island Edge of America: A Political History of Hawai‘i by Tom Coffman. This landmark 2003 book carefully dissects all the political forces at play, and the rising sovereignty movement, in the formation of contemporary Hawai‘i as it went from kingdom to colony to state.
68 | Hawai‘i: Islands Under the Influence by Noel Kent. A powerful analysis in 1993, the book’s themes of “dependency, misdevelopment and elitism dominate Hawai‘i’s economic evolution more than ever,” says a voter. The updated 2016 edition looks at the Japanese investment spree in the 1980s, the tourism industry, local politics and, one voter adds, sovereignty as “a potential source of renewal.”
69 | Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawai‘i? by Jon M. Van Dyke. Law professor Van Dyke analyzes and deconstructs the legal tangle surrounding the portion of land that King Kamehameha III allocated to himself in the Great Mahele of 1846. In 1864, the million-acre holdings were protected by court order from any sale—reserved for all Native Hawaiians—only to have the majority transferred to the state of Hawai‘i upon statehood. Van Dyke argues for separate treatment of these crown lands in recognition of the original intention that they remain under the control of Native Hawaiians for the benefit of Native Hawaiians, an argument that’s applicable today, including at Maunakea.
70 | Ben: A Memoir, From Street Kid to Governor by Ben Cayetano. Cayetano’s account of his knockabout early life is refreshing and you’ll get a Rocky-like thrill seeing him work his way up the educational ladder to a law degree, which sets up his triumphant return home to a political career and two terms as governor. Too bad the book came out before the 2012 mayoral election so we could hear his thoughts on rail’s flaws or the smear campaign that cost him the primary election; now we can only sigh at what might’ve been done with that lost $12 billion (and counting).
World War II As You’ve Never Seen It
71 | From Here to Eternity by James Jones. Most know the movie for the famous lovers’ clinch in the surf, but the 1951 bestseller—drawn from the author’s experiences as an infantryman before and after Pearl Harbor—is extraordinary for its scathing realism about the sloth and boorishness of career military occupying Hawai‘i on the eve of war. Its descriptions of Dec. 7 and the panic and hysteria of the military afterward are pitiless and unflinching.
72 | Lucky Come Hawaii: A Novel of December 7, 1941 by Jon Shirota. Besides introducing a certain phrase to a wider public, this 1965 story didn’t sugarcoat the confusions and suspicions that erupted on Maui during the long Pearl Harbor Day. In his portrait of an Okinawan family and its Native Hawaiian and other neighbors, playwright Shirota frankly presents the ethnic and class rivalries, as well as the rough country manners and speech of his characters and culture. The story still shocks.
73 | Inclusion: How Hawai‘i Protected Japanese Americans from Mass Internment, Transformed Itself, and Changed America by Tom Coffman. Perhaps the state’s most compassionate champion of the better angels of humanity, Coffman unearths the untold history of how a small multiracial group met and formed plans to influence the treatment of the Japanese Americans should war break out. Their success in moderating what would have been a harsh overreaction, as on the West Coast, depended on the close work and friendship among three leaders—one Chinese, one patrician haole, one Japanese—whose influence shaped Hawai‘i’s future, and, yes, America’s.
74 | Bayonets in Paradise: Martial Law in Hawai‘i during World War II by Harry N. Scheiber and Jane L. Scheiber. A shocking four years now little remembered, the U.S. Army’s imposition of martial law over the Islands would be a gripping and anger-provoking story, especially as this husband-and-wife team of scholars tell it. But the authors’ revelations are dizzying once we comprehend how close Hawai‘i came to becoming a permanent military base, a goal its Army overlords pursued with maniacal intensity. Even with the war all but won, the general in charge would present an “improved” martial law order to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for his approval in 1944—which would have transferred the territory to the War Department.
75 | The First Strange Place: Race and Sex in World War II Hawai‘i by Beth L. Bailey and David R. Farber. Here’s one of those “secret” books passed among initiates who can handle the truth, in this case what went down on Hotel Street and elsewhere during the war. In addition to scholarly but eye-popping details of life here, its other great accomplishment is to chart how experiences with Hawai‘i’s relaxed racial relations changed many a GI, pilot, swabbie and Marine, besides introducing them to aloha shirts.
76 | Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto. Two young brothers, one in Hawai‘i, one in Japan, find themselves on opposite sides after the attack on Pearl Harbor. They’re neither American nor Japanese citizens, yet end up as soldiers—the one in Japan unwillingly, the other in the U.S. as a way of securing his family’s freedom from an internment camp.
77 | Anshū: Dark Sorrow by Juliet S. Kono. History informs this story of a Japanese American girl who leaves Hawai‘i’s cane fields for Japan, is trapped by war, and lives through Hiroshima. “It’s a tawdry plantation story gone sideways then taken to Japan in the midst of WWII culminating in the Hiroshima bomb. It’s yoked together with the sensibility of a Buddhist priest,” one voter says.
78 | Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, The Lieutenant’s Nurse, Red Sky Over Hawaiʻi, Radar Girls and The Codebreaker’s Secret by Sara Ackerman. In just six years Ackerman has claimed the title of Queen of World War II Hawaiʻi historical romances and won a large national readership with this series, each book grounded in real events and people. Hawaiʻi born and raised, she’s broken ground in the genre with full casts of multiracial characters. Her first title was the bestselling book at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in 2018.
This Is Us
79 | Talk Story: An anthology of Hawai‘i’s Local Writers edited by Eric Chock. Released at the groundbreaking Talk Story Writers Conference of 1978, this hard-to-find anthology is “probably the first to attempt to define local literature,” one voter writes.
80 | Stories of Hawaii by Jack London. London was a working-class socialist whose best work still stirs the blood and heart. “His Hawaiian stories are among his best and often display sophisticated observation not usually associated with London, especially when they concern race snobbery,” writes a 1965 reviewer, praising “Koolau the Leper” (1909) and “Goodbye Jack,” both about the disease that devastated Native Hawaiians.
81 | Chaloookyu Eensai by Joe Hadley. “Before Talk Story Conference, before Bamboo Ridge Press, before the thing we know as local literature,” says a voter, there was Bradajo, as Hadley called himself when the Pidgin muse was upon him. The unassuming poet on Kaua‘i had quietly self-published his work in composition books, with a recording included; to double down, they were written in his own “distinctive Pidgin calligraphy,” one voter recalls. This, his first formally released book—aka Try Look YOU Inside—came out in 1972 from Liberty House. (Yes, Liberty House.) A good introduction to Hadley’s work is MA KET STENLE aka My Cat Stanley. More at jozufhadley.com.
82 | My Old Sweetheart by Susanna Moore. This 1982 debut won Moore acclaim for its autobiographical portrait of a disintegrating upper-crust Kāhala couple seen through the eyes of their wounded daughter, Lily, whose disengaged father prefers a local beauty to his high-strung, increasingly high wife. A lush, sharply written if voyeuristic look into privileged lives.
83 | Outspeaks a Rhapsody by Albert Saijo. “Beat poet, ran with Kerouac and Welch. His book is still a trip. Stream of consciousness, rant, language experiment with no punctuation and ALL CAPS. This book should be on the reading list of every student of poetry,” one voter says.
84 | Night Fisher by R. Kikuo Johnson. Now an acclaimed New Yorker cover artist, Johnson’s 2005 graphic novel about a pair of Maui high school friends who blow up their lives received national acclaim in a new edition last year.
85 | Lāhaina Noon by Eric Paul Shaffer. Author of several books, translator, behind-the-scenes sustainer of literary Hawai‘i, Shaffer writes with the egoless clarity of one who’s been dipped in the same clear poetic stream as Lew Welch and Gary Snyder. Winner of the Ka Palapala Poʻokela Book Award, these poems of local life and history feel as centered as the rare hour referred to in the title.
86 | A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban Oʻahu by Joseph Stanton. The bard of ‘Aiea, Stanton has won both the Elliot Cades and Ka Palapala Poʻokela awards for his artful, compressed stanzas, many of them in the zone where nature and humans mix. Stanton “finds meaning, even magic, in every mundane corner of contemporary Hawai‘i life,” says reviewer Michael Tsai.
87 | Morningside Heights: New York Stories by Joe Tsujimoto. The title references the neighborhood nestled between Harlem and Columbia University, where the Japanese American family in these 2008 stories settled after internment. The son’s voice and experiences are central: growing up, taking to the streets in the ’60s, becoming aware of his family’s circumstances, eventually ending up on Maui and O‘ahu. A bumpy ride told in a variety of tones and voices that capture a precarious journey of identity, “the stories, particularly about the father, are heartbreaking.”
88 | The Salt-Wind Ka Makani Paʻakai by Brandy Nalani McDougall. In this debut poetry collection, McDougall writes with a Native Hawaiian’s own poetics and historical lens, rendering in fluid lines an imagery where lyricism and biting wit jointly assess the damage wrought by occupation, environmental plunder, the distorting white gaze. Other poems fly high on the joy of connection or plumb the earth for signs of revival and rejuvenation. “Good poems of local life and history,” a voter says.
89 | Honolulu Stories edited by Bennett Hymer and Craig Howes. This 2008 labor of literary love comprises 1,000 pages of Honolulu writing over more than a century and a half. “The most comprehensive publication I can think of. It would crash hard drives if it were available on Kindle,” according to a voter. We think someone should try, anyway.
90 | Islands Linked by Ocean by Lisa Linn Kanae. Here, Island life is so sharply observed you just keep bouncing from one moment of recognition to the next. Reviewer Lee Cataluna calls one story’s opening line “more than a hook, it’s a shop vac sucking you in.” Another voter describes the writing as “clean, thoughtful and funny.”
91 | ‘Ewa Which Way by Tyler Miranda. A book that hit readers hard: “A coming-of-age story with our local culture as the touchstone. I cried,” a voter says. The story follows a teenager whose dissolving, financially strapped local Portuguese family moves back to ‘Ewa and maroons him in a brooding hurricane of abuse, Catholic guilt, Jack Daniels and hopelessness, all while he takes care of his younger brother. Whether first love and his own innate character can save him is the question—because it looks like no one else is going to.
92 | Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock. A transgender woman overcomes challenges on her journey from a childhood in Hawai‘i to becoming an outspoken activist, author, critic central to the cultural appropriation issue, and media figure.
93 | Between Sky and Sea: A Family’s Struggle by Donald Carreira Ching. It’s about three young men and the paths they take: the one whose drug addiction wraps everyone in black despair, the elder who feels he must surrender his dreams to family responsibility, and the youngest who runs away, only to find escape is impossible, anyway. “Gripping and engaging. Extremely well-written,” one voter says.
94 | Leaving Our Shadows Behind Us by Elmer Omar Bascos Pizo. Once past the brief but gorgeously poetic joys of his rural Philippine youth, the poet’s eye lingers on human exploitation while always showing compassion for his fellow beasts of burden. “A stark telling of one Filipino immigrant story—its grittiest parts—being held hostage in Saudi Arabia (passport withheld),” says a voter. After forced labor and physical abuse, he escapes, eventually to Hawai‘i. The poems came, and are gathered here, as a result of the local poetry community coming together with one of his employers, who one day thought to ask what he was jotting down on his scraps of paper. The result is a triumph personally, collectively, and for poetry.
95 | All the Love in the World by Cathy Song. “Released during the first year of the pandemic, it’s a sleeper,” says a voter, “something that just never got on people’s radar. She’s Hawai‘i’s most well-known and most well-respected poet, both nationally and internationally.” The collection of linked stories that spans three generations of a local Korean/Chinese family ascends at the end from a “humble celebration of small joys” to a surprise mind-blowing glimpse of the mysterious eternal that strikes on a tourist trip to India.
96 | Calabash Stories by Jeffrey Higa. Higa captured local reader hearts—and a large number of votes—with these gentle, sometimes painful, always well-observed stories of Hawai‘i lives that take the side, and points of view, of local people whose lives may otherwise escape notice. Winner of the Robert C. Jones Prize, shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.
97 | The Kitchen of Small Hours by Derek Otsuji. For 20 years the word on Lit Street was Derek Otsuji was writing the good stuff but not sending it out for publication. Then a few poems started appearing, many in mainland magazines, but still we’d only hear about them because we had an inside source at the KCC Farmers Market (his father’s farm stand). Last year the book came out from Southern Illinois University Press, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. In one sense these are memorial poems written to the author’s ancestors and others in his ‘ohana, but that hardly does justice to their wit and flair. For an example we’d choose this title: “Upon First Seeing. Housed at the Bishop Museum, The Kesho Mawashi Belonging To My Grandfather, Skinny Sumo Wrestler.” The fact that there’s even a poem attached to it feels like gravy.
98 | Hawaiian Surfing: Traditions from the Past by John R. Kukeakalani Clark. In addition to being a source of endless fascination for the aquatic-minded, this Hawaiian-language and history reference may have been the first full-length book to mine the online database of Hawaiian-language newspapers from the 1800s.
99 | Eddie Would Go: The Story of Eddie Aikau, Hawaiian Hero and Pioneer of Big Wave Surfing by Stuart Holmes Coleman. Twenty years after its first self-published edition, this story of the “strange mix of chaos and calm” that attended the life of waterman Aikau just keeps charging. It’s a look into the full-tilt life of the big wave legend who became a symbol of a sovereign Hawai‘i after his loss during a voyage of the canoe Hōkūle‘a.
100 | Surf is Where You Find It by Gerry Lopez. Son of a veteran news reporter, Mr. Pipeline proves a beguiling narrator supplied with a painter’s brush for words and an eye for Hawai‘i of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. His portraits of family, workers, surf characters and others are as good as anything on the era. And, yes, there’s the evolution of surfing Pipe. New, expanded edition this year.
101 | Waves of Resistance: Surfing and History in Twentieth-Century Hawai‘i by Isaiah Helekunihi Walker. “Walker has a unique and convincing insider’s perspective of how power played out in the surf zone, from ancient history to contemporary times. Used as a textbook from Hilo to Delaware,” one voter says. The chapter on the North Shore’s “Black Shorts” is mandatory reading both as text and between the lines.
102 | Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. Noted conflict journalist and New Yorker staff writer Finnegan’s memoir of his lifelong surf obsession and its torments won the Pulitzer Prize; not bad for a kid from Cliffs!
103 | Fierce Heart: The Story of Makaha and the Soul of Hawaiian Surfing by Stuart Holmes Coleman. An intimate portrait of Mākaha through the lives of iconic figures including Rell Sunn, Buffalo Keaulana and Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole by the author of Eddie Would Go.
104 | Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell: A True Story of Violence, Corruption and the Soul of Surfing by Chas Smith. It’s not the waves but the surfers of the North Shore who pose the greatest threat to gonzo author Smith as he throws himself into the enforcer culture and its alleged influence over wave access, surf contests and drug distribution on the “7-Mile Miracle.”
105 | What We Must Remember by Ann Inoshita, Juliet S. Kono, Christy Passion, Jean Toyama. Here’s a hell of a way to tell a true-crime story: A series of linked poems in modified renshi form that address the Kahahawai-Massie case and its aftermath. The authors take on the personas of different characters so that we hear from the victim’s mother; inhabit a green dress; take a claustrophobic tour of the rabid minds of the perpetrators; and join the struggle in the jury room where justice is done, only to be undone by the territorial governor (under threat by the U.S. Navy). Between them the authors represent three Cades Award winners, a Petrie Award, and for the book, a Ka Palapala Po‘okela Book Award.
106 | Tweakerville: Life and Death in Hawai‘i’s Ice World by Alexi Melnik. Breaking Bad without the amped-up glamour of television, this documentary fiction traps us in its world of tweakers, thugs and money. Melnik isn’t dishing out genre popcorn; in the tradition of Dreiser (and locals Christopher McKinney and Mark Panek), his literary aim is true. And his plunge into the lower depths of crystal meth’s hold over Hawai‘i brings us as close as we can get without using—or trying to help someone who does—and, thus, closer to understanding our crime and homelessness problems.
107 | Murder Frames the Scene by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. From a vicious manhunt in Shanghai to Honolulu artist murders staged like tableaux vivant, the third Kneubuhl novel featuring Mina and Ned, respectively part-Hawaiian and part-Samoan, is classic updated 1930s detective fiction—quick, intelligent, well-mannered except when it isn’t, and historically believable. We only hope Mina and Ned get to run into Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man one of these bookish days.
108 | Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers, and Corruption in the Aloha State by James Dooley. When longtime crime reporter Dooley published this irresistible chronicle of the Hawai‘i underworld in 2015, focusing in particular on the over-the-top 1970s and ’80s, it proved the perfect pūpū for the Louis Kealoha case hitting the headlines in 2016. Unafraid to name mob-enabling connections that extended to top entertainers, many politicians (including an iconic senator), several governors, a Honolulu mayor and the police, Dooley still hesitates at naming the One True Crime Boss—no longer with us—whose power and influence, and security firm stocked with violent ex-cons, held the state in thrall. His whiff may come off as a bit theatrical, but you just never know.
109 | The Mailbox Conspiracy: The Inside Story of the Greatest Corruption Case in Hawai‘i History by Alexander Silvert. This suspenseful and alarming account describes how the FBI ended up convicting or indicting (with more trials to come at this writing) practically the entire upper echelon of the Police Department and Honolulu city prosecutor’s office. Author Silvert was the public defender who smartly and courageously took on the frame-up and cover-up and his telling is scrupulously detailed. Though his role ends after he convinced the FBI to step in, and he doesn’t go into the current trials except for an extended coda, what has already been annotated is shocking even by Hawai‘i standards. “A crisply narrated study of abuse of power in the highest levels of Hawai‘i law enforcement,” says Doug Chin, former state attorney general and lieutenant governor. “A scary, engrossing story,” adds former Gov. Ben Cayetano. One disquieting detail is unresolved: Like James Dooley, Silvert refuses to name the New True Crime Boss; he calls him Voldemort.
110 & 111 | Kona Winds and Red Dirt by Scott Kikkawa. In the debut novel, says one voter, “the introduction of Detective ‘Sheik’ Yoshikawa during the territorial days of Hawai‘i gives us the voice of a true local telling an unapologetic history of the seedier side of Hawai‘i’s past, the one we claim as ours.” In Red Dirt, Sheik digs up the bones of plantation labor organizers in this noir about Reds set in 1950s Honolulu. “Nobody else is doing this stuff!” says another voter. “He’s got the tone and the detective character down and has so very carefully researched the era.”
112 | Nānā i ke Kumu, Volumes 1 and 2 by Mary Kawena Pukui, E. W. Haertig, Catherine A. Lee. Originally published by Hui Hānai in 2014, recently republished, these are “source book(s) of Hawaiian cultural practices, concepts and beliefs.” Originally aimed at community-outreach caseworkers, they are a resource for anyone wanting to learn more on these subjects—and how they can be applied to contemporary individuals and families.
113 | Nānā i ke Kumu: Helu ‘Ekolu, Volume 3 edited by Lynette K. Paglinawan, Richard Likeke Paglinawan, Dennis Kauahi and Valli Kalei Kanuha; illustrated by Imaikalani Kalahele. This third volume is finding an eager audience of those who seek to revive and apply Hawaiian spiritual practices and rituals to modern problems, including addiction.
114 | Ho‘oponopono: Contemporary Uses of a Hawaiian Problem-Solving Process by E. Victoria Shook. Since its original publication in 1981 by the East-West Center, this popular book of case studies has helped families use Hawaiian problem-solving for situations including disputes, domestic abuse and substance abuse.
115 | Lā‘au Hawai‘i: Traditional Hawaiian Uses of Plants by Isabella Aiona Abbott. A new reprint of the invaluable 1992 book by eminent ethnobotanist Abbott, this was the first comprehensive treatment of how Hawaiians used plants for medicine, clothing, religion, adornment, canoes, cordage and more.
116 | From Then to Now: A Manual For Doing Things Hawaiian Style. A creation of the ahupua‘a of Wai‘anae, begun more than 30 years ago when the ‘Ōpelu Project put together the first Manual, this grassroots book shows how to plant, fish and otherwise learn to live in the old way. It’s a perennial sales leader at Native Books at Nā Mea Hawai‘i. Bookseller selection.
117 | The Hawaiian Survival Handbook by Brother Noland. Acclaimed as a slack-key guitarist and singer and father of Jawaiian music, Brother Noland reveals himself here as a preeminent teacher of Hawaiian woodcraft, subsistence living and outdoors survival.
118 | Finding Meaning: Kaona and Contemporary Hawaiian Literature by Brandy Nalani McDougall. Join the author in this 2016 book as she searches the writings of authors such as Haunani-Kay Trask, John Dominis Holt and Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl for the hidden and doubled meanings, proverbs, nature-based metaphors and landscape-figured stories that give Hawaiian song, chant and literature its supple richness and connection to an always-present past.
The Beauty of Hawai‘i Nei
119 | Echo of Our Song: Chants and Poems by Mary Kawena Pukui and Alfons Korn. Nothing like going to the source, and here is the greatness of Hawaiian poetry, curated and translated by Pukui and Korn. Its inclusivity impresses, from the song-chants of Pele to repurposed hymns to 19 ditties composed by commoners for each other, including one charmer called “Bill the Ice Skater.”
120 | Na Mele O Hawai‘i Nei: 101 Hawaiian Songs by Samuel Elbert and Noelani Mahoe. This first-ever collection of post-Contact songs includes those from the 1850s to 1968’s translations by Mary Kawena Pukui of Native Hawaiian Christmas songs; commentary and history included.
121 | Encounters with Paradise: 1778-1941 by David Forbes. An invaluable act of art history, this fascinating 1992 book gives us Hawai‘i as seen through the eyes of artists beginning with the sketches of John Webber, done on the spot during Captain Cook’s landing on Kaua‘i in 1778. It’s the only visual record we have and, compared to accounts by Western writers, the least distorted by bias.
122 | Ka Lei: The Leis of Hawaii by Marie McDonald. Five years after her 1985 book, ethnologist and master lei maker McDonald was designated a “Master of Traditional Arts” by the National Endowment of the Arts. A precious resource as well as a personal history, it now has a companion volume: Nā Lei Makamae: The Treasured Lei. This follow-up by McDonald and Paul R. Weissich “is a much more lavish and focused presentation, showing people wearing surprising lei. It’s a go-to choice when a VIP gift is needed for an international visit,” says a bookseller.
123 | The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele translated by Puakea Nogelmeier. This 496-page tale of Pele’s sisters and their search for a lover appeared as a serial in a Native Hawaiian-language newspaper from 1905-06 and represents an unparalleled treasury of cultural practices and stories.
124 | Keaomelemele introduced by Moses Manu, translated by Mary Kawena Pukui and edited by Puakea Nogelmeier. A new reprint by Bishop Museum Press in 2021 brings back this charming legend of “the bold and magical girl of the rarified atmosphere,” as she’s called in the text, published in 31 installments of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa from 1884–85.
125 | Kīkā Kila: How the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Changed the Sound of Modern Music by John W. Troutman. A steel player himself, then-history professor Troutman set out more than a decade ago to document the history of his instrument, tracking its origins to Lā‘ie schoolboy Joseph Kekuku in the 1880s. But he didn’t stop there, tracing the exploding popularity of Hawaiian music, touring troupes and “Hawaiian guitar” in the late 1890s through 1900s, scoring a major scholarly coup when he proved a direct connection to Black blues musicians who adapted the technique to slide guitar. Troutman, now a culture curator at the Smithsonian Institution, creates a lavish musical tapestry full of details of a time when the entire world became infatuated with Hawaiian steel and slide, from Hollywood to Germany, even India. The effect is giddying and this award-winning book feels that way, too—until the chapter on how its Hawaiian origins were effaced and forgotten.
126 | Waikīkī: A History of Forgetting & Remembering by Andrea Feeser and Gaye Chan. Beautiful and haunting, filled with texts, photos, posters and oral histories, the book takes us from the original vibrant self-sufficient community to the tourist dystopia of today.
127 | The Burning Island: Myth and History in Volcano Country, Hawai‘i by Pam Frierson. Already considered a classic of the personal boots-on-the-ground approach to science writing and cultural reporting, this 2012 book sets the stage for the drama, geological and human, now unfolding on the slopes of Maunakea.
128 | The Last Atoll by Pam Frierson. A researcher’s decade of exploring the history and ecosystems of the islets and islands of the northwestern Hawaiian archipelago yields a beautiful and complex portrait of nature both “pristine and plundered.”
Our Pacific Neighbors
129 | Melal by Robert Barclay. A novel set in the Marshall Islands, where the author spent years as a boy growing up, that portrays a Marshallese family as it tries to make lives amid the still-present nightmare in paradise wrought by the West’s gifts of war, occupation, nuclear testing, and environmental and human degradation. One review says “melal” means “playground for demons, not habitable by people,” and the story indeed makes use of a trickster and other supernatural characters to “provide valuable insight.”
130 | Indigenous Literatures from Micronesia edited by Evelyn Flores and Emelihter Kihleng. “A marvelous, groundbreaking anthology,” says a voter, one that brings the richness of Oceania to the table.
131 | Freelove by Sia Figiel. The first Pacific Islander to win a Commonwealth Prize for a debut book, in 1997, Samoa’s outspoken Sia Figiel now uncorks a bottled-up but brilliant high school girl’s sexual awakening. Figiel sets her drama in a sleepy backwater village when Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was No. 1 on the radio, but a girl like Inosia may have never dared look at her naked body in a mirror. The story scans as a tropical version of the medieval tryst of Heloise and Abelard, but Inosia’s desire to reach intellectual as well as erotic heights sends her to academic success instead of perdition.
132 | Green Island by Shawna Yang Ryan. A family in Taiwan struggles through turbulent decades in this taut, thriller-like novel of a haunted land’s unresolved traumas. The night the narrator is born, the defeated and newly arrived Chinese Nationalists massacre Taiwanese demonstrators; her father is disappeared. But his return a decade later brings no joy, as he disapproves of his modernized daughters and son. The author, a professor and director of the University of Hawai‘i writing program, reveals a once-tropical paradise now crammed, concretized and turned into a police state propped up by the fear of another dictatorship, the People’s Republic. Our narrator makes it to America, only to find out there’s no escaping the reach of the past.
133 | from unincorporated territory, 1-4 by Craig Santos Perez. These are full-length books of poetry from Perez, a University of Hawai‘i poet, professor and publisher born in Guam of Chamorro ancestry, and raised partly in California. The poems here weld the experimental with the Indigenous in a way that seems ideal for conveying dislocation and cultural dissonances. The result, says reviewer Timothy Ott, “is an archival history project and a postmodern poetic project, but it also builds on Perez’s activism.” There’s considerable Chamorro vocabulary along the way, and more mundane family matters, too, to go with inevitable reminders of their fragile ecosystem. The poems float like feathers in the air after an earthquake, settling in the mind for a long time afterward.
134 | The Charm Buyers by Lillian Howan. Being Chinese, rich and gorgeous in the atolls at the tail end of France’s nuclear bomb-test era is a Faulknerian predicament. But teenager Marc Chen makes impressive efforts to escape his suave, controlling, womanizing father, falling in with a cougar of a marquise, trying large-scale pakalōlō-growing, even hatching a python-smuggling scheme. The air is thick with sexual knowledge, Chen is young and pretty and his true love is cousin Marie-Laure, who is plain but brilliant. It all feels très très incestuous; it reads like Joan Didion on opium.
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SEE ALSO: 50 Essential Hawai‘i Books You Should Read in Your Lifetime