Cover Story

Image: James Okemura

Whether you buy, download, beg steal or borrow it, there’s nothing like a good read, so don’t wait for the film.


Cover image for Nov 2, 2011

A book is a book is a book

When APEC, the economy or the holidays bring your life to a grinding halt, hey, be happy for the chance to curl up with a book, be it in digital or–brace yourselves–paper form. Even the big new bio of the late father of Apple has come out in print, leading Stephen Colbert to repeatedly swipe at the cover photo of Steve Jobs to no avail. And, A History of the World in 100 Objects, a new book from the British Museum, includes a Hawaiian feather helmet from the 18th century. In James Houston’s A Queen’s Voyage, reviewed in this issue, a deposed Queen Liliuokalani explains to a Boston reporter about her red-gold lei: “The feathers are only found in one place, under the wings of nectar-sucking forest birds…so they are rare and very precious.” And so it is with the books we love.

Enter the world of a book, even if it’s Hard Times, and escape, or gain perspective on, today’s hard times: recession, joblessness, the death of publishing, the homeless and protesters swept out of sight. And, we’ve got authors to support. One of our local writers, Kiana Davenport, was featured recently by The New York Times when Penguin canceled the publication of her new novel and sought the return of the advance they’d paid her. Why? Earlier this autumn, Davenport self-published an e-book, Cannibal Nights, a collection of her short stories, and refused to withdraw it from publication at Penguin’s demand. The result, not unfamiliar but no less distressing to writers and readers, is another voice suppressed, another form of free expression–so many writers’ hopes have lately found a lifeline in the self-published e-book–chilled.

As chroniclers and critics of society, tellers of truth and unveilers of hidden pasts, writers are, to put it mildly, not always popular with the powerful. Instead, in addition to the support of the common reader, writers find sustenance from independent and community-minded booksellers and from one another, in venues such as Talk Story festivals, Aloha Shorts on HPR and other local literary events, and writers’ workshops, all of which are featured in this issue. Workshops were invaluable to her own development as a writer, says Kaui Hart Hemmings, author, of course, of The Descendants, which has newly been reissued as a paperback in advance of the film’s release later this month. When Hemmings’ novel came out, she told The Weekly, local reaction was mixed. Some complained it was only about haoles (even though the fictional family has Hawaiian blood, and the novel doesn’t otherwise mention characters’ ethnicity). Others, scions of landed clans, complained the book was about them. It’s a work of fiction, mind you, but when did that ever stop people taking offense?

The real danger for writers, though, is self-censorship. For readers, it’s closed minds, preconceptions. As a society and as individuals, we learn who we are–and aren’t–by reading books.