Skipping ahead to Hawaii

Na'Pali, Spires, Kauai, Blue, Green, Ocean, Tropical, Island, Fine Art Photography on Etsy
Na'Pali, Spires, Kauai, Blue, Green, Ocean, Tropical, Island, Fine Art Photography on Etsy
art credit: Location Photography on Etsy

One of the really awesome perks of my new job is that it involves travel. And I’m not just talking travel to the state next door to bunk with the bedbugs at a Motel 6, I’m talking travel to amazing places. Like Kauai, Hawaii. In December. When there will likely be ice storms here in Blacksburg, Virginia. I’ve already bought swimsuits on end-of-the-summer clearance, and I splurged on a new lens for my camera. And can you guess what else I bought to prepare for this bucket-list trip?

That’s right. A novel set in Hawaii.

And it was a good one, too. I read several books set in Hawaii a few years ago when I was feeling the urge to immerse myself in surf culture and the lush history of these exotic islands – Molokai’i by Alan Brenert, Paradise Park by Allegra Goodman, Shark Dialogues by Kiana Davenport – and while I didn’t get as much about surf culture as I originally set out for, I did get a feel for the rich, and heartbreaking, history of the Hawaiian islands.

This most recent book I read was a story about complacency, and about the irony that we drift away from the things we love when we become content with them – when we stop working for them: our spouses, our children, our lives, our land. The book was The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and it was excellent. Hawaii was not the main character, nor was it really a secondary one – there were few flowery descriptions of scenery – but the story was infused with wry Hawaiian truths that help me understand that these islands are not just a tourist’s paradise, but an ancient people’s home:

I remember him at our many gatherings in Hanalei, the families getting together for Christmas break in the old plantation homes with their creaky floors and poor lighting, mosquito nets and ghosts.

The author also peppered the story with just enough setting that I’m dying to get there and see it myself:

At the club the shrubs are covered in surfboards.

I’ve read my Washington, D.C. books and will be working on that writeup soon, but I couldn’t resist jumping ahead to Hawaii with this dream travel on the horizon. If you’ve read any great Hawaii-set literature*, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I’ve still got four good weeks of reading before I board my flight, and as far as I’m concerned, my literature consumption can be all Hawaii, all the time, until the moment I step foot on Kauai and am in Hawaii for real.

*I’d particularly love a good surfing novel.

Books are not enough

Big Sur Cliffs McWay Falls oil on canvas by Rose L. Nash at rosenash.blogspot.comt
Artwork credit: Rose L. Nash at

For the first time on my literary tour of the US, reading about a state isn’t enough for me. With Alabama the accents entertained me; with Alaska the winter enchanted me; with Arizona the desert parched me; and with Arkansas the juxtaposition of Frontier and Southern cultures fascinated me. With all of those states, I was satisfied to read words on a page; I did not need to hop in a car or jump on a plane and visit them in real life.

With California, though, words on a page don’t sate me. They sing, they lure, they tantalize and tease me. After all those weeks reading Arizona and Arkansas, where I was landlocked in the dusty dry desert, or sweating and swatting gnats on sultry summer days at a muddy swimming hole, the sea spray of Island of the Blue Dolphins was so refreshing I thought I might cry.

The morning was fresh from the rain. The smell of the tide pools was strong. Sweet odors came from the wild grasses in the ravines and from the sand plants on the dunes.

I drank that book like a canteen of cold water. I finished The Island of the Blue Dolphins in a day and a half and wanted more: more surf, more Pacific ocean, more California. So I picked up a The Dawn Patrol, a mystery-thriller set on Pacific Beach, where the P.I. is a surfer, and within the first ten pages one of the characters used the term party wave; I think I might have squealed. The Dawn Patrol was everything I wanted: waves, surfer lingo, California girls, fish tacos, and characters with names like Hang Twelve and Sunny Day. From there I moved up the coast to San Francisco with Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, where they climb the Matterhorn and descend in moonlight.

We could hear creeks rushing coldly below on cold starlit rocks.

And this was all before I even started the books I intended to read for Andrea Reads America.

Maybe it was kismet, maybe it was my subconscious, but I began reading California six weeks ago, when I launched this website and took on the task of moving all of my Andrea Reads America posts from my Butterfly Mind blog to here. As I transferred all my writing, I did not want to get too far ahead in my reading – I did not want the blog to be in Alabama when I was reading Connecticut – so I gladly parked myself on the west coast for a month and a half; I read California during the entire transfer.

In addition to the books above, I read three others, and it still wasn’t enough. Six weeks, six books, and I don’t want to leave The Golden State. It fills me with a longing that, for once, words cannot assuage. I want to go there. I want to smell the kelp and explore the tide pools; I want to drive the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down; I want to listen to barrel waves crash; I want to sit on the floor of the redwood forest. I want to be there. I don’t want to just read it.

California: a fat wave* of options

In the Vault Giclee on Canvas by leftcoastlovers on Etsy
Artwork credit: “In the Vault” by Camille Youngquist on Etsy

I’m travelling the US in 3 books per state with titles authored by men, women and writers of color. Join me!

Holy cow, y’all. I’ve made it to California. After struggling to find suitable Arkansas-set novels written by Arkansas authors, I finally found three titles, and I finished reading my third last night. I woke this morning, ready to move on, ready to start my search for California-set novels written by California-based authors, and I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. Hollywood. San Francisco. California desert. Redwood forest.

Actually that last one, the redwood forest, is a setting I’d love to read, but I haven’t come across a title set there. Any ideas?

Anyway, I’ve got so many options I’m not sure what to do with myself. For the Asian-immigration experience alone I’m seeing four titles that all sound exciting (The Gangster We Are All Looking For, The Buddha in the Attic, Shanghai Girls, and of course, The Joy Luck Club). There’s an Indian-American title I want to read because I loved the movie (The Mistress of Spices). There’s a coming-of-age novel that I’ve already read and I’ve been looking for an excuse to reread (The Language of Flowers). There are recommendations from you (Ramona, Parable of the Talents), and recommendations from The Readers podcast (Tales of the City; A Way of Life, Like Any Other). There are a million light and fun and kitchy California-set titles, Hollywood and Malibu spoofs.

And then, of course, there is Steinbeck. I’m not sure I can read California without reading Steinbeck. I loved East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath, and maybe this is my chance to read Cannery Row, you know?

This is a good dilemma to have – to be presented with so many options I can choose whatever I want. If within 10 pages I don’t like a book, I’ve got a long list of backup titles and I can feel free to DNF. But where to begin?! Maybe I’ll start with whatever the library has in the format I want, right here, right now. It will be like closing my eyes and pointing, which from where I sit right now, is as good a way as any to pick my first book.

*A fat wave, according to Rippin H2O’s surf lingo, is “An enormous and sweet ride that comes along maybe once a day.” Reading that lingo list, with words like ducknweave (“on the bourbons”), grundle (“A totally ugly dude that thinks he’s really hot”), and party wave (“When more than one person takes a wave”) made me also want to read a California surfing book.