Don says the addition of a Kindle on each side of the bed has reduced some of the clutter, but not as much as you’d expect. For one thing, you can’t read the screen in the dark and one of us knocks out pretty much as soon as she goes horizontal. But the portable impulse-buying device has allowed me to put the digital equivalent of 5,000 pages on a shaky night table without bringing it any closer to collapse.
Speaking of collapse, that’s the second book I finished on my Kindle: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. It’s perfect for Hawaii, which shudders ever closer to the precipice, replicating the barnblindism of the people of Greenland, Easter Island, Pitcairn Island . . ..
The first book I finished was the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. It’s advertised as the best of its kind, but I’d add the caveat, “If you like detailed, laconic descriptions and pithy summaries of complicated battles fought under nasty inclement conditions and against a relentless foe: human stupidity and fecklessness and vaingloriousness.” I do. Like it, that is.
Along with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (highly recommended) and the as-yet unstarted 68 by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, we have Patti Smith’s Just Kids—both digital and in a real book. (The book is winning the who’s-more-popular battle: it’s just a cool object, wrapped in black, like Patti Smith herself.) And I do have a bookmark stuck halfway through David McCullough’s book about writers and artists in France, The Greater Journey. It’s broad-stroke stuff but I enjoy wading in the subject matter and dreaming of our own return to France.
I also read Kaui Hart Hemmings’ The Descendants after seeing the movie (Mindy did a series of interviews), having met and liked her. Also, having recognized the people she was writing about, some of whom I know or knew. The movie is very good; the novel, too, but even more surprising in how she handles the back-story and “exotic” locale by, essentially, not going there. This is a liberating strategy for those of us who feel an obligation to put a place on the map and get it right. She got it right by not trying to explain everything or to include everybody. This has exposed her to some criticism that the book is only about and for the slice of upper-crust Hawaiian-missionary society that has shaped Hawaii and still exerts unholy influence.
But, to me, that’s like saying Shakespeare’s plays are only about kings and queens and aristocrats and therefore to be relegated to Marx’s dustbin of history. To reinforce the point, I’m reading Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure. It’s a big explanatory book set at the moment of The Overthrow (of Queen Liliuokalani) and already in the first 20 pages has exhibited both the virtues and flaws of the popular encyclopedic narrative.
Next to that is our friend and Mindy’s surf partner Sydney Iaukea’s The Queen and I, her just-published account of her disenfranchisement by her own family, despite being part of a royal Hawaiian line and seemingly in line to inherit a chunk of the vast estates passed down. While researching topics for her PhD dissertation, Sydney stumbled upon her own family’s archives by accident; these included evidence of how her mother had been conned out of their share. The best revenge is writing, and Sydney’s is superb.