Armchair Traveling with Fiction
This doesn’t always mean you have to read true accounts, sometimes the best way to armchair travel is through fiction. The first time I went to Hawaii I happened to bring along Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois Ann Yamanaka. I was drawn in by the cover and the topic of a girl growing up in an exotic place. A reviewer wrote: "Yamanaka jumps off the page to hold you, hit you, hug you." She really does! I couldn't put the book down.
Reading On Location
By the time we landed on the tarmac in Oahu I was done with the book, but wanted more. I had just landed in Hawaii but already knew what ‘pidgin’ sounded like. I knew people hunted for wild boar and many lived in poverty. I had a sense of what it would be like to grow up as Lovey Nariyoshi did. I hunted down another Yamanaka book called Blu's Hanging and devoured that while watching friends surf unbelievably big waves on the North Shore. I might not have physically been able to see every aspect of Hawaii, but I saw through Yamanaka's writing the grittier side of paradise and felt like I knew something other tourists didn’t.
Simple and True Yamanaka’s writing makes you feel a part of the story—as if she’s sitting in front of you telling you herself. She is Hawaiian-born Japanese and much of what she writes comes from personal experience.
"Mother smokes Parliaments. We're not to point at the cigarette machine and say, "That the kine mommy smokes," if Grandma is around. I like when Mother and me sit on the porch to pick fleas off of Melba and Spam, the two black poi dogs we found in the ditch by Grandma's house." Simple and true.
Then There's This Passage
"That's what got me crying. We weren't good enough for the kind of love that Shirley (Temple) had every Sunday, the kind of love that makes the bottom lip quiver and mothers rush through crowds to hug you at the end of the movie. That's my own happy ending."
Whether or not you can travel to Hawaii, definitely check out anything by Lois Ann Yamanaka. Her books are great for older teens and adults!
Photo credit: La Flaf
Kim Day is an MLIS degree candidate and currently works at the Pacifica Libraries. She loves to read things that make her laugh one second, cry the next and leave a mark on her soul. Yamanaka is one of her favorite authors of contemporary fiction.