Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unfamiliar Fishes

The Book: Unfamiliar Fishes

The Author: Sarah Vowell

The Dealio: Don't know much,personally, about the history of Hawaii- that's for sure. Vowell, though, is another story. Literally. She goes to Hawaii for a short trip and winds up giving the tropical state the Vowell treatment: long on political commentary, humor and irony. Short on swaying palm trees and publicity releases.
She begins the tale describing her plate lunch, and winds up launching from that unique melange of flavors, into an exploration of the hybrid which Hawaii was, is and remains to this day. Along the way, Vowell careens through a variety of topics- all rooted in the wildly varied facets which influenced Hawaii's stellar rise from the much feared and maligned Sandwich Islands (which, as a kid, I always thought sounded like Heaven! I pictured that they met you at the airport with a lei and an actual sandwich. Spam wasn't even in my peripheral vision) to some folks idea of...well, Paradise. Missionaries, explorers, lepers, activists, Obama, music, the arts, incest, educators, royals (of all sorts), sugar developers, charlatans and the hula all create a platform for Vowell's journey through the chain of interlocked personalities and events which molded Hawaii into her present state.

The Grading Session: 4.48 pengies out of 5. Vowell (AKA the evocatively teenager-ish voice of Violet in the Incredibles), is a terrific writer- although this, to me, was not her finest. That would be the spec-tack Assassination Vacation. But she is passionate, and she brings much light to a subject about which- for most of us- there remains an air of impenetrable mystery. In each of her books, I find myself alternately laughing and getting ticked off. Surely this is the hallmark of a talented writer. I still laugh over her referral to people of a certain generation who began espousing and adopting Voltaire as the ultimate in cool. Eventually, according to her, at least, the hipsters of the time were using the name 'Voltaire' much the way surfers/stoners would use the word 'dude'. ('Aw, Voltaire, I am so wasted this morning!' ) How can you not like someone who incorporates that sentence into a treatise on pretentious philosophising?

Lessons Learned: Everything is not quite as it seems on the surface. Look deeper...if you have the nerves for it. Also: I haven't even met her 8 year old nephew, Owen, but I am pretty sure I have a smallish crush on him. The stuff that guy comes out with could break your heart. One such, 'If Hawaii was a person, I would marry her!' Plus: just saying that you are saving someone from their depraved, native ways, does not make your ways any less depraved. Lastly this: Hawaii is so great a mystery that it is beyond the scope of this haole to decipher in this and 85 more lifetimes.

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