Hawaii United States

What’s a Literary Tourist to do in Hawaii?

Ihad pretty well resigned myself to lounging by the pool with a good book and a cold Heineken, before I decided to check the Internet. Hawaii, I assumed, was going to be a Literary Tourist wasteland, a jungle of non-literary vegetation.

But I was wrong. Here we were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere (the town of Kona on the Big Island), and I find this great big warehouse of a used bookstore right around the corner. Kona Bay Books offers two miles worth of books. Not first editions, but a good selection of readable novels and non-fiction, many perfect for the beach. Plus there’s a sister store, Hilo Bay Books, on the opposite side of the island.

So off we went on a scenic two hour drive to see how the other half lives, and of course, to check out the books. Along the way we encounter purple flowering Jacaronda trees

next to the complementarily coloured mock orange, nestled, as they are, between these cool cone-shaped mounds (known as Puu Oo)

and fields of dark, healthy-looking lava.

It’s a lovely drive and we arrive just before store closing time. I quickly scour the shelves for any Daniel Mendelsohn titles (there is one, which I buy – a paperback edition of Lost – I’ll be interviewing Daniel shortly) as another Daniel (this one with the wonderful literary surname of Nathaniel) gives me a few extra minutes to browse around.

(his co-worker is, I’m told, into super heroes).

Then it’s back to Kona Bay Books for a fun chat with owner Kris Arnett

and on to the volcano,

of which Mark Twain wrote about 160 years ago, when it was last as active as it is today

I turned my eyes upon the volcano again. The “cellar” was tolerably well lighted up. For a mile and a half in front of us and half a mile on either side, the floor of the abyss was magnificently illuminated; beyond these limits the mists hung down their gauzy curtains and cast a deceptive gloom over all that made the twinkling fires in the remote corners of the crater seem countless leagues re moved – made them seem like the camp-fires of a great army far away. Here was room for the imagination to work! You could imagine those lights the width of a continent away – and that hidden under the intervening darkness were hills, and winding rivers, and weary wastes of plain and desert – and even then the tremendous vista stretched on, and on, and on! – to the fires and far beyond! You could not compass it – it was the idea, of eternity made tangible – and the longest end of it made visible to the naked eye!

from ‘The Great Volcano of Kīlauea,’ The Sacramento Daily Union, November 16, 1866

Finally, after picking up an early paperback edition of John Ashbury’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon and James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son

it’s time to settle back down by the pool with that cold Heine.

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