“Hawaii” by James Michener: Books Matter

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 11.43.12 AMThis isn’t a book review, but rather a personal story of how one book influenced my life and continues to exert a huge influence on me to this day.

Over 40 years ago I bought a copy of a book in San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, “Hawaii” by James Michener. I was a young Naval officer then, and was about to make a trip From San Francisco to Hawaii on an aircraft carrier on the way to Vietnam, and the book looked like a good thing to read along the way. No television or internet in those days at sea. Unfortunately, the trip to Hawaii turned out to be a “bad trip” to use a term from the 60’s. In a period of 5 days a lot of things happened from the mildly unpleasant to the really terrible. The mildly unpleasant: I learned you can get very seasick even on such a large ship as an aircraft carrier, I broke my leg. Then the really terrible: a plane crash on the ship, large fire, man overboard, several deaths. Bad stuff to be a part of for a 22-year old kid. I looked back on what helped me get through that and it was certainly a lot of prayers, and a very good book “Hawaii” by James Michener. Each night, his book put me in another place for a short time, and since then I read many of his other books. Prayers and “Hawaii” got me through some tough times.

Fast forward a few years. The school at which I started my teaching career gave James Michener an honorary degree. I had the privilege to shake his hand and thank him for what “Hawaii” did for me. I told him it was a real “coming of age” for me. I did get a small smile from him. He liked what I said, and he moved on to shake the hand of the next person in a very long line on a very hot day. I felt like I met Babe Ruth that day.

My daughter recently got married at the James Michener Museum. My daughter and her husband chose this James Michener Museum for reasons of their own, and it turned out to be a lovely venue. They knew nothing of my connection with this book. In addition they were going to Hawaii for their honeymoon. I couldn’t help telling this story at their wedding and giving them a copy of the book “Hawaii” as a small, but very sentimental wedding gift. The coincidences and the connections still kept coming. The edition I bought had an introduction from Steve Berry, a thriller writer my wife and I both met several years ago at Thrillerfest in New York City. Steve Berry helped me put together a pitch for the novel I am in the process of writing today. He wrote a damned good introduction to one of my favorite books of all time.

“Hawaii” will keep a reader going for a while. It is over 1,000 pages long and full of very small print. If you have a love for the sea, as I do, go to a bookstore and read Michener’s first sentence. His words are magnificent. Better yet, buy a copy and have a really great read.

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