Wednesday, November 14, 2012

My Samoan Chief by Fay G. Calkins

My Samoan Chief by Fay G. Calkins, 1962.

Chapter one begins:
"I squinted through my glasses, clutched my zipper notebook, and hoped I would pass as an egghead. The dome of the Library of Congress looked very awesome from underneath as I tiptoed around the great circular call desk and back through the card catalogues..."
Wait a minute, a book about the South Pacific that starts off in a library? I don't even need to think twice, here is my $3 and I will be on my way, thank you very much.

It is driving me nuts that I can't recall what bookstore I bought this in but I had it for a few months waiting for the right time to read it. I knew it would be good. Finally it went on vacation with me to Las Vegas and Florida and was a great travel book.

Here at the Bibliotiki, we do have a focus on South Pacific Literature written by women, well because I am a woman.  As I look at my bookshelves I have 1 cube that has books by women and 7 that are by men. So I am always on the hunt for something good by the ladies and this did not disappoint.

The book starts off with Fay working on her doctoral dissertation in the Library of Congress where she is assigned a student desk. She has mysterious neighbors who leave things like chicken bones in the wastebasket and ukuleles on the desk. She finally met her neighbor, who was Vaiao John Ala'ilima from the island of Samoa.

The book continues with tales of them dating. In 1952, they married and then they move to Samoa so Vai, who was one of the first graduates from Samoa, could help his country out.

I hate to use the word charming but boy this book is. Stories about her adjusting to the Samoa way, trying to build a home and raise children, were just charming but not in an annoying way.

The book also includes some pen and ink illustrations by Vasiliu but no mention of who that is.

One of my favorite illustrations is for a story about how Fay came up with an idea to rig a pulley across a chasm to better help the workers on the plantation. But it wasn't set up correctly and a young boy got stuck half way across and was too terrified to try and get out.

I wish the book had more personal anecdotes but I do come from a different time (ruined by reality tv) were back then that wasn't as common.

After reading the book, I googled Fay and found a sweet website set up in her memory. It has more about her biography, which is pretty amazing. It also includes some family history ( 7 kids!). And mentions her other works, I did not know she wrote a biography about Aggie Grey (who is mentioned in this book) which I will have to locate.

I recommend this book to all who are interested in the South Pacific, it made me want to read more about Samoa (R.L. Stevenson, I'm looking at you). Absolutely charming, damn I said it again!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

To Honolulu in Five days by Lynn Blocker Krantz, Nick Krantz and Mary Thiele Fobian

To Honolulu in five days by Lynn Blocker Krantz, Nick Krantz and Mary Thiele Fobian, 2000

Ah, the civilized way to travel to the islands, by boat. This book is the story of the Matson's companies ship the S.S. Lurline.

The book is total eye candy for anyone who loves to collect ephemera from that time period. After I finished it, I was looking ebay to see what kind of things can be obtained.

It was interesting to learn how much effort and thought was put into the journey to and from Hawaii, from theme nights to entertainment. And of course hula instructions. If anyone sees one of those green hula cards, let me know.

Matson had two hotels in Oahu, the Royal Hawaiian and the Moana, and I can personally attest to them both having fine outdoor bars.
                                                                                                     Both hotels are also great to visit for    the items and art work they still have on display like the Eugene Savage prints.

Sadly, Matson no longer cruises to Hawaii, at least in this manner. They are still a shipping company and I sometimes I see their shipping containers in Oakland.                                                                  
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in pre-flight travel and the early days of Hawaii as a tourist destination.

Special note, you might recognize the little tiki on their stationary in the bottom photo. He sure does look familiar and he kinda looks like he is reading a book.



Monday, May 14, 2012

Over the Reefs by Robert Gibbings

Over the Reefs by Robert Gibbings, 1948
over the reefs

While at a bookstore in Berkeley, this book caught my eye. I liked the cover (doesn’t hurt that turquoise is a favorite color of mine) and I was blown away by the illustrations.
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The map on the end pages promised all sorts of great destinations, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands and the Tahiti. Since I spent my honeymoon in the Cook Islands, the Bibliotiki does have a focus and soft spot for the region.

over the reefs_0002

Upon reading this book, I found the first 100 pages to be a bit of slow going. It starts off in Tonga but quickly moves to Samoa and stays there for while. So long in fact they made Gibbings a Chief of one of their islands. Though once they made him Chief the book gets less choppy. It was also by then I realized he wasn’t going to cover Fiji or New Zealand except in passing reference.

More then half way into the book he arrives in the Cook Islands and it includes one of the best passages in the book:

One of the most ignominious acts in a man’s life is repeated daily when he puts on his trousers. I know of no garment more detrimental to his natural dignity then those limp tubes into which he inserts his legs. Is there anything in the world more limp then an empty pair of trousers?…

Finally, some personality! He goes one to decry that the Rarotongans’ of the Cook Islands have forsaken their traditional dress for the white man’s way, which saddens him. He isn’t very happy with the island of Rarotonga but then moves on to visit Atiu, Mauke, Mitiero, Mangaia and Aitutaki all in the Cooks, which generally fare better for him. So much so that I was beginning to worry he wouldn’t make it to Tahiti.

With just 27 pages left in book he finally sails to Tahiti, he soon earned my interest and respect with this passage:

Soon I after I left Tahiti in 1929, I received a letter from James Norman Hall, with whom I had stayed. He wrote: ‘We have pulled down the old native house in which you lived and are building a bigger one instead. It is yours whenever you wish, for as long as you wish. We call it “The House that waits for Robert.”
This is the house.
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Now I LOVE James Normal Hall and became instantly jealous that JNH had not build a house for me. Gibbings, that lucky bastard. And he didn’t make it back to Tahiti for 18 years! Sadly, when Gibbings does make it back JNH is in America so he missed him. I was hoping for reports of them heading out to Quinn’s for beer and dancing.

At this point I am confused why this man who is a big deal in Tahiti has only left 27 pages for it, I look to see other books he wrote and saw he wrote “Iorana: A Tahitian Journal” in 1932 so I guess he got it covered. I then also realized I just saw that book in a small Californian town but it was $35 and I am cheap. Geez, now I will have to pick it up.

I finished reading Over the Reefs and it was fine, still like the illustrations better then the text. I then went on to research about Gibbings and saw that he had led an interesting life. He was instrumental in bringing back wood engravings as a form of art and illustrated a ton of books. He did a lot of traveling and had many ladies in his life. He also was a pioneer in diving and would make illustrations under water. Check out this website of his vintage diving costume. That just looked like a bad idea.

Below are some sweet illustrations from this book, I tried to not go too crazy with my scanner. Enjoy.

Oh, if someone could build me a “House that waits for Bibliotiki” preferably in Hawaii or really anywhere, I would be most appreciative.

over the reefs_0003
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Nurse on Paradise Isle by Nell Marr Dean

Nurse on Paradise Isle by Nell Marr Dean, 1967.

Since my last book was by a female missionary, I thought I needed something a little more spicy. So I picked this book. Have I mentioned that I have a love of the pocket sized paperback? I think my love started at a young age with many visits to the local paperback exchange, the Book Rack (which now I see is sadly closed). I picked up all the hits there, A Clockwork Orange, New Stories from the Twilight Zone, Monkees go Mod..

The premise is a young nurse takes at job on a remote island in French Polynesia to run a hospital for the employees who are building a luxury hotel. She falls for the macho fella who is in charge of the project but there is competition from a local beauty.

Sounds pretty spicy right? Turns out, not so much. It wound up being a meditation on malpractice lawsuits  against doctors. Yawn. It made me realize that perhaps I don't need to keep every book that is in the Bibliotiki. Though I do like the cover. 

In researching the book I saw that the author was quite prolific in the romance genre. She wrote a lot books about nurses but she actually worked as a librarian. Now if this book was called Librarian on Paradise Isle, I'd be sold. She could have a card catalog in the outrigger.

One bonus with vintage paperbacks is you often get a list of other titles they publish. I might need to find Hounds of Hell and Agents of Chaos.

exciting new titles

exciting new titles

Well, it was nice to read some fiction from my collection, just wish it had a little more substance but that is par for the course with a 50 cent pocket paperback I guess.