Publishers often release a spate of books just before Christmas. Here are some tomes to consider putting under the tree:
"Isles of Refuge: Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," by Mark J. Rauzon (University of Hawai'i Press,) 205 pages, $60 cloth, $29.95 paperbackYou can't judge a book by its title; Mark J. Rauzon's is a perfect example.
The studious-sounding "Isles of Refuge: Wildlife and History of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands" disguises a fascinating, lively publication.
"Isles of Refuge" recounts Rauzon's 20 years of exploration and study of the 10 remote islands that stretch 1,100 miles north and west from Ni'ihau.
While Rauzon, a biologist, packs the book with lots of scholarly information, his lyrical writing style, keen observations and adept story-telling will capture readers. His clear photography and beautiful illustrations are a bonus.
At times, the book reads like outdoor adventure, with whimsical details that bring the stories to life. In the chapters about his monthlong stay on the 156-acre Nihoa, he describes his miserable seasickness and the difficulty of transporting from sea to shore his supplies, equipment and himself.
"We somehow managed to catch all the gear (the crew) threw at us, but fielding a 5-gallon water jug while knee-deep in wave surge on a slick rock shelf is no easy feat. The crew left us with a two-way radio and two quarts of Neapolitan ice cream. As the ship headed away ... we attacked the ice cream with the swarms of flies that materialized to join us in eating the melting mess."
Rauzon layers straight history with legends, diaries with documents, old discoveries with new, blending it all in a deft package that's intriguing and entertaining. Murders, shipwrecked sailors, rats and rabbits, whalers, guano miners, feather hunters, scientists, wildlife experts and military men populate these pages.
The writer's primary point, however, is that attention must be paid to protecting this delicate string of atolls and islands and the plants and animals that live on them.
"These small islands endured the worst we could dish out: war, murder, exploitation and pollution," he writes. "They now are being restored, renewed, and revived ... with aloha for the 'aina."
By Cynthia Oi
"The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia," edited by Brij V Lai and Kate Fortune (University of Hawai'i Press), cloth with CD-rom, 664 pages, $115A key to enjoyable travel anywhere in the world is understanding, at least to a small degree, the history, culture and geographic highlights of your destination. That's especially true in the vast geographic expanse of the South Pacific, with its elaborate geological history, mysteries surrounding its settlement, diversity of cultures and long and varied colonial histories.
In the past, when I've traveled through the region, usually on surfing expeditions, I've had to rely on the cumbersome and expensive habit of buying several books for information. Finally, an "encyclopedia" of the Pacific Islands has been compiled into a single comprehensive book that even comes with its own CD-rom.
"The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia," from the University of Hawai'i Press, is edited by Brij V Lai, professor of history and director of the Centre for the Contemporary Pacific at the Australian National University, and Kate Fortune, a New Zealander who's been involved in book publishing for years and has lived and visited several Pacific Island countries.
"The Pacific Islands" profiles 25 Pacific Island countries and includes maps, graphs and photographs, as well as more than 200 brief biographies of important political, historical and cultural figures. More than 200 writers and Pacific scholars contributed to the entries, all fully indexed, covering some of these topics: archaeology and anthropology; architecture, art and crafts; industry, education, food and fisheries; geography, history, language and literature; legal and judicial systems; environment, plants and animals; religion, sports, telecommunications, tourism and tropical diseases.
Nineteen University of Hawai'i professors contributed to the book.
The countries featured include American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Guam, French Polynesia, Irian Java, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Mauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Northern Marianas, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis, Futuna, and of course, Hawaii.
"The Pacific Islands" is an invaluable reference for any student of the region, but with its clear, simple writing it's also a must for armchair and real-time travelers.
By Tim Ryan
"Hawaiian Seashells," by Mike Severns (Island Heritage), cloth, 278 pages, $15.95If you're nuts about seashells, Mike Severns' "Hawaiian Seashells" will put you in heaven.
This comprehensive reference guide lists families of marine shells, then breaks each down in alphabetical order, giving common names, scientific names, size, depth of location and notes about where each specimen can be found.
Hundreds of colorful photographs help novices identify the 65 families and more than 360 species that live in the ocean, from tide pool to the deep.
Severns, a biologist who owns a charter boat operation on Maui, compiled the shell data. He also photographed the shells, lighting each one to best bring out the colors and intricate details of each natural sculpture.
By Cynthia Oi
"Willie's Wallabies," by Suzanne Kita; illustrated by Lambert Davis (Island Heritage), cloth, 40 pages, $10.95Suzanne Kita and Lambert Davis combine their talents to produce "Willie's Wallabies," a children's book that strives to teach a lesson about endangered species.
Young Willie, curious about the natural world, one day happens upon a wallaby in a remote valley where his family has lived for generations.
When he tells his grandmother about what he saw, she makes him promise to keep his discovery a secret, so as not to endanger the animals.
But Willie wants to tell. In fact, he dreams of setting up a Disney-like park to show off the marsupials. Only the promise that he'll be able to study the wallabies more closely with a scientist keeps him quiet.
That wallabies do exist in a valley on Oahu is true. But Kita's story line seems forced to fit that fact. And she seems to think the lesson is more important than the plot, when each should be balanced against the other.
The dialogue is awkward; Tutu speaks as if she's quoting a text book, as does the scientist.
Lambert Davis' magical illustrations, however, save the book, transmitting a mood of wonder through each page.
By Cynthia Oi
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