I grew up in Hawaii, mostly in two teensy little towns, Keaau and Pahoa.
This is downtown Pahoa, Hawaii. I don’t know where they hid all the hippies while they were taking this picture, but I’m sure if you sniff your screen, you can still smell the patchouli. (Photo by Alex Avriette)
Our nearest “big town” was Hilo, where you could find TWO McDonald’s, a Little Caesar’s (PizzaPizza!), the minigolf/waterslide where rich kids had their birthday parties, and a full one and a half malls. Happy was the day when Kaiko’o Pet finally moved to Prince Kuhio Plaza, and we no longer had to beg to drive lo those many miles (all 2.2 of them) to stare at the fish. Happier still, the tiny little indie bookstore moved into Prince Kuhio, and I could finally divide my time between them and Waldenbooks. Two, two, TWO glorious bookstores, in one place!
My Mom worked for a local furniture store at the time (for those in the know- the one owned by the Aussie who did his own tv commercials), and it was a short hop across the Hilo Hattie’s parking lot and an empty field, in the doors through possibly the last Woolworth’s in the country, and around two corners to the (at the time) sprawling expanse of BOOKS. My pace would quicken (not enough to be yelled at or possibly detained by a security guard), I’d practically hold my breath, and then I’d set foot in the store, and everything would be just a little better with every step as I neared the back corner, where the fantasy and science fiction section lived on four whole shelves. The store employees knew me- they would often save me promo items and ARCs- and nobody ever bothered me as I surveyed my potential kingdoms for hours at a time. No matter what author I was interested in, or what series I was reading, I started with A, at the very beginning of the section, and my eyes scanned every single book, looking for anything new, anything special, anything that would make my tiny world, with its towns you could see from top to bottom without turning your head, a little bigger.
When we were still attending public school, we went to Keaau. The best thing about that school was the library, because it wasn’t a school library, full of easy readers and picture books. It was a full-fledged public library, with a real, computerized catalogue and inter-library loan from any of the other islands, even Oahu, where I was quite sure they kept all the books to themselves.
This is where I used to not get beat up during recess and lunch. Also where I read the whole Banned Books Week cart, and earned tiny, free pizzas every summer.
The shelves here were my haven from bullying. Top to bottom, front to back, carefully avoiding the children’s books. I would search for a book like the last one I’d read, or a book about something outside my own head. Sometimes for a book about why- why was I so sad, why didn’t anything make sense, why wasn’t magic real? I learned how to shelve books properly here, and how fast I could run through those safe, tinted glass doors, into the open arms of those beloved bookshelves. At the Hilo library, crouched low and inching along the cool tile floors, I read my way through the fantasy and science fiction section. I discarded the boring books in my wake as I made a study of all the genre fiction deemed fit for the main public library on the island. My Mom would sometimes have to call my name three or four times to break me out of my giddy daze, and we finally agreed that a tote bag a week was the only sensible option for my check outs.
I can find almost any book I want within seconds these days, and that’s amazing. I love reading, and I love being able to read what I want without waiting for three weeks for the copy to come in from Kauai. What I miss, aside from getting free personal pan pizzas for reading a book with chapters (look, we had low standards, okay? Don’t judge.), is the anticipation, the breathless, anxious feeling in my chest as I rounded the corner to Waldenbooks. Is it still there? What if they sold the book I wanted to read? What if they moved the section, and it’s smaller now? What would they do with the books? WHAT IF THEY WENT OUT OF BUSINESS AND NOBODY TOLD ME?
I miss not knowing what I was looking for, and finding it anyway.