Novels/Non-fiction/Articles/etc involving the Pacific and its denizens
March 8, 2016 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for reading material about anything and everything with a Pacific Ocean vibe -- what are your suggestions?

Heading into the summer, I'd like to immerse myself in readings with the Pacific Ocean as the background. I'm interested in both fiction and non-fiction, short- and longform works, any level of academicity, taking place or written in any time period at all.

Specific topics/phrases that have piqued my interest or otherwise called to me:
-Native cultures of Polynesia/Pacific Islands (their societies, economies, languages, etc)
-the idea of the "trade winds" (this really calls to me for some reason)
-The actual ecology/geology/geography of the region
-Ocean/yacht adventures and deep-sea exploration
-The spice trade
-Modern technology interfacing with the region (like Neal Stephenson's "Mother Earth Mother Board")

Some books I've read in the past and enjoyed, which seem somewhat redolent of what I'm looking for:
-James Michener's "Hawaii"
-Kem Nunn's "Tapping the Source"
-William Finnegan's "Barbarian Days"
-David Mitchell's "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet"
-Thor Heyerdahl's "Kon-Tiki"
-Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon"

Any suggestions would be much appreciated -- I'm hoping to get a huge reading list that I can slowly chip at!
posted by miltthetank to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
James Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific"
Mark Twain's "Letters from Hawaii"
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:25 AM on March 8, 2016

Totally silly, probably too silly to qualify, but Christopher Moore's Fluke. Yeah, it's a Moby Dick meets [* spoilers elided *] farce, but he did do some serious research with Flip Nicklin of Whale Trust Maui and other fame.
posted by straw at 9:28 AM on March 8, 2016

I really enjoyed reading East Wind, Rain by Caroline Paul. It's a historical fiction about the Niihau Incident.
posted by vunder at 9:40 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I saw this in a bookstore in Hawai‘i, and would have purchased and read it if not for the fact that I have a ton of unread books sitting on my shelf: Land and Power in Hawaii. It looks like a great example of records-based reporting. The New York Times ran a review with a great headline: "Dry data on land and power make for best seller in Hawaii."

If you enjoyed Cryptonomicon, you may like Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener. It's another book that looks really, really great to me, but which I still haven't read because of a backlog of other stuff I really need to read.

I probably shouldn't recommend any more books that I haven't yet read. If you don't mind documentary suggestions, check out Surfwise and Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aiku. For a fictional movie set on South America's Pacific Coast, watch Crystal Fairy and the Magic Cactus.
posted by compartment at 9:44 AM on March 8, 2016

Facing West From California's Shores by Walt Whitman.
posted by johngoren at 9:49 AM on March 8, 2016

Between the Deep Blue Sea and Me by Lurline Wailana McGregor - the American Indian Library Association’s winner for best Young Adult book in 2010 (an interview with the author on her inspiration for the book)
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:04 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anything about Eddie Aikau. I'm reading Eddie Would Go right now. It's more of a beach read but it's so nice to read a book about Hawaii from the Hawaiian perspective.
posted by Pearl928 at 10:04 AM on March 8, 2016

Life of Pi for a novel.
posted by archimago at 10:07 AM on March 8, 2016

You might enjoy the poetry stylings of Don Blanding. The illustrations are lovely.

Fluke is a lot of fun.
posted by monopas at 10:15 AM on March 8, 2016

This is a pretty deece list of fictional works. Anyone out there want to read hardass social science about Oceania? I am obsessed with the canoes of Micronesia, myself, so my bibliography on the topic is long, dense, and dry. But I recommend the Polynesia/Easter Island stuff from Jared Diamond's Collapse to all.

(and I have dozens of further reccos for anyone who is interested in nonfiction.)
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 10:16 AM on March 8, 2016

While you're reading about the Pacific you could also follow some sailors who are headed that direction – the owners of Cheeky Monkey vlog at Chase the Story and are about to set out from the Caribbean for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. In fact, you could join them, and read on the way!
posted by nicwolff at 10:24 AM on March 8, 2016

If you like the Los Angeles edge of the Pacific Ocean, give Rick Moody's The Diviners a whirl. I don't know why exactly but that's the first thing that came to my mind when I read your question.

I also might suggest A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. I liked this one, although I didn't love it, but it certainly has a lot of fans and the Pacific Ocean figures strongly in the story.
posted by janey47 at 10:36 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

oh hold up, you've read Barbarian Days, haven't you?
posted by janey47 at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Two Years Before the Mast - non-fiction, Boston kid works as crew off the coast of California, Misson-era, pre-gold rush. Available as free ebook various places online

Master and Commander - fiction series, adventures of ship captain and doctor sailing the world in the 1800s. They are set in various places but a lot are in the Pacific.

Horatio Hornblower - fiction series. I started one but it was too similar to M&C but other people love the series. I think you could do this series or M&C
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:41 AM on March 8, 2016

Oh also, Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum for another great sailing book. Obviously involves other areas than the Pacific.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:43 AM on March 8, 2016

Tony Horwitz, Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. Just an awesome book.
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Blue Latitudes, Tony Horwitz: "No writer has better captured the heroic enigma that was Captain James Cook".
Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana: California in 1830's
Nanjo, Mark R. Peattie: 'The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia 1885-1945'
The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin: Biology and Geology, plus insights on the Spanish and native peoples of South America.
Making sense of Micronesia, Francis X. Hezel: 'The Logic of Pacific Island Culture’
Micronesian Blues, Bryan Vila & Cynthia Morris
posted by X4ster at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2016

Havent read it but have seen mostly positive reviews of Simon Winchester's "Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers"
posted by X4ster at 11:11 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might like Pacific by Simon Winchester.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:12 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll gingerly recommed Paul Theroux's The Happy Isles of Oceania, which I enjoyed when I read it some time ago (but Theroux's absolutely not everybody's cup of tea).
posted by Zeinab Badawi's Twenty Hotels at 11:25 AM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sea Routes to the Gold Fields is pretty interesting.
posted by latkes at 11:56 AM on March 8, 2016

[They start in the Atlantic but make it to the Pacific... sometimes!]
posted by latkes at 11:57 AM on March 8, 2016

Tom Neale spent several years of his life alone on a desert island (during the mid-20th century), and wrote a book about it called An Island to Oneself. The book appears to be available in several electronic formats online.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:26 PM on March 8, 2016

"Typee" and "Omoo" by Melville are delightful. Also "The Sexual Life of Savages" reads a lot more modern than its title.
posted by Fimbaz at 12:33 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Going to stick with the postcolonial framework, since I found them to be much more interesting than colonizing narrative POVs. The Hawaiian sovereignty movement is one of the most interesting movements against a most unjust and historically erased event. I only know of Hawaiian and Samoan literature due to meeting activists from those areas, so there's definitely a lot more to explore in other areas. I would encourage looking into University of Hawaii-Manoa and University of South Pacific for some really interesting scholarship that could lead to important authors.

Postcolonial Pacific Writing - Representations of the Body
Cornell University's list of Pacific Literature Resources
University of Hawaii-Manoa - Samoan 227 (class syllabi)
Lilikalā Kameʻeleihiwa
posted by yueliang at 2:28 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Tattoo Artist! I was just thinking I wanted to reread this the other day. It's about a painter who ends up marooned on a south pacific island full of natives for most of her life, where she becomes a master tattooist before returning home to America.

It's so good. Really odd premise, but I loved it.
posted by ananci at 2:54 PM on March 8, 2016 by Terry Pratchett (RIP)

Island of the Blue Dolphins
posted by Jacen at 3:44 PM on March 8, 2016

So many good books out there! Three quick recs:

Keri Hulme: The Bone People
Albert Wendt (ed): Nuanua - Pacific Writing in English since 1980
Herman Melville: Typee

All very different and very good.
posted by kariebookish at 4:06 PM on March 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gosh, and RL Stevenson's South Sea Tales! Patricia Grace's Potiki!
posted by kariebookish at 4:08 PM on March 8, 2016

These aren't everyone's cup of tea but you might try The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific and Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu by J. Maarten Troost. If the titles don't already tip you off they're definitely on the more humorous, "ain't life funny" end of the spectrum.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 5:15 PM on March 8, 2016

The 'Bounty' trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, starting with Mutiny on the Bounty. For your South Sea island vibes, especially the last one, Pitcairn's Island.
posted by Rash at 10:42 PM on March 8, 2016

It's just an article (but not paywalled!), but this piece about how the inhabitants of the Marshall Islands built maps based on the reflection and refraction of waves against and around the islands is really neat reading.

I first read about this in a chapter of Mathematics Elsewhere (it was the best chapter in that book).
posted by Hactar at 9:43 AM on March 9, 2016

English Passengers by Matthew Kneale; and Tapu by Judy Corbalis; and if you fancy some non-fiction, Come On Shore and we will Kill and Eat you All by Christina Thompson. I read the first two, both historical novels, close enough together that I'm not sure I can pick them apart; the third is about contemporary New Zealand and the author's Maori husband.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:25 PM on March 15, 2016

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