Ask a Bookseller: 'Unfamiliar Fishes' is delightful and informative

Sarah Vowell's "Unfamiliar Fishes"
Sarah Vowell's "Unfamiliar Fishes"
Courtesy of publisher

If you’re a history lover with a desire to escape the Minnesota winter weather, Pat Banning of Bookends in Kailua, Hawaii, has a recommendation for you. Banning says "Unfamiliar Fishes" by Sarah Vowell "blew her out of the water" with its carefully researched and highly readable Hawaiian history.

The title comes from a quote by a Hawaiian scholar describing unfamiliar fishes blown from the deep who devour the little ones they find. This is a warts-and-all history of Hawaii's Americanization, told in a nonlinear fashion and interspersed with contemporary diary entries as well as Vowell's experience.

"I was prepared to scoff at the beginning," said Banning, whose store is located on Oahu. She was skeptical of books by "people that sweep in here and write history of a way after they've been here for three or four weeks. But she's fantastic. She tells you all kinds of things that you have totally never heard of."

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