Hotel Honolulu by Paul Theroux

Read mainly during a stint scoring Hawaii Math at one of the country’s top education testing facilities, Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu provided a nice counterpoint to the terribly misguided papers I was reading for 8 hours a day.

Hotel Honolulu

I am contractually bound to keep the details of my scoring gigs confidential, so I’ll say no more. Suffice to say that after this particular gig, it was readily apparent to me that Hawaiian students–much like Texan students–are either very poorly educated or simply don’t bother to perform on standardized tests.

"Honolulu Hawaii at Night" by Flickr user Sheepback.Cabin

But back to Theroux, whom I stumbled upon totally by accident, thanks to a mandate from my husband to find anything and everything Hunter S. Thompson while I was browsing the UT library with my TexPass. By some quirk of the alphabet (plus Library of Congress shelving), Theroux and Thompson were next to one another. “Hotel Honolulu,” I remember thinking to myself, “That sounds intriguing…”

Theroux, a travel writer who also writes fiction (or is it the other way ’round?) pens an autobiographical account of his time in paradise, aka Hawaii, with much humor and compassion. I particularly enjoyed his account of regional variations on Scrabble, where he is miffed that his hotel employees will allow him to play with them (given his status as a writer), and then doubly miffed that he is always the loser in their games–which allow “Whyan” terms. (I was mostly amazed that they had that many U’s in their bag of letters!)

The kicker? Theroux objects to the term “shim,” which the Hawaiians claim is something used in “consruction,” and he has it stricken from the game’s record. Later on, he looks the word up in the dictionary, only to discover it’s a “Howlie” (i.e. white dude) term he should’ve known all along, meaning “a thin often tapered piece of material (as wood, metal, or stone) used to fill in space between things (as for support, leveling, or adjustment of fit).” The “near illiterate” janitorial crew gets his goat once more, proving that book smarts don’t necessarily equal real-world smarts. Touché.

(Originally posted at Crack Books)