Calidris Reads: James Michener

Reading and traveling are two of my favorite things, so it’s a joy to combine the two. Aside from being a voracious reader of travel guides, I also love to read novels written by authors from places that I visit, or set in those countries. In Calidris Reads, I will briefly introduce you to these books and provide my personal rating from 1 to 5 knots (Terrible to Must-read).

Read for Hawaii (circa 1990) & Texas (2015) (natch)


First sentence: “Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others.”

The first sentence pretty much sums up the first chapter of the book, which goes on for a long time about the geological and topographical history of the islands. If you’re impatient, skip it and go straight to chapter 2. You won’t miss anything. And it does get much better.


First sentence: “On a steamy November day in 1535 at the Mexican seaport of Vera Cruz, a sturdy boy led his mules to and from the shore where barges landed supplies from anchored cargo ships.”

I like sinking my teeth into a good epic and Michener’s novels make for serious long-term commitments. Two problems: 1/ each chapter usually focuses on new characters and you sometimes hate to leave the old ones behind 2/ I can never finish these books because they are so massive. Despite this, they do make great, painless introductions to the location featured. I now know much more about the history, geography, and cultural mix that make up the states of Hawaii & Texas.

I’ve been through a bunch of Michener’s books and you always know exactly what you’re getting: interesting but not usually riveting stories. If you’re traveling to these places, Michener makes a good read, but don’t get too attached to the characters and don’t stress about finishing these tomes.

Both books: 4 knots Recommended

Have you read any of Michener’s books? What did you think? Did you like them? Let me know in a comment.




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  1. I remember reading ‘The Source’ when I was at university: a fascinating, but very long read about the so-called Holy Land. Since then I have been trying to make time to read more of Michener, but just never seem to find that time. However I have just waded through Keith Richards’ rambling, lengthy, poorly written (but fascinating) autobiography and his love-hate relationship with Mick Jagger. A long read that I did enjoy a while back was Pierre Berton’s ‘Klondike’ – a must if you’re planning a trip down the Yukon River to Dawson City. And by the way: he was born this day in 1920.

    • Obviously, you need to book a long, leisurely vacation at a Michener locale (Hawaii? Mexico? Caribbean? South Pacific?) during which you have nothing to do except lie on the sand and read. Thanks for the reminder about Berton: “Klondike” is on my “to be read” list.

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