In Loving Memory, or on reading the last issue of the Weekly

Following the recent and unfortunate news that the Honolulu Weekly would be shutting its doors, I was tempted to write a post on the [local] book industry, something I’ve been mulling over since maybe two years ago when readers and writers found empty square-footage where their Borders used to be. I intentionally use the pronoun as an attributive adjective because of the emotional significance that store, that space, those shelves held for myself and countless others here and elsewhere. I remember sitting in a Borders café when I called Bamboo Ridge about a short story that they had accepted, my anxiousness getting the better of me, inquiring if it was okay for me to send a revised copy with the diacritical marks added. I remember meeting with my wife, then girlfriend, to browse aimlessly, spending most of my time in the local literature section with a notepad jotting down the various publishers listed on the spines for future reference. One of the few shops in Kane?ohe open past mall hours on Sundays, it was a gathering place for those searching for something more to fill their time, whether with books or conversation.

I’ll be honest, when I was younger I took the Weekly for granted. Working at Times Supermarket in Temple Valley it was one of the few things I would read on my breaks, primarily because I was too cheap to buy an Advertiser and secondly because I loved Cecil Adams ‘Straight Dope’. It was always a brief fifteen minutes, but the practice became habitual. Even after I had quit the grocery store, I still found myself disappointed when I discovered an empty Weekly rack. It was something different, the paper’s complexity something I couldn’t quite comprehend, almost pornographic in comparison to the conservative daily that found its way to my parent’s kitchen table.

But I didn’t know that yet.

To understand the importance Honolulu Weekly had culturally, especially to the local arts scene, as well as an alternative to the mainstream press, consider the launch of its annual Fiction and Poetry contest in 2011, five years after Honolulu Magazine had ended its popular and long-lived fiction competition. When so few outlets exist locally for authors to reach audiences outside of the university and the literary scenes, the contest provided an opportunity that had been lost, it filled a space not just for the writer but for the reader as well. Where else could you read Lee Tonouchi (This past year’s winner) without spending a dime?

Free, accessible, and open to the public, that’s everything the Weekly represented.

The Weekly gave voice to the public’s concern, but more importantly listened to their audience with an attentive ear. Their website and their letters section provided a platform for intelligent discourse, a way for the public to freely talk back to their press. The Weekly was an outlet, a gathering place for those interested in news and opinions that couldn’t be found on popular mobile apps. It was something you could hold in your hand, take on the bus, give to a friend, leave on the coffee table. The Weekly was a paper you could pick up and appreciate, every page, every line, every section. Pick one up and you would find yourself there.

A month before Borders closed, we were in Waikele and decided to stop in and check out the sales. The store was a mess, the first time I had really seen it that way, folks picking through the piles like the pockets of corpses left on the battlefield. I had no real intention of buying anything, the deals weren’t that great yet and honestly I had more than enough on my reading list to last me most of my adult life, but I was still struck by the immediacy of the moment. Looking at the bare shelves I realized that they would always remain that way. That the simple act of picking up a book and scanning the cover was about to become past tense. I might never get that chance again. And when after a half-hour of browsing I ran into a classmate I hadn’t seen since high school, I knew the weight of what we were losing. Today we still have B&N Ala Moana, Native Books, Book Ends but there will never be another Borders, at least for me.

I picked up the last issue of the Weekly today at Starbucks. I was feeling selfish and took two. If the rack’s empty, call Kate, it might be your last chance to appreciate something quite rare.

Mahalo for twenty-three years.

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