Read any good books inspired by Belize lately?

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Who says a hair salon has to be just a hair salon -- or a bookstore just a bookstore?
Who says a hair salon has to be just a hair salon — or a bookstore just a bookstore?

I think the questions about whether e-books, like Kindle, are the salvation or death of  books have been pretty much answered.

The death of bookstores? Maybe.

The death of books? Far from it.

Any questions surrounding their utility and propriety were answered for me, not in some futuristic scenario, but in the dusty streets of this tropical Caribbean island.

Rose and I could live without TV, although we don’t.

Cable TV has a limited number of channels here but it hits all the important bases, including around eight international football channels in numerous languages and accents and two Al Jazeera news channels.

We also get network channels from Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. (So many San Pedranos are Chicago Cubs fans, I’m told, because the Cubs channel, WGN, was among the first and few to be transmitted on cable in its early years.)

buffettBut without our Kindles we would be doomed to reading crappy dogeared James Patterson novels, over and over again. And that ain’t gonna happen.

On my Kindle, I’m currently reading “A Salty Piece of Land,” by Jimmy Buffett because his description of Belize, and San Pedro in particular, supposedly inspired a run of expats to our island when it first was published, in 2004. Buffett is a better entertainer than novelist but following the adventures in Paradise of cowboy Tully Mars is a sweet experience.

Next, if they ever publish it on Kindle: Herman Wouk’s expat comedy “Don’t Stop the Carnival.” Some locals have said the story takes place here on Ambergris Caye, although Wouk’s time was spent on the Virgin Islands running a small hotel.

Reminder to self: Visit the local library, dummy!

hermanwoukBoth books were recommended by expats at our neighborhood watering hole, the Coco Loco’s, run by a terrific young Canadian couple, Sue and Steve.

Every time we walk into this waterfront palapa just north of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge, we seem to learn something fresh about our new home and its residents — or end up with literary tips like the above.

Hey Belize expats and locals, this is where you can step up and add your recommendations for books and writings that shed light on our small piece of the world. Help us build a “library” of Belize literature. Post below and say a little something about it. I’ll compile it all into a future post! Thanks!

The other night we met Phil, a Chicago native killing a little time at Coco’s while waiting for his girlfriend to return from her native Sweden. To our delight, he turns out to be a huge fan of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo, whose books occupy prominent space on both our Kindles.

Our delight and my embarrassment, as I somehow confused Sweden and Norway — so like a drinking American gringo.

But I mean, what are the chances of running into another fan of a Norwegian crime/thriller novelist on a small Caribbean island? Pretty good I guess. Phil was even familiar with Japanese magical realism master Haruki Murakami, another of my all-time favorite authors.

Phil also highly recommended books by Martin Cruz Smith, William Kent Krueger and Marcus Sakey. These too will be filling our Kindle.

Next to local rum and Belikin beer, I think expats consume books in all their formats the most, but mostly e-books. My impression is that even an order from Amazon would take weeks to arrive here (once a week mail delivery from Miami) and the tariffs would make them no bargain.

marlon

Marlon August, who tends bar at Coco Loco, is a native Belizean, ecotour guide and author of “My Life and Travels in Belize.” The other night we learned that Marlon also once had a weekly program on a local radio station during which he retold the Belize folktales that he’d learned growing up here. Sometimes he would take Western tales and flavor them with Belizean spice.

We grownups, hunkered around the bar, sat transfixed as Marlon reset Hansel & Gretel in the Belize rainforest and spun his tale for a good 15-20 minutes. With a hint of Kriol and a soft soothing voice, Marlon poured an intoxicating brew into our imaginations.

Later, I asked him if anyone had ever written down these folktales, put them into a book for all to read. He looked at me quizzically, like I didn’t quite get it. “These are spoken tales,” he explained patiently, “handed down from one family member to another and shared by all.”

I think I got it. Writing them down would be like pinning a butterfly to a piece of cardboard. These stories live and grow and adapt only so long as they are free to flow from one person to the next.

TiaChocolateTOP_02

My recent discovery — I know, I’m late to this party. — is a local short-story writer, Tia Chocolate, who mines her personal experiences growing up local and shapes them into gripping, vivid tales. The stories I’ve read so far spring from the non-touristy back streets and from behind the closed doors of real San Pedranos. They are gritty, sassy, sweet, sad, funny, poignant, real.

You can find her collection of columns for ambergriscaye.com here.

Here’s something I borrowed from her Facebook page, to give you a little taste of Chocolate:

Life on an island is exciting, interesting, challenging (Ever heard of island fever? It’s a version of cabin fever … so I’ve been told … though I think it’s worse!). I don’t spend my days gallivanting about in a boat, on eternal holiday. I don’t have unlimited access to that bundle of fun that most people seem to do, or like to say they do. I work – odd hours mostly, and have to squeeze time to enjoy what is left of my beautiful island. I would be lying if I said I go out every weekend and enjoy the beaches and culture of my town. Most times you’ll probably find me puttering in my yard, or snoring away at home. But it is imperative to spend some time outdoors, mingling with people, lest one be labeled anti-social.

My posts are often derived from personal experience – but sometimes, it will be a result of a conversation, or my big ears will pick something up on the street, or it could simply be observations from every day life. So, if you read something that makes you go, “Hey, I said that!!” – perhaps you did.

You’re welcome.

I believe that my beloved island still has its charm, despite the overzealous development, and I am happy to share with you what I see. Enjoy the wild ride – sometimes, believe it or not, it can be dull, and if you remain awake enough till the next exciting bit, then you’re my kinda pal!

Remember, chocolate falls under many categories – white, dark, sweet, bittersweet, powdery (i.e. flaky) – and I can be ALL of those things. So you never know – keep tuning in, someday, I just might be sweet! (heehee)

The closest thing we have to a real bookstore however is a hair salon, the Aquarius hair salon and used-book store on Pescador Drive. Heavy on the thriller/mystery stuff, some biography but mostly the shelves are at the mercy of what was left behind on the island by tourists, I think.

But my Kindle always comes through. It has the night’s latest Coco Loco’s recommendation in my lap by the time we’ve walked home in the sweet breeze under a pile of stars so thick you’d think the weight alone would send them crashing into the sea.

The only concern about the Kindle is the occasional power outage; the most recent lasted an entire day. When the battery runs low, well, either go for a walk and swim …  or grab a — god help me — well-worn copy of a James Patterson novel and pour a rum and coke.

Part of the now-it's open, now-it's-not The Hotel, north of the bridge, is the unused library, a trove of books across all genres.. Some day, perhaps, it will make  great coffee shop. If the books don't grow moldy from disuse. What a shame.
Part of the now-it’s open, now-it’s-not The Hotel, north of the bridge, is the unused library, a trove of books across all genres.. Some day, perhaps, it will make great coffee shop. If the books don’t grow moldy from disuse. What a shame.
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6 thoughts on “Read any good books inspired by Belize lately?

    Emily said:
    May 8, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    There is another bookstore on the island, if it’s still there. Upstairs in the purple building. It’s a charming, bright place, and they will even sometimes order books for you if you have specific wants. I had them order a couple for my husband’s birthday when we were living in AC. They have a variety of lightly used books and some new books (especially those focused on Belize) as well. It’s a very different feel from Aquarius, which I also loved and used often for exchanging paperbacks (including ratty James Pattersons!) Both shops have a place on the island.

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    4sarge said:
    May 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I have E-Books and ‘real’ soft & hard bound editions. My preference are the bound books but the e-books are handy for travel and a space saver. Our last move consolidated and down sized my life time bound book collection. It would be a shame to see the demise of the bound book.

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 8, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      I agree 4sarge. I had surprisingly deep emotional connections to many of the older books in my library. It really hurt to let them go and for many I tried to place them in “good homes,” like they were kittens or something.

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    Bob Farris said:
    May 9, 2014 at 5:37 am

    I have many books in my library as well as a number of magazines (what am I going to do with my woodworking magazines when and if we make THE MOVE).
    Do they have to be supportive of Belize? Amy Furman’s “Belize: The Dark Side of Paradise” is in my Kindle library.

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      May 9, 2014 at 7:08 am

      Certainly not! There is indeed a dark side, what I like to call the stuff that exists beyond the cropped edges of the postcards — poverty, violence, squalor. But there is also a special indomitable spirit of good that runs side-by-side with these things. The caring and generous human nature, as we have found it so far, is one of the island’s finest and least appreciated attractions.
      The rich stuff of a good novel indeed.

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    […] “Tia? Are you Tia Chocolate? Oh, god, I’m sorry. It is just that you look like this local writer that I’d just mentioned in my blog.” […]

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