Long time, no see.
I apologize for being a bit absent on the interwebs lately.
I know you were all terribly worried.
Possibly you thought I was kidnapped by Mongolian street bandits.
Or maybe you thought I had finally succumbed to one of the many Nineteenth Century diseases I’m convinced I’ve contracted since moving to China. (At the moment I’m pretty sure I have either Black Lung or scurvy. Possibly both.)
Or perhaps you thought my couch had collapsed after a long summer of couch-sitting and cookie-binging, and I was trapped underneath one of the massive armrests — kind of like that movie with James Franco where he’s trapped by the huge boulder. Except most of my flashbacks would involve snack foods. And I really doubt I’d have the fortitude to cut off my own arm as I barely had the fortitude to watch that part of the movie. (Okay, so maybe I didn’t exactly watch that part. I was too busy screaming and burying my face in a pillow.)
And, thank you so much for all your emails of concern.
Okay, so maybe only two of you sent me concerned emails.
And, okay, maybe one of those two of you was my dad. (Hi, Dad!)
But, I’m sure you all meant to send me emails, right? You were probably just too busy having bake sales and spaghetti dinners. You know, so you could raise the ransom money needed to pay off the street bandits for my safe return. (Plus, what good is an email when I’m being held HOSTAGE BY STREET BANDITS? Obviously, street bandits aren’t going to let me check my email or anything. They’re notorious for being jerks like that. And don’t even try to ask them if you can check your Facebook page.)Alas, the reason why I’ve been missing in action lately is not nearly as exciting as all the scenarios you imagined in your head for me.
(Or, ahem, all the scenarios I imagined in your head for you for me.)
(You’re welcome, by the way.)
I’ve just been busy.
And not even fun-busy.
Just like work-busy.
I’m currently in the midst of teaching a research writing class, which means my free time is being spent reading piles and piles of research papers – half of which were written by my students, the other half of which were written by the robots of Google Translate.
When I’m not reading research papers, I spend my time wondering what I ever did to deserve such torture.
You would feel tortured too if you had to read essays full of lines like this one: “If you even wash his clothes all can’t, that you have the higher GPA, how do you can do?”
How do you can do?
That is the question.
It got to the point last weekend that I was really tempted to just pack up my bags and leave China in the middle of the night so I could avoid any more grading. (But I didn’t. Because I’m a responsible adult who is committed to her job. Or at least committed to getting a few more paychecks. Because, you know, Black Lung treatments aren’t cheap.)
Unfortunately, I have three more weeks before the term ends and about two hundred billion more essays to grade. If you don’t see much more of me on the interwebs in the next few weeks it’s because I’m busy grading.
Or, it’s because I just sawed off my paper-grading arm. (Which also happens to be my blog-updating arm and my cookie-eating arm. So, yeah, I would be really sad to see it go, but, sometimes a girl’s just got to do what a girl’s got to do.).If, in fact, I am not be able to update my blog in the near future, I thought I’d suggest a few things you could read instead of my blog. So while I’m busy reading research papers and contemplating how many glasses of red wine I can drink before I get sloppy and just start writing, “Why? WHHHYYY? Why do you torture me like this?” all over my students’ papers, you can be reading something enjoyable… and not something that makes you want to stab your eyes out with a red pen.
(You’re welcome. Again. By the way.)
Swept: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRocheI’ll admit that when I first saw Torre on Twitter I felt a little bit threatened. You see, Torre goes by the Twitter handle @FearfulGirl. And, well, the whole scaredy cat thing is kind of my thing, you know.
I was worried we might have to have some kind of Twitter turf war so we could see who was the biggest coward on the Internet. And, while, I’ve never been particularly competitive, I’m pretty sure I could win at a wimp-off any day. (I imagine there would be contests like “Who Can Scream the Loudest While Attempting To Kill a Spider with a Toilet Plunger” and “Who Can Lie Awake the Longest Imagining All the Different Diseases She Has Contracted.” Not to brag or anything, but I have tons of experience in these activities. In fact, I practically invented that first one while I was house-sitting in Thailand.)
My initial wariness wore off pretty quickly, though. You see, it’s pretty much impossible to not like Torre (even if she’s horning in on your Twitter turf). She’s witty and relatable and writes these highly entertaining blog posts about jerky bike riders and her Google search addiction on her blog, Fearful Adventurer.Her book, which is a memoir of the time she sailed around the world with a guy she met in a bar, is equally witty, relatable and entertaining.
It’s also pretty much impossible to put down. (Just you try to put it down — I dare you. You’ll be all like, “I’m totally going to go to bed now seeing as I have to go to work tomorrow and all. Let me just put this book down. Right after I finish EIGHTY MORE PAGES.”)
As much as I loved her book (which I read in about two days… because, hey, who needs sleep when you have high sea adventures to read about?), I do have to say Torre has kind of lost her scaredy cat street cred with me.
Sorry, Torre, but sailing around the world?
In a teeny little sailboat?
With a man you met in a bar?
I don’t know who you’re trying to fool, lady, but that sounds pretty brave to me.
Bossypants by Tina FeyIt’s kind of freaky how Tina Fey and I have been leading parallel lives all these years.
We both had awkward adolescences.
We both have a penchant for dessert and dorky boys.
We both wear glasses and have “big gym teacher calves.” (Her words not mine. I prefer to call my calves “shapely in a tree-trunk-shaped kind of way” so as not to anger any gym teachers. We all know there isn’t anything worse than an angry gym teacher. Or an angry calf muscle.)
We both got our start in improv comedy. (Of course, for Tina Fey, improv was her start to a successful career in comedy writing and television stardom. For me, improv was my start to a career in… umm… yeah, about that career thing…)
See? It’s like we were separated at birth or something.
Of course, like the author herself, Bossypants is hilarious.
But that’s not why I loved this book.
I loved this book because it gave me hope.
If Tina Fey can write a book while juggling a demanding job in the television industry, a family and the odd photo shoot for Vanity Fair, then, surely, I can write a book while juggling a teaching job and, umm, my couch.
Okay, so maybe her book also made me feel totally inadequate.
But it was that “ha-ha funny” kind of totally inadequate.
So it’s all good.
Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories by Mike BirbigliaI’m going to be honest with you. I’m not usually the laugh out loud kind of girl.
I’d like to think this is because I have a refined sense of humor.
Or maybe it’s just because I have this really loud donkey laugh that’s kind of embarrassing.
Either way, I tend to just snicker silently when I find something amusing so as not to alarm the general public.
The first time I heard a story by Mike Birbiglia, a stand-up comedian and writer, I was at the gym listening to a podcast of NPR’s This American Life. (What? You don’t listen to NPR while working out? Come on, there’s nothing like a little Ira Glass while you’re on the elliptical trainer to really get your heart pumping, am I right or am I right? Okay, so I’m a dork. Shut it, you.)
The story, like a lot of stories in his book, was about his adolescence.
It was, as the title of his book suggests, painful and true… but, mostly, painful.
It also made me laugh so loud that the man next to me tripped on his treadmill. (Meanwhile, I had to look around with a puzzled expression on my face as if to say, “Wow, what just made that noise? Did someone just let a donkey into the gym or something?”)
So, yeah, if you do read this book, I really recommend you read it while in the privacy of your own home. I also recommend you double insulate your walls or something. Unless you want your neighbors to think you live with donkeys.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.) by Peter HesslerI read this book this summer because I felt like maybe I should, I don’t know, actually make an attempt to learn a thing or two about the country I currently live in.
The book, which is a memoir of Peter Hessler’s two years of teaching English at a university in Sichuan Province with the Peace Corps, had come recommended to me by a number of other people who had lived and worked in China.
And I would really recommend this book to any other expats living in China – especially those teaching at a university.
But, uh, maybe you should read it a couple years after you’ve left China.
You know, after you’ve made it out of here alive.
Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed this book. I could relate to a lot of his experiences. And I found his commentary on Chinese culture and people to be both informed and insightful. (Unlike my commentary on Chinese culture and people – which tends to be highly misinformed and revolves around wearing pajamas in public.)
And then I got to the part about halfway through the book where he gets tuberculosis.
Let me just repeat that one more time.
HE GETS TUBERCULOSIS.
Yeah, like did you even know people could still get tuberculosis?
Of course, all I could think about after reading that was, “Great. It’s only a matter of time before I get tuberculosis. In fact, I probably already have it. Well, great. Just great. Here I am trying to enlighten my mind about China, and China goes ahead and gives me tuberculosis. Isn’t that just the way.”
(Editor’s note: Not to worry. I just checked, and I don’t have tuberculosis. According to the internets, the symptoms of tuberculosis include appetite loss and weight loss. And, yeah, let’s just say those two things have yet to be an issue for me in China. But, uh, do you know what Nineteenth Century disease causes cookie binges and a desire to watch endless episodes of Ghost Whisperer on DVD? Because whatever that is, I’ve got it. Please send medical attention… and more cookies.)
Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay by Adair LaraAs you can probably see from my book recommendations, I’ve been on something of a memoir kick lately. In fact, pretty much all the books I read this summer were memoirs. I thought that maybe by reading a whole bunch of memoirs, I would suddenly be inspired to write my own.
Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be the easily inspired sort.
After months of reading memoir after memoir and getting hardly any work done on my own book, I decided what I really needed was a book on how to write memoirs. (Because, obviously, there was some secret memoir-writing formula that I didn’t know about.)
The only problem was that I’ve never exactly been the type to read how-to books. In fact, every time I’ve attempted to read any kind of self help or advice book, it’s resulted in my screaming, “You’re not the boss of me,” promptly followed by my running out to do whatever the book just told me not to do. (And that is why I can no longer even look at a diet book for fear that I will instantly start shoveling cake into my face. )
But, whatever, desperate times call for desperate measures… plus this book has the word “naked” and “drunk” in the title so if that’s not reason enough to buy it, I don’t know what is.I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the whole book. When I first got it, I skipped ahead to the “How To Trick Yourself Into Writing” chapter first as that seemed to be what I needed the most help with at the time. And, despite being the not-so-easily inspired sort, I tend to be the easily tricked sort. So her tips actually worked for me. (For all of a month or so. Until I got clued in to all the tricks I’d been playing on myself and I promptly informed myself that I am not the boss of me. Don’t ask me who the boss of me actually is. I have a feeling it’s cake.)
I’ve since read a few of the other chapters when I’ve been between books or in need of a little kick in the pants. (Which is pretty much always, but whatever.)
What I like most about Adair Lara’s book is that it’s not preachy at all. She includes a lot of personal anecdotes about her own writing career, so it almost feels like you’re reading a memoir not a how-to book. (Again, I’m easily tricked, so this totally worked for me. Now if only diet books could be written like this, I might actually be able to read them… without, you know, all the cake.)
So, there you have it, my reading suggestions for you to keep you busy while I’m busy grading research papers.
Or busy sawing off my grading-paper arm.
Or busy trying to convince the Mongolian street bandits that I really need to check my Facebook page.
Whichever one comes first.
(You’re welcome. For like the fourth time today. By the way.)P.S. If you click on the little linky-loos in the text above and then buy the books off of Amazon, I get money. I know, pretty sweet deal, right? Not that I’m saying this to pressure you into buying any books or anything. I mean, do whatever you think is right. But, uh, Black Lung treatments don’t come cheap, if you know what I mean. P.P.S. Got any book suggestions for me? I could really use some light, fun reads to take my mind off of research paper reading… and prevent me from stabbing out my eyeballs. I tend to read memoirs, fiction or really any book that doesn’t tell me what to do. Bonus points if the book makes me laugh like a donkey.