"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another Form of Distraction

"Life might be difficult... but I would tough it out because living in a foreign country is one of those things that everyone should try at least once.  My understanding was that it completed a person, sanding down the rough provincial edges and transforming you into a citizen of the world."

That's David Sedaris, speaking out from his collection of essays, Me Talk Pretty One Day.  Of course anything that muses on living overseas is relevant to my interests these days, although to be quite fair I don't know how many of my rough provincial edges have been sanded down yet, much less if I'll ever undergo the aforementioned transformation.  In fact, one of the things my trip has taught me, so far, is that I really do like being an American. 

But that's another post altogether.  Today is about books.

Literally three hours before I was set to go to the airport and begin this nutty experiment, my Mom decided that I needed a kindle.  I'm a fairly avid reader (although certainly not as dedicated as some), and was planning on coming to Georgia armed only with several books about the country I was soon to call home, and one travel anthology meant for reading on the plane, The Best Women's Travel Writing, 2010.  I wasn't happy about this, but two giant suitcases were already packed so tight I literally could not lift them on my own.  I was going to have to discover a world without novels.

I'd had my reservations about the idea of this odd newfangled device, the kindle.  For yeeeears I had said things like "I like pages," when friends would wax philosophically romantic on the virtues of their electronic reading device.  "Reading on a screen is bad for your eyes," I would say, and pooh-pooh their assertion that Amazon's "electronic ink" had solved this problem 100%.

Luckily for me, Mom was panicking about my leaving almost as much as I was -- and a last-minute, completely generous, totally SMART gift was in the cards.  Mom actually went to Best Buy by herself to pick one up, as Dad and I raced to finish another project before the deadline -- THIS:

That's a sadly crappy picture of the awesome end table I'd been building with my father over the past year.  (No way it should have taken that long, but I am easily distracted.)  Ash with walnut, and a beautiful green tile set in the center.  It wasn't supposed to be this complicated, but I kept changing the design and making mistakes.  (I'd been hoping to work the table into a post somehow, as I'm pretty happy with how it came out.  So forgive the non sequitor.)  ANYWAY...

Let it just be said that this kindle has been my absolute crutch, my lifesaver, these three and a half months in Georgia.  And serendipity rides again, as my Tbilisi roommate Suzanne generously downloaded her entire kindle library onto mine during Orientation Week.  So now I have something insane like 980 books, just waiting to be read.  And it just so happens that a good deal of these books are right up my alley -- fantasy/sci-fi, classics, satirical social commentary, bitter humor.  During the worst of my illness I devoured the first six books in the Anita Blake series.  (Don't judge me.  My bar for entertainment value plummets when I'm sick.)  I laughed hysterically through Ozzy Osbourne's autobiography, was able to download BOTH the new Sookie book AND the new Dresden book as soon as I remembered they'd come out, and found two new favorite authors in Bill Bryson and David Sedaris.

Obviously not all these forays into modern literature require much more than the mention they just got, but I felt that some of my recent literary discoveries are worth sharing.  Honestly I can't believe I've lived my adult life without joining Bryson's or Sedaris's team until now, but at least now I have something to keep me busy.  I figure going out less will maybe help me be less broke, so that's lots of extra time to devote to the written word.

So, finally -- here we are at the POINT of the post!!!  (I know.  I'm shocked my own self.  I do like to ramble on about my own head, don't I?)  I'm hoping to maybe do one of these once in a while, when I come across something that I think my peeps will dig, or just something that struck a chord with me.

Book Review:
I'm a Stranger Here Myself, Bill Bryson

Hit by my first real jab of homesickness since I got here, I stopped reading Game of Thrones to charge my way through this truly enchanting collection of essays.  After living abroad in England for 20 years, Bryson returns home to America and settles in New Hampshire with his English wife and their children.

"In a funny way, nothing makes you feel more like a native of your own country than to live where everyone else is not... the many good things about America also took on a bewitching air of novelty...(such as) the curiously giddying notion that ice is not a luxury item and that rooms can have more than one electrical socket."

Really, it's like the man tore those words straight out of my heart.

I think I may be about the only person who had NOT known about Bill Bryson until now (much like my other recent kindred spirit find, Sedaris), so it may be redundant to say this dude is definitely one of the smarter guys around.  But more importantly, you get the feeling that he knows what he is talking about because he cares about what he is talking about, and wants you to do the same.  This is a man who feels passionately getting the important facts straight -- about history and the environment, about the things people do and the reasons they do them.

His essays amused the hell out of me, and it was like balm to my spirit to be reading about my home country presented in such a compasionate, whimsical, truthful voice.  I loved his essay about the postal system -- America's versus England's -- particularly since I spent almost 50 lari one month ago sending postcards to my loved ones -- not one of which has arrived to my knowledge; and also because my mother, while vacationing in Maine and due to the fact that I had yet to supply her with my real address (because I didn't know it yet), recently addressed and sent a postcard to "Mary -----, Police Station, Poti, Georgia."  (I think it goes without saying that I have not recieved this piece of mail either.)  So yeah, I can truly appreciate the remarkable efficiency that is the U.S. postal and address system.  Never thought I'd be saying THAT, but there you have it.

So if you've somehow managed to miss this guy, like me, then I highly recommend checking him out.  Definitely worth your time.


  1. Your grand parents and your parents received your post cards several weeks ago. Sorry we forgot to let you know.


    P.S. I've really enjoyed your last few blog entries.

  2. That's the stuff!! Loved your entry -- want to hear more book reviews and more personal thoughts of your "sanding" process!! Some day I will begin to read again -- looking forward to that even more now that I have a mentor to suggest the best! The story is not the thing, it's how the story is told. Don't we just love "the word"!! The right word, the true word, the best word!!

  3. I remember from American Lit courses that Henry James tended to write about Americans abroad, partially in order to help define what makes an American. He was not as entertaining as I assume Bryson and Sedaris are. :)