The last few days I’ve been reading Bill Carter’s The War for Late Night, concerning the contretemps between Conan and Leno a year or so ago. The story is interesting and I’ve been enjoying the potted bios of O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and others, especially since I have a few friends who are at least tangentially connected to that world. Stylistically, though, Carter is beyond hyperbolic. He employs similes the way Michael Bay employs explosions. (Made-up example: “He seemed calm but inside his guts churned, like he had accidentally swallowed a hand grenade, mistaking it for an unusually tough avocado.”) I find I’m happier reading nonfiction on my iPad than I am reading fiction. This may be because I prefer to restrict my e-books to titles I would only like to read once, saving physical books for fiction that ostensibly has more staying power.
I’ll be flying to Beijing a week from today and staying there a further week or so. While I’ve been back to the Mainland several times over the last few years (mostly Shanghai and environs), I haven’t been to Beijing since I was a student there for six months in 2002. At the time I was going through my default response to a change of scenery, namely, hating most everything around me for most of the time. This was in large part due to my being seriously stressed-out by my program and its attendant language pledge, which forbade us to speak English, in class or out, for the length of the program. (One fun side effect was that for the first week or two everyone in the program went to bed with pounding headaches every knight. The first time I saw that scene toward the end of The Bourne Identity where Clive Owen, whom Matt Damon has moments earlier ventilated with a shotgun, complains about the terrible headaches that their super spy training gave him, I could totally relate.)
That was all a long time ago and I’m a lot more sanguine about life now. (I managed to revisit Japan last year with minimal psychic distress, for example.) So for the most part I’m quite excited to be heading back, to see what has changed, what has stayed the same, and so forth. Of course, it helps that I’ll be staying with friends, which always makes such ventures a lot more bearable. Additionally, I’ll be fully in international academic mode, polishing connections at Beishi da and, with any luck, maybe scoping out a first edition of Gujin xiaoshuo or Jin’gu xiaoshuo –– that would be a fun coup. Fingers crossed.