On a Valentine's day unlike any other, I spent another ninety minutes with the CRPCA book club, this time in the welcome company of Peter Hessler. He is author of River Town, a book about the time he spent teaching English at a college in China's Sichuan Province. As I began to read Hessler's book, it's understated charm slowly began to infect me until the reading of it became a careful indulgence, something to be savored. I found myself poring over it's pages, often re-reading sentences to be sure that no edifying morsel of stark, expressive prose was left unexamined.
Perhaps what stands out to me most about Hessler's stories in River Town is the compassion with which he manages to capture the people and events of his time overseas despite countless baffling, often humorous examples of what makes the Chinese culture so inscrutible to the American mind. What makes the book even more interesting is the fact, we learned, that it was written in just eight months during Hessler's difficult reentry period following his time in the Peace Corps.
In a delightful turn of events, my good friend Stephanie Austin turned out for the book club and we proceeded to have a Valentine's day evening, conspicuously free of flowers and lovers' sighs.