A few years ago, I visited Steven Weinberg's studio in the Mission where he told me about a book he was illustrating. Written by his girlfriend, Casey Scieszka, it would include their true stories about teaching English abroad after college, traveling the world, eating noodles, and being in love. The nearly 500-page saga, To Timbuktu, has finally hit the shelves. It's fun to read and conveniently doubles as an approachable book for young people considering their own international adventures.
While very thick, the book is a light read and light to carry around. It made the last couple weeks of my commute very enjoyable. I found myself looking forward to diving back into Casey and Steven's stories, though it felt a bit voyeuristic to be reading so many personal details about a couple I'd only met once or twice. Now I know all of their beeswax and I feel like we're best friends.
Some of the best parts of the book are about their teaching victories. Suspicious that his students were afraid of his big nose, Steven took Casey's advice and knelt down to the kids' level (a golden rule for communicating with children). He let the students touch his nose to diffuse their fear, which might sound silly, but is written about so endearingly. Another sweet story happens when a student insists on making her parents wait until Casey is finished cleaning up after class so they can ride the elevator together and hold hands.
Also affective in the book are Casey's descriptions of eating their way across China, which made me have to order noodles more than once while making my way through that chapter. The couple's relationship is prominent, as they were a fairly new item when they set out on their two-year voyage. After China they visit or live in many other places, including Thailand, Mali, and yes, even Timbuktu.
While the book is written from Casey's first person perspective, Steven's drawings communicate his own perception of the situations. Sometimes his accounts are just like his partner's, and sometimes they are vaguely different. Drawings accompany the text on every page, and you could understand many of the stories' nuances through the black-and-white sketches alone. In fact, Steven's drawings were one of his main teaching tools. Though Casey identifies more as a writer, and Steven as an artist, they both seem like qualified creators and storytellers. I'd like to see them switch roles for their next published travel diary, which I would gladly read.
Unfortunately for San Francisco, they've now settled in Brooklyn, but keep an eye on their blog because they've been known to host drawing sessions at Shotwell's Bar when they're in town for a visit. In the meantime, get all up in their business by picking up a copy of To Timbuktu online or at local bookshops including Mission: Comics and Art.