Back in February when everything was closed and there wasnt much to do, I went to the central Chengdu public library to see if I could get wi-fi and just to take a look around. On the fifth floor there is a room of foreign books, which is not a bad collection (Churchill’s six-volume memoir of World War II, lots of British novels). There is a whole aisle of English textbooks. On the second floor up from the floor, at the very end of a shelf, is a copy of Writing Nature.
Writing Nature was published in 1995 by St. Martin’s Press College Division. My name is on the copyright page. I was the associate editor. My first job after college was as an editorial assistant and after a year or so I was given this book to edit. And I truly edited it — long letters to the author, red penciling, long lists of potential subtitles (a textbook requirement), all the old-fashioned care. I even approved the cover design, which was how I first learned of Andy Goldsworthy, though I knew nothing about typography then. Not too long after the book came out, I was laid off and that took me out of editorial work and eventually into graphic design.
And now I am in China, and not really even a graphic designer these days, and then here is this book. This book that I was so proud of, am still somewhat proud of, although it’s crazy they let me even touch it. I was 23. In a month I’ll be 40. We printed probably 5,000 copies, maybe a little more. This has to be the only copy anywhere in China. The temptation is of course to make this book’s sudden and so totally unlikely appearance in a Chinese library mean something. But what? We’re both, it and I, in a place where we don’t quite belong but have ended up.