The Past Is Always With Us

Monday, May 03, 2010

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.

Hopeful Enterprise

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.

  1. Ruth Hsiao —
    Thursday, May 13, 2010 :: 07:57 PM

    I enjoyed your charming reflections on you first editorial job.  I bet the book was well used.  When I taught English and American Literature at Sichuan University in 1985, I sent ahead cartons of books for the courses I was to teach.  There was none in China, especially text books on writing and reading.  Of course I didn’t have enough copies for every student to have one.  The books were kept under lock and counted every day after each class.  Photo copying was also non-existent, so every text book was precious.

    Enjoy your visit with your parents!

  2. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Monday, May 17, 2010 :: 04:12 AM

    Thanks for the comment, Ruth. Chengdu in 1985 must have been wonderful—I’ve seen pictures. Before it was a car city. The dan dan is still fantastic.

    I wish I had also sent some books ahead when I was teaching in Nanshan. The book many Chinese schools use (“Super Kids”) is awful!

  3. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Tuesday, June 01, 2010 :: 12:49 AM

    great to hear you are in china.. you are always a graphic designer.. can’t command Z that away.