Lately I’ve been doing research for a project on the future of the book. The topic is warming up here in China ever since a popular horror writer declared that he’d no longer make his work available in print, only online, saying books were too wasteful and environmentally hostile. But, in a classic STFU moment, a few days after his announcement the largest bookstore in the world opened outside of Beijing. I went for a visit this weekend.

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It’s called Beijing International Book City.

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As you’d imagine, it’s huge. 300,000 square meters, housing over 500 state-owned publishers and an estimated 300 private and overseas publishers, including Random House and Penguin. But anyway, you could learn any of that from a press release.

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What’s really amazing about the place isn’t the quantity of books but the ways they’re displayed. I basically spent the first hour I was there running around, dodging security guards and taking as many photos as I could:

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Then after all the running around and breathing in all the (probably toxic) new-building-smell and new-book-smell I became semi-hallucinatory and started seeing buildings that I recognized from around Beijing…

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In the end, all that scurrying around left me too tired to actually read any books, so I bought the littlest one I could find.

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It’s a conversation book for students of English, and amongst its many variations on introduction, food ordering, and family description, I found this highly compelling passage:

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