Antiquarian book dealers are a strange, eclectic group of people. Some are dour and serious and have the air of a Victorian schoolmaster or governess; others combine business and pleasure, spending book-fair weekends in hazes of inebriation and fine dining—either in celebration of a lucrative sale or purchase or as distraction and consolation for slow business.
I don’t speak, read, or write Chinese very well; I never have. It was only in my mid-teens that I learned the difference between 读 and 看, when I had previously always used 读 (reading aloud) to signify “read.” I suppose my relatives must have thought I spent a lot of time reciting poetry and prose to myself.
But the utility of letters is not limited to cowardly break-ups. It seems to me an art that is slowly fading, and I lament its demise not because I’m a sentimental and nostalgic Luddite (though I am), but because there are real and pragmatic reasons for holding onto an anachronistic tradition.