Varamo by César Aira

Book: Varamo by César Aira Read Free Book Online
Authors: César Aira
idea: what about How to Embalm Small Mutant Animals , wouldn’t that be a more attractive
title?” Th e publishers gaped in amazement. Th ey were thinking: He’s one of us. In their minds
the book was already written and published. Varamo himself, swept up by the
enthusiasm he had sparked, had begun to think that the task might be feasible,
and it struck him suddenly as an unexpected solution to his financial problems.
    But this last thought reminded him of the publishers’
distinctive trait. As tactfully as he could, he raised the subject of
remuneration: he understood that they didn’t pay royalties . . . Th at was true, they never did, but in a case like
this, they would pay a lump sum, on delivery of the material. It was the same
for the translators, except that their payment was strictly proportional to the
number of pages (or words, actually), while, in Varamo’s case, they could offer
a fixed amount irrespective of length, provided it was more than the sixty-four
pages they needed to “give it a spine.” Th is
munificence was due to the fact that the publishers were paying for the “title”
— in other words, the idea. From the way they explained this, Varamo guessed
that, no matter what he said, they would use the title, and from that moment on
he felt obliged to write the book. He asked them what the lump sum would be.
After an exchange of glances, one of the publishers spoke up: “We could pay you,
let’s say . . . two hundred pesos, sharing the cost equally, and we’d publish
three simultaneous editions, to be distributed in different parts of the
continent.” Two hundred pesos! It was Varamo’s turn to gape in amazement. When
he recovered the use of his voice, he spluttered: “I never imagined it was such
big business. I thought books were sold for ten cents . . .” Accustomed to the
opposite reaction, the publishers were pleased, and proceeded to explain the
marvelous mathematical secrets of the book trade, its surprising paradoxes and
fluid transformations of small into large quantities. Th ey added that they were offering him a special deal, to foster a
new vocation, as it were, in the hope that it would be the beginning of fruitful
partnership. Although Varamo accepted their sleight-of-hand accountancy as
gospel truth, the proposal brought him down to earth rather than going to his
head; because although two hundred pesos was a princely sum (as he was only too
well aware), and the exact sum he needed, as it happened, it too had to be
broken down and related to other figures, the first of which was the number of
days or months it would take him to write the book. He hadn’t been lying when he
had said that he knew nothing of the writer’s craft. Th inking about it now in practical terms, it seemed to him that
writing a book would surely require years of work. Feeling very discouraged, he
said: “I’m afraid it will take me a long time, since I’ll only be able to write
for a little while in the evenings, when I get back from the Ministry . . .” Th e publishers cut him off abruptly: “What?
What are you talking about?” Th ey explained that
writing was very easy and could be done very quickly. “Do you have anything to
do tonight? No? It shouldn’t take you more than three or four minutes to fill up
a page, if you concentrate. Th at’s twenty pages
an hour. In four or five hours you could finish off a decent little book.
Tomorrow’s a public holiday, so you’ll be able to sleep in. And you’ll have two
hundred pesos in your pocket!” Varamo’s discouragement dissolved as quickly as
it had formed. Was it that easy? “I’ve made some notes,” he said. “ Th en you’ve already done half the work; more than
half, actually. Write out the notes one after another, with some commentary in
between. Try not to tidy them up too much; immediacy is the key to a good
style.” Varamo shifted uneasily on his seat, and they sensed his impatience to
begin. “Off you go. We’ll meet back

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