LA ZONA FANTASMA

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Javier Marías
“SELLING OUR WARES”

As I write this, the Madrid Book Fair is about to start. By the time you read this, it will be over. This gives you an idea of how hellishly far in advance I am asked to submit my articles, which so often seem destined to be stillborn.

Be that as it may, at this time of year in Spain, one always comes across a few authors who, for various and sundry reasons, decide to desert the Retiro, the park where the Madrid Book Fair is held. If memory serves me correctly, Captain Alatriste[1] declared that he would never set foot there again after he discovered a group of journalists determined to measure—yes, measure, yardstick in hand—the length of the lines snaking out from certain booths where certain authors were signing books in the hope of publishing a saucy article about the endeavor. He felt that the fair had degenerated into a depressing, pathetic circus, and I fully understand his gripe. I should also note, however, that this aforementioned information is never very reliable, because the length of the line outside a bookstall depends, to a very large degree, on the tenacity and cunning of the book-signer in question. Those of us who are book-fair veterans could easily name a few precious authors who have such a keen sense of competition that they actually hide behind the booth where they are to sign books, even if they arrive on time, and wait around until a nice long line has formed out front. They lie in wait, crouching in the bushes with their binoculars, to the astonishment of their speechless booksellers, and refuse to sit down until a respectable crowd has gathered. At that point, of course, they take it nice and slow, chitchatting with the visitors, signing and even doodling in their readers’ books, prolonging every encounter so as to keep the booth and surrounding area as crowded as possible.

Translated from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero

  1. A reference to Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Spanish commercial novelist. His novels published in the U.S. include The Club Dumas, Flanders Panel, and others. A character/caricature of the Spanish literary scene.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Javier Marías was born in Madrid in 1951. English-language translations of his novels include All Souls, A Heart So White, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, and the short-story collection When I Was Mortal.

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