On My Shelves: César Aira

This is all the César Aira I own, as it would be seen on my bookshelf if you came to my home. I have him in my “Latin America” collection, sandwiched between some other Argentines—Ernesto Sábato, Tomás Eloy Martinez, and Adolfo Bioy Casares. (My copy of The Conversations is missing in action.)

The first Aira I purchased, and the first I read, was Como me hice monja (How I Became a Nun), which I found at Ghandi Books in Puebla, Mexico in 2007. I believe it was something I read about Aira in either La Tempestad or Letras Libres that finally got me to pick him up. Ghandi Books is a nice chain bookstore with locations all throughout Mexico, and it has a pretty good selection of literature, including some English-language books, plus a nice CD section.

As I am fond of telling people, after the first few pages I was hooked on Aira. I have yet to read Chris Andrews’s 2007 translation.

You can see some very faint underlining on some of the lines in this page. The bookmark is from an excellent bilingual bookstore in the middle of Oaxaca, where I bought a number of things, including my copy of By Night in Chile (in English), the second Bolaño that I read.

Next up was Ghosts. You can see here a bit where I underlined some of the long digression toward the middle of the novels, still one of the best statements on Aira’s aesthetic that I’ve read.

After that I read The Literary Conference, released as a New Directions Pearl. This remains one of my favorite Aira books, even if I think the ending of this one doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book. Also, as we move closer to the present, note the presence (or absence) of the translator’s name on these covers, and how the cover raves change.

After that I went back to Aira’s second in English, and one of his best: An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. You can see here that at this point New Directions was trying to leverage Aira’s relationship with Bolaño to generate some attention for him. Although this was technically Aira’s second in English, it was essentially his first, as the real first (which we’ll get to in a minute) quickly went out of print and was hardly noticed, so it’s no surprise to see New Directions trying to utilize Bolaño here (although he was hardly well-known in English at this point either).

Here’s an interior shot:

Then it was on to Varamo. I think in terms of the unity he achieves this book and the lines he walks, this is one of Aira’s most successful, most complete novels. Here we see the first cover rave, from the Boston Review.

Then comes, The Seamstress and the Wind (one of the most bizarre Airas yet translated), The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira (very underrated, in my opinion), and Shantytown (note the presence of the New York Times cover rave).

The in 2014 came The Conversations and The Hare (a re-release of the 1998 Serpent’s Tail translation, which pre-dates the rest of Aira in English by nearly a decade):

Last of all is The Musical Brain, a collection of short stories that is forthcoming in March of this year. One of the pieces in this collection has been serialized in The New Yorker (Aira has come a long way). I read an early translation of “Cecil Taylor,” the last piece in this book and probably one of the best, while I was interviewing Aira for Issue 49 of Tin House.

There is more Aira on the horizon. Dinner has been announced for October of this year, and, with Aira’s reputation continuing to grow, it will certainly not be the last.

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awesome! Varamo is on my TBR. I thought I had read one by him in French way back then, but I can’t remember, so it sounds anyway time to read him again

Thanks for reminding me that Aira is always way ahead, one of those rare birds up with whom I’m forever catching.

As a lover of both books and book design, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I would not hate you if you did more of these.

Love it. This blog introduced me to Aira way back in the day, so it’s great to see a recap. I agree that “The Literary Conference” and “Varamo” are two of the best (it’s hard to choose!).

Also second that The Literary Conference and Varamo are his best in English. Think Miracle Cures is up there, too. I can’t wait for the story collection—it’s the book I’m looking forward to the most in 2015.

Does this mean come October we’ll be seeing another picture of your bookshelf?

Argentina: The Great Estancias (1995) – a coffee table book with Aira’s writeup – predates The Hare.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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