A few days ago the duck-rabbit received the typeset final proofs of its book manuscript, along with instructions to give final approval to text and index “at its earliest convenience.” Since then, duck and rabbit have been locked in a desperate struggle for ascendency. Rabbit, the perfectionist, insists that every page reference listed in the index must be checked. Duck has all sorts of vaguely plausible-sounding reasons for why doing so is a complete waste of time.
At the start of the following exchange, Rabbit hunches over her laptop, determinedly gazing at two open PDF files of the final proofs, the one on the right-hand side open to the index. She peers at the right-hand file and then pauses, staring into space mouthing numbers to herself before typing a page number into the search box in the top of the file of the left-hand file and pressing return decisively. She scans the page, then looks back to the right-hand file and the cycle begins again. While Rabbit repeats this cycle Duck idly skims a copy of Horrible Histories: Gorgeous Georgians while also tapping away on his iPhone. He chuckles every few minutes, sometimes while looking at the phone, sometimes while looking at the book. He also glances up every now and again to check Rabbit’s progress.
DUCK: So where are you up to now then?
RABBIT: You realize you asked me that less than five minutes ago?
DUCK: (Ignoring rabbit) So you must be up to, I dunno, “F” by now or something?
RABBIT: [Scowling]: I’m up to “Addison, Joseph”, all right?
DUCK: [Genuinely mystified]: Addison? a-d??? Are you serious? You’ve been doing this for two days. How can you still be on the As?
RABBIT: Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps because someone keeps interrupting me.
DUCK: Hey, don’t blame me, I’m just shouting encouragement from the sidelines.
RABBIT: (Acerbically) Ahh, so that’s what you’re doing.
DUCK: Yeah, and I think that by now, at the least, at the very least, you should be up to “Austen, Jane”.
RABBIT: Look, I’m trying to be thorough here.
RABBIT: Why? What do you mean why?
DUCK: I’m serious. Why are you bothering?
[Spluttering from Rabbit. Duck continues unperturbed.]
I mean, how many people are actually going to buy this book? Let’s see … there’s Mum … no, wait, don’t you get, like, five free copies or something? Surely, the poor woman who birthed us gets one of those. Umm, let’s see. Who else. (Long pause) I dunno. (Genuinely curious) Do you think anyone will buy it?
RABBIT: (Indignantly) I’ll have you know that I was recently told that in response to a 30% online discount, advance copies of the book have “seen great uptake.”
DUCK: (Unimpressed.) First of all, I don’t want to worry you, but I don’t think it’s a good sign that they are discounting it before it’s even been released. Does that show confidence in the product? No. No, it doesn’t. Second of all, I suspect some of those buyers are ordering it in error.
RABBIT: (Perplexed) What do you mean?
DUCK: Well, it’s called “rediscovering awe,” or something, right? They probably think it’s some kind of spiritual guide, which means they’ll be returning it when they realize that it contains no guidance at all for living more awesomely but that it’s actually about the history of an obsolete literary genre with no relevance to today’s world. So, then, the real question is, of the three people who actually keep the book, how many are even going to look at the index?
RABBIT: Duck, do you actually know what the word “encouragement” means? Also, I look at indexes all the time.
DUCK: Right, but I’m talking about real people, not imaginary rabbits. What are real people going to read? Maybe they’ll read the acknowledgements, maybe the handy chapter summary at the end of the intro, maybe they’ll look at the pictures. And, let’s be honest, that’s it.
RABBIT: And your point is …?
DUCK: My point is that if there are a few errors, who’s gonna know the difference?
RABBIT: (Despondent) Do you know how long I’ve been working on this book?
DUCK: (Chuckling, jovial): Well, it certainly feels like forever.
RABBIT: (Has never looked more sober) It does, doesn’t it?
Well, let’s see, it’s just you and me, I can be honest. I started my PhD in 1996, which means I finished my coursework in 1998, probably took my field exams in 1999, wrote my prospectus in 2000, which is probably when I started writing. So what year is it now then?
DUCK: (In barely audible whisper) 2014.
RABBIT: Dear God. I’ve been writing this book for fourteen years. (Pause.) No-one takes fourteen years to write a book. Do you know anyone else who’s taken fourteen years to write a book?
(Duck hastily taps at his phone. Long pause.)
RABBIT: I knew it. No-one has taken this long to write a book in the entire, in the entire history of book-writing.
DUCK: No. Wait. Hold your horses. I’m still looking ….
(Triumphantly.) J.R.R. TOLKIEN! Lord of the Rings! See? You’re in good company!
RABBIT: (Muttering) If faux medieval romance is your thing. I mean, I’ve always said, just read Malory if that’s your bag …
DUCK: (Laughing in disbelief) Wait. Let me get this straight. You’re saying that you think your book is better than Lord of the Rings?
RABBIT: That’s not what I’m saying. Not exactly. But anyway, it took him fourteen years eh? And everyone knows that writing stories is so much bloody easier than writing literary criticism.
DUCK: (Still looking at phone) Oh.
DUCK: Well, actually, it was fourteen years to write The Hobbit plus The Lord of the Rings. (Pause) Also, The Lord of the Rings is technically three books. So really he wrote four books in fourteen years. (Calculating in his head) So that’s actually about a book every three and a half years. That’s actually a pretty good clip right there. (Sees Rabbit’s stricken face) Oh. Sorry.
Also, it says here that he could only type with two fingers.
RABBIT: You know, you’re actually not helping. Although, if you’re going to bring manual dexterity into the equation, I’ve typed a whole book without hands. How do you explain that?
DUCK: Well, if it comes to that, I’ve been Googling on my iPhone and I don’t have hands either. And, no, I didn’t use Siri or some special voice recognition software. How do you explain that?
(There is an awkward pause.)
RABBIT: I think we’re getting off track here.
DUCK: You’re right. Let’s stop quibbling over trivial facts and figures. Here’s what I really wanted to say (Gestures towards his Horrible Histories volume): this book is so awesome. I mean, this is the way to make the eighteenth century come alive for people today.
RABBIT: You understand that those are intended for kids?
DUCK: (Ignoring Rabbit) Look, here are three lessons you can learn from this book for your next book. 1) You need cartoons, lots of them. No one reads any more. Reading is, quite literally, history.
RABBIT: (To himself) What does that even mean?
DUCK: (Continuing to ignore Rabbit) It’s all about the visuals. 2) You need lots of grizzly details. People love anything grotesque. Let’s see, let me find a good example. OK, here’s one: (reads from book) “In Cambridge in 1770, a 16-year-old boy ‘ate a whole cat smothered with onions’.” See? That’s gold, pure gold.
RABBIT: Sure, whatever you say. And the third lesson?
DUCK: Humor, you need humor. Ooh, here’s a good bit: “…But in the reign of George III those American Colonists started to get stroppy. They weren’t happy with being told what to do by a king and a parliament back in Britain. They wanted to make their own decisions – they wanted to be free to kill Native Americans and steal their land, free to invent hamburgers and free to play cowboys.” You see what he did there? Threw in a bit of satire.
RABBIT: Really, you think putting in a joke about stroppy Patriots is going to get me tenure? In America?
DUCK: Yeah, it’s a bit irreverent, you know? I tell you, there is nothing Americans love more than an uppity Brit. If history’s taught us anything, it’s that, isn’t it?
RABBIT: (Doubtfully) Is it?
DUCK: Trust me, they love it. (Pauses. Reconsiders) Actually, you might be right. You might not be able to pull it off. It’s all in the tone. Never mind. Forget the humor. Maybe you’re right. Just go with thoroughness. That can be your “thing.” Thoroughness. (Pause) You know, you should really get back to that index. It’s not going to check itself.*
†As its prize for finishing today’s quota, He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved bought the duck-rabbit a Belgian chocolate brownie from the Pain Quotidien in Highgate Village. The duck-rabbit also saw fit to make itself a gin and tonic at its mother’s house. “You know what they say about gin, don’t you?” the duck-rabbit’s Mum asked the elder flopsy-duckit, as the duck-rabbit settled down to enjoy its drink. “No, what?” he asked, innocently. “Mother’s Ruin,” said the duck-rabbit’s Mum, darkly.