• Media: #Books #Books 2020
    • Author: [[!Jorge Luis Borges]]
    • Status: read
    • Date: 2020-08-21
    • Tags: #fantasy #shortstory #collection #weirdfiction #mystery
    • Rating: ★★★★★
    • Idea richness: ★★★★★


Reoccurring themes in the collection:

  • [[!Time]]
  • [[!Memory]]
  • Labyrinths, Choices, and self-determination
  • [[!Multiverse theory]]
  • [[!book]]s, academia, and literary devices
  • Betrayal
  • Irish revolutionaries popped up a surprising amount


My first time reading [[!Jorge Luis Borges]], I started with this collection of short stories which I'd heard was the best. The [[!translation]] was by Andrew Hurley from Penguin. All in all, I was not disappointed.

Master of mystery and wonder

"It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books--setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them."

Borges' imagination is incredible and feels like a predecessor of much of the weird fiction I've read (reminded me of some of Jeff VanderMeer's work in particular). Half of the collection feel like stories, half are more 'explorations' of a theme or high concept. Borges will go from effortlessly writing a commentary on a fictional author and the details of their fictional books with feats of fantastical worldbuilding to a twisting murder mystery that would put Agatha Christie.

All the stories pack at least one amazing idea and some commentary that probably went over my head. But what's great is that most of the stories work even for a superficial reading. It's like serious high literature that goes way over your head meets playful spoof, mocking its own genius.

The highest ideas to words ratio of any writer

"Borges' prose style is characterized by a determined economy of resources in which every word is weighted, every word (every mark of punctuation) 'tells'."

While my opinion on each story varies (and some fare much better than others), it's hard to pick out any bad apples because Borges is so efficient. He never wastes a word. You won't have time to strongly dislike anything because it will be over so fast (though sadly the same goes for the stories you love).

My edition of the entire collection is under 200 pages long and that's including all the notes. Just to drive the point home, many of the stories comment on or summarize fictional books rather than writing them out. This is perfect for conveying those high concepts which aren't fleshed out enough or obscure literary devices.

Also, I am not reading in the original Spanish so that may skew things but something about the tone of most of the narration (even those written in first person) gave me [[!JRR Tolkien]]'s essays vibes. Weird because Tolkien is as verbose as Borges is terse. Just me?

Notes on translation

  • "Borges makes it unmistakably clear that every translation is a 'version'--not the translation of Homer (or any author) but a translation, one in a never-ending series, at least an infinite possible series."
  • "The very idea of the (definitive) translation is misguided, Borges tells us; there are only drafts, approximations--versions, as he insists on calling them."

Topics to Pursue

  • Adolfo Bioy Casares - Argentine novelist
  • Papers for the Suppression of Reality --> what a name! Best titles
  • NRF Magazine - Nouvelle Revue Francaise

The Stories

The Garden of Forking Paths