Jorge Luis Borges — Collected Fictions

Of course, again, the problem with re-reading my favorite books is that not only do I mostly have good things to say about them, but everything that you could say about them has already been said, and far more eloquently than I could ever hope to do. That is the case with Borges especially, because academics and reviewers alike love him, and for good reason (even if he was a reprehensible person sometimes, which I try not to think about, because I enjoy his writing so much).

I have mixed feelings about this particular edition of his short fiction: it collects a lot of things from across his life span, including at least a few stories from each edition, although the feeling that you’re missing something is a hard one to shake. I have yet to find a volume that is more complete than this, and it’s also hard to find the individual volumes, with the exception of Ficciones, in translation (the curse of not being good with languages strikes again). Still, for what it is, it’s pretty good (for the record I own the Andrew Hurley Collected edition). Again, I can’t speak for whether the translation is good or accurate, but it seems to be consistent with the voice I’ve seen in other versions.

As for the stories themselves it is hard to say exactly why they are so appealing. But it seems appropriate that the words and themes that run through Borges’ work are also words that are the aptest descriptions of his oeuvre: elegant, mysterious, labyrinthine, memory, infinite. Of course they would be: that sort of self-referential looping must have tickled the old man as he wrote. The stories are constructed with infinite care, unfolding like beautiful, miniature academic articles. What Borges does with history is surreal: he embroiders it just enough so that it is still believeable, but something beyond belief, as well. His language is deceptively simple, but with even such a carefully chosen adjective as “elegant” in the right place, he achieves that very simplicity and elegance in his words.

Borges’ world is one of libraries, of cowboys, of rebels and mazes, of minotaurs and men of infinite memory. It is easy to sink in and out, to forget the world around you, and just to concentrate on this parallel universe where everything is part of some mysterious plan, which you, yes you, could also be a part of.

I don’t usually read Borges more than once a year, but it’s always a treat to return to him.

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