A fantastic writer

fan·tas·tic [fan-tas-tik]
1. conceived or appearing as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination
2. extravagantly fanciful; marvelous
3. incredibly great or extreme

Unless you’ve studied Spanish, chances are that you haven’t read much, if anything, by Jorge Luis Borges. I’m sure his works are available in English translations, but I don’t recall seeing any when I’ve browsed in bookstores (where I do remember seeing translations of books by other Latin American writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa).

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything by Borges, but for a few years he was my favorite author. I first read something by him when I had been studying Spanish for less than a year (but at an accelerated rate, equal to at least two years of college Spanish) and I didn’t understand everything, but I was hooked. I read everything by him I could get my hands on.

Then a few years later, after my miserable experiences as a Spanish teacher, I boxed up most of my Spanish books and had little desire to read even my favorites. I thought I’d eventually get back to them, but I never did. I got married and started reading some of my husband’s favorite books, most science fiction/fantasy. I had kids and spent time reading parenting magazines and children’s books. My husband went to seminary and I was thrilled to have a large range of theology books available to me (both his textbooks and in the seminary library).

I hadn’t thought about Borges in a very long time, until I went to Google this morning and discovered their Doodle celebrating what would have been Borges’ 112th birthday. Between nostalgia for the delight I had found in reading his works, and curiosity what people know and think about him, I checked out some links regarding the man and his work.

One of his techniques that for some reason I especially liked was his reference to non-existent books. I read somewhere that he created far more books in this way than he ever did by writing them. Sometimes he wrote detailed footnotes referencing non-existent books by non-existent authors. Sometimes he wrote reviews of such books. The idea may seem preposterous to some, but I found it delightful. (And I don’t think it’s only because I had embarked on a short-lived project, back when I was in middle school, to write a history of an imaginary planet, complete with references to works of science, history, law, etc.)

I don’t remember whether my classes on Latin American literature classified his work as magical realism, a term I see in several of the websites I have just visited. I always associated that term with the work of García Márquez , whose novel Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) was required reading in grad school but did not entertain me at all the way Borges’ work did. I didn’t see Borges’ stories as examples of either magic or realism – they were a different category entirely, one that belonged only to Borges. (He did write some realistic stories, but if I read them I don’t remember them.)

This article points out something I had never thought about before, having read Borges’ work years before the development of the World Wide Web. I’m sure I read “El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan” (“The Garden of Forking Paths“) but at the time it was just one more example of the fascinatingly imaginative way Borges depicted the universe. I never imagined that others would see in it the basis for the Web with its endlessly interwoven links to anything and everything.

I don’t think I’ve read anything by Borges in English, though as I understand there are some excellent translations available. His is a far different sort of writing than most of what I read these days, so if you share my enjoyment of Dean Koontz, Ken Follett, John Grisham, and some other popular writers, you may find Borges rather strange. (His work is strange – but in a very good way.) On the other hand, if you don’t care for the sort of books I generally blog about, who knows? You might really enjoy Jorge Luis Borges.

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2 Responses to A fantastic writer

  1. Peter L says:

    Ah, Borges! The Alfred Hitchcock/Rod Sirling of Latin American literature. He is a class by himself, but some of his work borders on magical realism, except that there is less of the realism and more of the magic in it. part of why we don’t see many translations of his work is that it is difficult to translate.

    One of my grad school profs was another Argentine writer. He had met Borges and tried to imitate his style. He never got the fame that Borges got, but he got the style. I wonder if there is something in the “good air” of Buenos Aires, as there are no writers outside of Argentina who can do Borges-esque writing.

  2. Ale says:

    This man is fantastic, indeed. His works are lucid, and the way he handles time and space, history and labyrinths, myths and men, makes of writing a godly art. My favorite author, by far.

    Greetings from Latin America 😉

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