Borges was a compact writer, not a brief writer. His density resulted in a lot of literary awards and a lot of puzzled looking Argentinians. Combined with a propensity for brevity, however, makes for good reading in this day and age of blog posts and info bursts. And writing for magazines of various kinds resulted in a dizzying array of topics: hell, the Kabbalah, H.G. Wells, Germanophiles, King Kong, Pascal's Sphere, the tango, and blindness just to name eight. His 1948 treatise on grout mastic still serves as a touchstone for masons and tilemen everywhere*. Borges's keen focus is amazing, especially since he sometimes gets a bit Proustian in the sentence-length department. But he always comes back to make his point, which is always fascinating. Highly recommended for dudes with a brain. [Out of print; available used online.—Ed.] Douglas Lord, "Books for Dudes", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Library Journal - Booksmack!
It has been said of Shakespeare's genius that were his plays not easy to write, they would have been impossible. The implication is that under Shakespeare's working conditions--dim candlelight, quill and ink on parchment--the Bard could not have been so astoundingly prolific had his enduring classics not emerged from his mind all but fully formed. That's also the root of persistent yet baseless rumors that Shakespeare's works were not all of his own devising; how could one man truly be so great? But you don't work hard to become a genius: Genius drives you to work hard. A perfect example is Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. Revered for his intellect and fascinating breadth of knowledge, Borges is best know for his fiction and poetry. Along with James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, and Vladimir Nabakov, he's universally regarded as one of the great 20th-century authors to have never been awarded a Nobel Prize in literature. Yet until his death in 1986, Borges wrote a vast expanse of essays, reviews, and other non-fiction pieces, much of it collected and made available in English for the first time in
Selected Non-Fictions. Edited by Eliot Weinberger and diligently translated by Weinberger and two helping hands, the book is a revelation. Much of Borges' non-fiction echoes the metaphysical themes of his fiction, and his favorite subjects (The Arabian Nights, Don Quixote) recur again and again. But perhaps the most revealing aspect of Selected Non-Fictions is Borges' meeting with the mundane. It seems that over the course of his 87 years, he consumed and digested anything he could. Consequently, Selected Non-Fictions' pieces reflect his fascination with the profound (religion, war), the popular (King Kong, which he pans for its clunky ape portrayal), and some combination of the two (a positive review of Joyce's Ulysses, even though Borges, to the empowerment of college students around the world, admits he hasn't read the whole thing). Selected Non-Fictions also collects some hilarious reviews of popular detective fiction and the like that Borges wrote for El Hugar (an Argentine women's magazine), a few commissioned prologues, and, ultimately, transcripts of speeches and lectures made after he had gone blind. Reading through the book's surprisingly accessible and entertaining works raises a perplexing question: How can one man know so much about everything? Thankfully, with Selected Non-Fictions, Borges' enviable gifts have been made more apparent than ever before.
Reviewing a book that seeks to validate the existence of ghosts through testimony by the upper crust of British society, Borges writes: "the Honorable Reginald Fortescue became a firm believer in the existence of `an alarming spectre.' As for myself, I don't know what to think: for the moment, I refuse to believe in the alarming Reginald Fortescue until an honorable spectre becomes a firm believer in his existence." In this compilation of nonfiction prose, the third of Viking's magisterial three-volume collection of Borges's complete works, a new, fuller Borges emerges, as the writer becomes a joker; the fabulist shows himself to be a rationalistic skeptic; and the alleged conservative skewers upper-class pretensions. We also find the familiar man of letters in such classic essays as "A New Refutation of Time" and "Kafka's Precursors" (which foreshadows the most interesting ideas of Harold Bloom in a mere two and a half pages). Among the gems to appear in English for the first time are slyly brilliant literary essays, such as an appreciation of Flaubert's enigmatic novel, Bouvard and P cuchet, and an authoritative critical history of the translations of the 1001 Nights. Other newly available aspects of Borges's oeuvre are trenchant critiques of Argentinean anti-Semitism; contemporary reviews of such works as Citizen Kane, Absalom, Absalom and Finnegan's Wake (Borges finds it incomprehensible); and capsule literary biographies for a woman's magazine. While the translations capture Borges's unfailingly elegant style, the editing at times seems overly academic: certain sentences, even paragraphs, are repeated, and certain topics (particularly time and eternity) are overrepresented, a tendency that makes the book rather difficult to read straight through. Even so, this is a volume of inexhaustible delights. First serial to Grand Street. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After Collected Fictions and Selected Poems, nonfiction pieces from a 20th-century master, making up a three-volume centenary edition. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Mirrors, labyrinths, libraries, gardens, doppelg�ngers, knife fights, and tigers recur memorably in these witty, colorful tales'which have exerted an incalculable influence on the past half-century's fiction. For this first installment in a projected three-volume series of Borges's work (to be followed by poetry and nonfiction collections), translator-editor Hurley has included the contents of seven previously published books (notably, the seminal Ficciones, 1944), plus previously untranslated work from the 1980s (of which Shakespeare's Memory most successfully recapitulates Borges's urbane bridging of temporal and imaginary "worlds"). Gloriously ruminative and bookish, Borges's teasing fictions skillfully absorb the influences of his native Argentina's indigenous folktales, various world mythologies, Anglo-Saxon verse, Icelandic saga, Poe, Cervantes, and Chesterton, along with numerous other literary touchstones. Among the best: the arcane pseudohistory of an imaginary planet ("Tlon, Ugbar, Orbus Tertius"); a memorable realization of Borges's credo that all "new" stories are inevitably old ones retold ("Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"); a clever lampooning of the author's own polymathism ("Funes the Memorious"); and a supremely ingenious detective story ("Death and the Compass"). Authoritative testimony to the virtues of eclecticism and cosmopolitanism, and a matchless gift to readers that belongs, as the old saying goes, in every library. (First serial to The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and Grand Street)