Having tested you on the four Nobel Prize winners for literature from South America last week, we’ve realized that we have omitted one of the greatest writers ever to emerge from the continent, precisely because he was never awarded it. Not winning the Nobel prize in his lifetime was a sore spot with Jorge Luis Borges, he was known to say “since I was born they have not been granting it to me”. And we sympathise. He is quite simply, wonderful. His stories contain a world which you tumble through and end up lost in, replete with symbols of mazes, mirrors and dreams. They are playful, but in their literary acrobatics, tussle with serious ideas: identity, God, the why, the after. Sadly his death in 1986 means that he will never be awarded a Nobel Prize, but we think you should do yourself a favour, pick up one of his books and get lost. Here is where we recommend that you start. . .
You’ve probably heard of it, but have you read it? It is his first and most famous collection of short stories. It’s density defies the laws of physics, centuries of philosophical concepts are distilled into 17 perfect short pieces of prose which unravel in fantastical settings, pierced by questions pertaining to the universal. This is a work that paved the path for writers such as Calvino and Foster Wallace and in our opinion, is the best way to start Borges.
2. The Book of Imaginary Beings
A motley cast of dragons, banshees, Carroll’s grinning Cheshire Cat, the Basilisk, unicorns, all collected in this wonderful testament to Borges’ erudition as he draws from both Western and Eastern mythologies. A book that is perfect for your bedside table, to pick up and put down at will, and skip, hop or race through at your own pace.
3. Other Inquisitions
We think you can see him at his sharpest and shiniest in his non-fictions. In this collection Borges attacks questions of mortality, art , literature, identity with pen and paper. In this work he refutes time, justifies suicide, questions reality and takes flight with the myriad of connections which he joyfully traces from life and literature. We thought we would wet your appetite with just a glimpse of this powerful, graceful and perhaps slightly troubled intellect.
El tiempo es la sustancia de que estoy hecho.
El tiempo es un río que me arrebata, pero yo soy el río;
es un tigre que me destroza, pero yo soy el tigre;
es un fuego que me consume, pero yo soy el fuego.
El ‘mundo, desgraciadamente, es real;
yo, desgraciadamente, soy Borges.
Time is the substance from which I am made
Time is a river which rolls me, but I am the river;
It is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger;
It is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire,
The world, unfortunately, is real;
I, unfortunately, am Borges.
4. Selected Poems
It may surprise you that Borges always considered himself before anything, a poet. His poems are meticulously crafted and a wonderful balance of language which is elliptical and direct, passionate and measured. Selected Poems has side-by-side translations from multiple renowned authors and brings hundreds of poems together in a collection which is, (sorry) absolutely Borgeous.