book-reviews

Selected Non-Fictions

by Jorge Luis Borges (tr. various)

Rating: ★★★★

I was brought to this collection by recommendation, and, with no particular topical interest, started reading chronologically. This was probably a mistake. I found the earlier essays, while sometimes carrying an interesting idea, to be somewhat ponderous, with the feeling that the author was self-conscious and a little bombastic.

Probably for this reason, I set the book aside for a good while, only occasionally picking it up, to read an essay perhaps every few weeks. Eventually, however, the material seemed to improve. I think it was around the 'El Hogar' sections -- much lighter and notably carefree -- that I started reading the essays more seriously again. Perhaps this was at first because I was just getting through them faster, but I was certainly far more hooked by the essays during the war years, and I later found I read the nine fairly heavy Dantean essays quite devotedly in two sittings.

I'm not sure I can provide meaningful comment on the content of the collected works in this volume. Borges talks primarily about literature and philosophy. Of his philosophy, I found it highly variable. Of his literature, I have read an embarrassingly small amount, but his various discussions and analyses seem to demonstrate some of the best of what literary criticism might have to offer, and the notes suggest that he was often ahead of contemporary opinion. He has some clear recurrent themes and favourite topics (the Divine Comedy, Poe, Carlyle, 'universal history', infinities), but is generally quite broad. His personal library would make for quite a good suggested reading list. Perhaps my first stop will be to try some of the detective fiction he evidently enjoyed so much.