Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges, Grove Press, 1962, 174 pp (originally published 1956 by Emcee Editores, Buenos Aires, Argentina, translated from the Spanish by Anthony Kerrigan.)
Sometimes you go on a first date and just nothing happens. I was anticipating a huge, great experience when I first opened the book. So many readers seem to revere this writer. I read the first "story," thinking I'd gotten the hang of enjoying short stories lately. That piece, entitled "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertuis" read like a foreign language to me, even though it was translated into English. I meandered through its 19 pages and arrived...no where. What did I just read?
At the rate of one a day, I pressed on. It was like being in a place where I did not, could not, know or read or understand the language. OK, I thought, as one sometimes does on a first date, who does this guy think he is?
After a few days I realized that these "stories" were more like essays or fictional book reviews about books and authors I did not know. Fine, so that is like being at a party where you are not hip to what everyone else is talking about. You just drink.
Finally I admitted that I was in over my head. I sent messages on Twitter to authors I follow who might be nice to me. They were. They offered some tips. I kept going.
I began to see a glimpse of what authors like William Gibson, John Updike, Mario Vargas Llosa and Carlos Fuentes have raved about. Borges, as some have said, "has read all the books." Books I probably will never read but books that formed a labyrinth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon wrote a four volume series of novels anchored by what he called the Labyrinth of Books. Labyrinths are a key image with Borges. I finished this collection of 17 stories and found three I especially liked: "The Form of the Sword," "Three Versions of Judas," "The South." I felt I had been through an initiation that might or might not have included ingesting certain substances. All I was sure about was that it had been an initiation.
Being a Leo, a feminist, a woman who asserts herself, I don't enjoy being made to feel dumb or inferior. Still, I had to admit I had been in the presence of an intelligence, insouciant for sure, but nobody's fool. Someone I could learn from.
I own another collection by Borges, entitled Labyrinths. It contains all of the stories in Ficciones plus other writings. When I get over myself, I will read that and see what else I can learn.
Because I know one thing for sure: many stories and novels are fairytales, designed to make us feel comfortable in the lives we think we are living. In a way, such literature is as much of a lie as what we get from advertising or politics. I suspect that writers like Borges had something else going on. I am interested in finding out more about that. We will have a second date.