Reflections on Readings #3 – Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges is a name I was not familiar with, until two years ago or so . Ever since, I have been searching for some of his more famous short stories and collections. Somehow, there does not seem to be a good market for his books in Bangalore. I could only find a few books here and there, yet none of the famed ones. The few I found were also expensive beyond my budget.

The first time I visited a bookstore asking for Borges’ books, the reply was a quizzing look. Borges’ name from what I’ve read of him, must feature on top of the list featuring Latin-American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Roberto Bolano and Isabel Allende. Bookshops are like any other business and there is no point keeping books from an author who very few come asking for. Anyway, I stopped going to that bookshop. I found another shop where the eyes of the salesman lit up when I asked for Borges’ books. This was not a conventional bookshop. It was more a second-hand bookstore than one for fresh new books that smelt of ink. He ran to that corner of the store which he probably considered sacred enough to hold the only two Borges books (both fresh, not second-hand) which he had. I can’t remember the name of those books, but I remember being dismayed at the size of one of them. It was less than a hundred pages and would cost more than Rs. 900. I evaluated the bargain. By the standards that my income would allow me, a Rs. 900 book should last me for at least two months. This wouldn’t last even for a week.

Eventually, I have not bought a Borges book till date. Some other book would attain more importance over his books every time I went book-shopping. That often happens when you have a long list of books you want to read. I remember how Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness was on the list for a very long time due to unavailability in local bookstores and I would hesitate to order it online because of the high cost of its foreign edition. I did it buy and devour it, last year, after much consideration, and thoroughly enjoyed it. One particular quote (not from Borges) I like is “A time for everything and everything in its time.” The time for reading Borges had probably yet to come.

Jorge Luis Borges (1899 – 1986), Argentine writer (Photo: Grete Stern; Source: Wikipedia)

That time presented itself when I happened to be going through Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. As usual, this is one blog where I update myself on a lot of “interestingness” (to quote her). At some point earlier this week, she had posted a poem called “You Learn” from Borges, which I am borrowing and pasting below:

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security.

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open
With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong

And you really do have worth…

And you learn and learn…

With every good-bye you learn.

– Jorge Luis Borges (original in Spanish)

This was a poem about love and loss. (For some reason, Maria has removed the post concerning this particular poem a day or two after she posted it first. I do not have the name of the translator either. If anyone knows, please let me know.)

One of Borges’ better known short stories, The Aleph, also I read yesterday. It can be found here. What differentiated Borges from the others? His topics were unique in terms of the philosophy they preached and the magical realism that they represented. His stories and other popular writings dealt with “fantastical themes, such as a library containing every possible 410-page text (“The Library of Babel“), a man who forgets nothing he experiences (“Funes, the Memorious“), an artifact through which the user can see everything in the universe (“The Aleph“), and a year of still time given to a man standing before a firing squad (“The Secret Miracle“)” (Source: Wikipedia entry on Jorge Luis Borges). I also discovered that two of Borges’ titles, The Zahir and The Aleph, have also been borrowed as titles by another Latin-American writer Paulo Coelho for his own books. In fact, reference to Coelho’s book Aleph ranks higher up on a Google search of “Aleph” than does Borges’ short story of the same name.

The real reason for me to get excited about Borges was also my fascination with movies made by Christopher Nolan. In 2010, when Inception released in cinemas around the world, I had read in an article on Nolan that he was inspired by the works of Borges to work with the kind of themes he made movies with (Examples: Memento, The Dark Knight, Inception). Well, I am yet to discover it for myself. But, a friend I know affirms on this count. Anyway, what made me write all this is the thrill of having discovered another writer, who has eluded me for much long and will now open up whole new worlds for me to explore.

I hope to read many more of Borges’ works and here, I sign off. Good Day! Good Night!

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One thought on “Reflections on Readings #3 – Jorge Luis Borges

  1. You Learn by Jorge Luis Borges « One to Six/Healing and Help for Mental Health

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