Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Borges and Vonnegut

I was compelled to read these short books by a respected reader on a Belgian blog. One is a memory of a author in his twilight, another is a memoir/essay by a writer in his eighties. My literary tastes tend more towards Borges than Vonnegut, but I found both books rewarding in their own way.

With Borges by Alberto Manguel

For a few years in the mid-1960’s, Alberto Manguel was a reader for the blind Jorge Luis Borges in his apartment in Buenos Aires. This slim book is a remembrance of those times, “memories of memories.” As a longtime Borges reader, I found the description of his mode of living interesting, and was pleased to see that he shared a fondness for Durer’s The Knight, Death, and the Devil (his print was in his bedroom – mine hangs in my library). Borges lived and breathed reading – the sort of person who could pick up any printed material and find some meaning in it. The apparent simplicity of his works, most of which were quite short, belies their true complexity. I recall reading an analysis of “The Garden of Forking Paths” and being blown away by the layers of meaning in the story, layers that are not apparent in a casual reading. Borges, like Nabokov, demands that the reader read with sharp attention.

My one complaint is that my paperback edition lacks the photographs of other editions. If I had known, I would have opted for a more expensive edition.

A Man Without A County by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut had, apparently, maintained that he was through with writing. One suspects that the sad state of the world in the Bush era compelled him to speak out on the madness that we have all come to accept, the slow death by torture of the earth. “The good Earth” he writes as an epitaph, “we could have saved it, but we were too damn cheap and lazy.” Vonnegut comes perilously close to cranky old man territory, with a fondness for words such as “nowadays” and “damn fool” (as in “damn fool computer). But, hey, as a freethinker and member of Brokaw’s “greatest generation,” he’s entitled. Kurt Vonnegut is a proud humanist, a thoughtful humorist, and a decent soul in a country where such attributes are in short supply.


  1. Anonymous10:46 AM

    He's just another cranky old socialist, pining for government control over all aspects of our economic lives.

  2. I like to do literary tourism so I went to Argentina to know more about its writers. There are guides that will show you places and streets which famous writers such as Borges, Cortazar, Mujica Lainez went along. Some companies organize visits and thematic and strolls with tourist guides along the city. I stayed in many apartments in Buenos Aires just to ba able to stay more and learn more about the culture. It is very rich!

  3. Thanks for your comment. Argentina sounds like a fascinating place. Are you familiar with Sarmiento's Facundo (aka Civilization and Barbarism)? It's a lively history of early Argentina, and has been mentioned by Borges. See also Chatwin's In Patagonia.

    The Argentine musical tradition is interesting as well. The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix has a good, if small, exhibit on the music of Argentina.


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