Lectura : Jorge Luis Borges Picks 33 of His Favorite Books to Start His Famous Library of Babel

Lectura : Jorge Luis Borges Picks 33 of His Favorite Books to Start His Famous Library of Babel

borges-libray of babel
Over the years the recommendation robots of Amazon and other online services seem to be usurping the role of the librarian. I do not know if this is ultimately good or bad—we may see in the future artificially intelligent librarians emerge from the web, personal literary assistants with impeccable taste and sensitivity. But at present, I find something lacking in online curation cultivated by algorithms. (I have a similar nostalgia for the bygone video store clerk.) Yes, customers who bought this book also bought others I might like, but what, tell me, would a genuine reader recommend?
A reader, say, like that arch reader Jorge Luis Borges, “one of the most well read men in history,” writes Grant Munroe at The Rumpus. Part of the thrill of discovering Borges resides in discovering all of the books he loved, both real and imaginary. The author always points to his sources. Borges, after all, “presented the genius of Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote [a story about writing as scrupulously faithful rewriting] by first carefully enumerating each book found in Menard’s personal library.” Borges himself, some readers may know, wrote the bulk of the short stories for which he’s known while working at a library in Buenos Aires, a job he described in his 1970 essay “Autobiographical Notes” as “nine solid years of unhappiness.”
Although he disliked the bureaucratic boredom of library work, Borges was better suited than perhaps anyone for a curatorial role. Given this reputation, Borges was asked more than once to select his favorite novels and stories for published anthologies. One such multi-volume project, titled Personal Library, saw Borgesselecting 74 titles for an Argentine publisher between 1985 and his death in 1988. In another, Borges chose “a list of authors,” Monroe writes, “whose works were selected to fill 33 volumes in The Library of Babel, a 1979 Spanish language anthology of fantastic literature edited by Borges, named after his earlier story by the same name.”
Monroe tracked down all of the titles Borges chose for the eclectic anthology, “a fun, brilliant, polyglot collection” that includes a great many of the author’s perennial favorites, many of which you’ll recognize from their mentions in his fiction and essays. Below, we reproduce Monroe’s reconstruction of the 33 Library of Babelvolumes, with links to those works available free online. Unfortunately, many of these stories are not available in translation. Others, such as those of Leon Bloy, have just become available in English since Monroe’s 2009 article. Thanks to his diligence, we can enjoy having Jorge Luis Borges as our personal librarian.
The Library of Babel
(Note: The titles of all stories currently without a proper translation into English have been left in their original language.)
(Also note:  All stories marked with [c] are still protected by US copyright law.  Only residents of the UK and Australia can legally click on the hyperlink provided.)
  1. Jack LondonThe Concentric Deaths

  1. Jorge Luis BorgesAugust 26, 1983
(All but the last three articles are available in Penguin’s Borges: The Collected Fictions.)
“August 26, 1983″

“The Rose of Peracelsus”

“Blue Tigers”

“Shakespeare’s Memory”

An Interview with Borges, with Maria Esther Vasquez

A Chronology of J.L. Borges’ Life, from Siruela Magazine

The Ruler and Labyrinth: An Approximation of J.L Borges’ Bibliography, by Fernandez Ferrer
  1. Gustav MeyrinkCardinal Napellus[ii]
“Der Kardinal Napellus”

“J.H. Obereits Besuch bei den Zeitegeln”

“Der Vier Mondbrüder”
  1. Léon BloyDisagreeable Tales 
“La Taie d’Argent”

“Les Captifs de Longjumeau”

“Une Idée Médiocre”

“Une Martyre”

“La Plus Belle Trouvaille de Caïn”

“On n’est pas Parfait”

“La Religion de M. Pleur”

“Terrible Châtiment d’un Dentiste”

“La Tisane”

“Tout Ce Que Tu Voudras!”

“La Dernière Cuite”
“Le Vieux de la Maison”
  1. Giovanni PapiniThe Mirror That Fled
“Il Giorno Non Restituito”

“Due Immagini in una Vasca”

“Lo Specchio che Fugge”

“Storia Completamente Assurda”

“Il Mendicante di Anime”

“Una Morte Mentale”

“Non Voglio Più Essere Ciò che Sono”

“Chi Sei?”

“Il Suicida Sostituto”

“L’ultima Visita del Gentiluomo Malato”
  1. Oscar WildeLord Arthur Savile’s Crime

  1. Villiers de L’Isle-AdamEl Convidado de las Últimas Festivas
(Used copies of the 1985 Oxford U. Press translation of Cruel Tales (the collection in which these stories are published) are available online.)
“L’Aventure de Tsé-i-la”

“Le Convive des Dernières Fêtes”

“A Torture By Hope” [trans. 1891]

“La Reine Ysabeau”

“Sombre Récit Conteur Plus Sombre”


  1. Pedro Antonio de AlarcónEl Amigo de la Muerte
“El Amigo de la Muerte” [or “The Strange Friend of Tito Gil”]

  1. Herman MelvilleBartleby the Scrivener
  1. William BeckfordVathek
Vathek, a novella.
  1. H.G. WellsThe Door in the Wall

  1. Pu SonglingThe Tiger Guest [iii]

  1. Arthur MachenThe Shining Pyramid

  1. Robert Louis StevensonThe Isle of Voices [iv]

  1. G.K. ChestertonThe Eye of Apollo

  1. Jacques CazotteThe Devil in Love
(A new translation is available from Dedalus Press of the UK.)
The Devil in Love, a novella.

“Jacquez Cazotte,” an essay by Gerard de Nerval
  1. Franz KafkaThe Vulture
(While I’ve provided links to online translations, they’re somewhat suspect; probably better to check the Complete Short Stories.)

“First Sorrow” [or “The Trapeze Artist”]

  1. Edgar Allan PoeThe Purloined Letter

  1. Leopoldo LugonesThe Pillar of Salt
(A new translation of Lugones’ stories, published by The Library of Latin America, is available at Powell’s.)
“The Pillar of Salt”

“Grandmother Julieta”

“The Horses of Abdera”

“An Inexplicable Phenomenon”


“Rain of Fire: An Account of the Immolation of Gomorra”
  1. Rudyard KiplingThe Wish House
(All the copyrighted stories are from Kipling’s Debits and Credits.  They should be available in any thorough collection of his short fiction.)

  1. The Thousand and One Nights, According to Galland

  1. The Thousand and One Nights, According to Burton

  1. Henry JamesThe Friends of the Friends

  1. VoltaireMicromegas
(A contemporary translation of these stories is available at Powell’s.)

  1. Charles HintonScientific Romances

  1. Nathaniel HawthorneThe Great Stone Face

  1. Lord DunsanyThe Country of Yann

  1. SakiThe Reticence of Lady Anne

“The Background” [translated as “El Marco” (or “The Frame”)]

  1. Russian Tales

  1. Argentinean Tales
“El Calamar Opta por su Tinta,” Adolfo Bioy Casares

“Yzur,” Leopoldo Leones [See above.]

“La Galera,” Manuel Mujica Láinez

“Los Objectos,” Sylvina Decampo

“El Profesor de Ajedrez,” Federico Peltzer

“Pudo Haberme Ocurrido,” Manuel Peyrou

“El Elegido,” Maria Esther Vasquez
  1. J.L. Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, New Stories of H. Bustos Domecq
(Available at Amazon.com.)
  1. The Book of Dreams (A Collection of Recounted Dreams)
List of Authors: Francisco de Quevedo y VillegasAlexandra David-Néel,Alfonso XAlfred de VignyAloysius BertrandAntonio MachadoBernabé CoboF. Sarmiento, Eliseo Díaz, Francisco Acevedo, François Rabelais,Franz KafkaFriedrich Nietzsche, Gastón Padilla, Giuseppe Ungaretti,Gottfried Keller, H. Desvignes Doolittle, Herbert Allen GilesHerodotus, H. Garro, HoraceIbrahim Zahim [Ibrahim Bin Adham], James G. Frazer, Jorge Alberto Ferrando, Jorge Luis BorgesJosé Ferrater Mora,José María Eça de QueirozJoseph AddisonJuan José ArreolaLewis CarrollLao TzuLouis AragonLuigi PirandelloLuis de Góngora,Mircea EliadeMohammad MossadeghNemer ibn el Barud [no Wiki entry; see Amazon comment field], O. HenryOtto von BismarckPaul GroussacPlatoPlutarchRabbi Nissim ben ReuvenRaymond de Becker,  Rodericus Bartius, Roy Bartholomew, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sebastián de Covarrubias Orozco, Thornton WilderLucretiusTsao Hsue Kin [Cao Xueqin], Ward Hill LamonWilliam Butler YeatsWu Cheng’en,Giovanni PapiniNathaniel HawthorneCharles Baudelaire
  1. Borges A to Z (A Compilation)
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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