As I’ve mentioned many times, Twitter can be a dangerous place for booklovers – all those pictures, all those recommendations, all those wonderful books you’ve never heard of before!!! And as I revealed in my end of August post, one particular recent arrival was prompted by just such a nudge – I think it may well have been a tweet on the occasion of Borges’ birthday, which resulted in the arrival of a slim volume simply entitled “With Borges” by Alberto Manguel.

Both Manguel and Borges have made a number of separate appearances on the Ramblings, but I can’t say that I knew there was a connection between them. So I was very excited to discover this book and the minute it arrived I had to read it straight away – yes, another new book bypassing the TBR and beating all the books which have been waiting there patiently for so long…

Borges should, of course, need no introduction; in fact, neither should Manguel! Borges is described by Wikipedia as “a key figure in Spanish-language and international literature” whereas they cast Manguel as “an Argentine-Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, editor, and a former Director of the National Library of Argentina”. Both are connected by Argentina, of course, and this book came about because the 16 year-old Manguel (working then at a bookstore) was one of a number of young men who would read aloud to Borges, who was by that time (1964) completely blind. In the book, Manguel recalls fragments of his time with Borges and paints a portrait of the great author which is affectionate, atmospheric and moving.

Borges would ask almost anyone: students, journalists who came to visit him, other writers. There exists a vast group of those who once read out loud to Borges, minor Boswells whose identities are rarely known to one another but who collectively hold the memory of one of the world’s greatest readers.

It’s a tragedy, of course, that sometime like Borges should go blind and I believe this was hereditary. Despite his blindness, Borges retained his intense interest in literature and continued to write, often dictating poetry to his readers. As well as conjuring the actual times he would read to Borges in present tense, italicised paragraphs, Manguel also discusses the author more generally – his work, his legacy, his behaviour towards others – and all of this combines to make a short but evocative read which really captures both Borges and Manguel. Of particular interest, of course, is Borges’ library, and as well as a mass of reference books, there is a dazzling list of authors from Wells, Wilkie Collins and Joyce, through John Dickson Carr, David Garnett, Wilde, Carroll – well, I could go on, but he was obviously a varied and voracious reader!

Borges 1951, Via Wikipedia Commons

Manguel is, of course, a wonderful writer of non-fiction, and I have read two of his books about books – “A Reading Diary” and “The Library at Night“. I guess you could consider him as one of the heirs of Borges, whose own work ranges surprisingly far and wide over many topics. I’ve read a number of his collected short stories and after reading this I basically felt that I couldn’t read anyone else. So if nothing else “With Borges” has prompted me to pick up my chunky volume for the first time in ages and remind myself of what a unique writer Borges was. If you like either the author or the subject of this little gem of a book, I can highly recommend it!