33 books of Borgesian favorites
January 29, 2012 2:15 PM   Subscribe

In the late 1970s Jorge Luis Borges edited a 33-volume series of fantastic tales by many authors, from Jack London to Pu Songling, Leopoldo Lugones to Henry James. The series was called "The Library of Babel," after the Borges story of the same title. In 2009, Grant Monroe found a directory of Spanish-language science fiction, fantasy, terror and mystery stories, listing the contents of the 33 volumes -- JLB's own favorite weird tales both well-known and obscure -- and began tracking down links to each of the stories, one by one: "Searching the Library of Babel".

Along with presenting the Borgesian best of many well-known writers (Lord Dunsany's The Bureau d'Échange de Maux (PDF), Julio Cortázar's House Taken Over), it includes many authors who may be less well known to an English-reading audience, like Léon Bloy (whose deeply unpleasant humor noir is described in blurb Borges wrote for him, translated after the story here), Gustav Meyrink (whose stories selected by Borges have recently been translated), Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (Decadent author of a famously unperformable play, a novel about an Edison-manufactured android, and many "cruel stories") and Leopoldo Lugones (some of whose stories have also been recently translated).
posted by finnb (11 comments total) 148 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure that this is something this Rumpus guy would not have thought of but...

Borges is extremely popular in Portugal. And you can buy the entire series - in Portuguese of course - at any large Portuguese bookstore. Here's the editors site for example. Complete with cover pictures and summaries as well.
posted by vacapinta at 2:37 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

A new refutation of time from J. Borges is actually interesting.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:40 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It struck me odd that Grant Monroe was ready to consult his Spanish-English dictionary and make a call to Buenos Aires. It is as if he never heard of crowd-sourcing - that is, asking Spanish speaking readers for assistance.

If the book was ever printed in Spanish, then the thing to do is to consult the Spanish National Library. If you type in 'Biblioteca de Babel' out comes all the books and their contents.
posted by vacapinta at 3:01 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can get a condensed etc version of this in English under the title The Book of Fantasy second hand. If you're into anthologies of this kind of stuff edited by giant figures like JLB, there's also one called Fantastic Tales, edited by Italo Calvino, available in Penguin Classics.
posted by Mocata at 3:03 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Vacapinta: but then the article does not read like a literary mystery. Instead it comes across as a "look what I googled"
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Finally, its worth adding that the publisher who commissioned Borges to put this all together was Franco Maria Ricci, an Italian publisher. That is, the collection was originally published in Italian not Spanish.

The full list is thus on the Italian Wikipedia page.

There it notes that the stories were not as carefully selected as you might think but in many cases were translations of a specific collection by that author. For example the Meyrink stories were those from a 1915 collection.
posted by vacapinta at 3:15 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a great post. Thanks very much finnb, I've just found dozens more authors and stories to track down.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:40 PM on January 29, 2012

heh, looking around for ebook formats for his books is the first time I accidentally came across the big scary splash screen for the megaupload take down notice. On that note, does anyone have a (presumably legal) link to JLB's works in ebook format? Both amazon and BN seem pretty limited. I've long wanted to peruse his stuff and am familiar with some of the concepts he is famous for. Nowadays I've been veering into translated nonEnglish "speculative fiction" more and more so it's be a good time to actively pursue this.
posted by edgeways at 4:45 PM on January 29, 2012

Here's the Borges blurb from my blog (A Journey Round My Skull): "Léon Bloy, collector of detestable characters, hospitably reserves, in his vast museum, a special place of honor for the French bourgeoisie. He inks his dark portraits with lugubrious tints which call to mind the nightmares of Quevedo and of Goya. But he was not only a terrorist of the pen; he was also capable, as the present book bears out, of crafting, in one of the most curious of these tales, one that prefigures Kafka; the argument could even be made that it was written by the latter, except that the ferocious manner of its execution couldn't belong to anyone but Bloy. Our times have given birth to the expression 'black humor,' the implicit attitude of which no one, up to the present day, has put into practice with greater efficacy and verbal richness than Léon Bloy."
posted by ajourneyroundmyskull at 5:51 PM on January 29, 2012

This is neat, thanks finnb!
posted by carter at 6:15 PM on January 29, 2012

posted by Tom-B at 7:44 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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