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Labyrinths (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – May 17, 2007
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The classic by Latin America's finest writer of the twentieth centuryâa true literary sensationâwith an introduction by cyber-author William Gibson.The groundbreaking trans-genre work of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) has been insinuating itself into the structure, stance, and very breath of world literature for well over half a century. Multi-layered, self-referential, elusive, and allusive writing is now frequently labeled Borgesian. Umberto Eco's international bestseller, The Name of the Rose, is, on one level, an elaborate improvisation on Borges' fiction "The Library," which American readers first encountered in the original 1962 New Directions publication of Labyrinths.
This new edition of Labyrinths, the classic representative selection of Borges' writing edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (in translations by themselves and others), includes the text of the original edition (as augmented in 1964) as well as Irby's biographical and critical essay, a poignant tribute by AndrÃ© Maurois, and a chronology of the author's life. Borges enthusiast William Gibson has contributed a new introduction bringing Borges' influence and importance into the twenty-first century.
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* "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" -- What if a guy decides to write his own version of Don Quixote, by literally rewriting Quixote word-for-word the exact same? It's surprisingly funny in a nerdy, academic way and very well-executed...why this isn't the first story is beyond me.
* "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" -- An Irishman writes a biography of his legendary great-grandfather Fergus Kilpatrick, and starts to poke at the hero myth.
* "The House of Asterion" -- I was so ready to forget this one, since it was aggravatingly boring and pointless...until the twist ending. My middle school self would squeal with delight if he read this.
All of the "fictions" (calling them stories implies there's a plot, and there's certainly little of that going around in here) are interesting in their own way, but some get a little too heady. If you don't like reading that requires work, boy will some of the later stories like "The Theologians" and "Averroes' Search" leave you pretty darn frustrated. At times it can feel like you missed out on some required class reading. And it doesn't help that some of the translations feel a little more clunky than necessary.
The essays at the end are pretty nice to see Borges expand on some ideas that show up in his stories, but unless you LOVE philosophy, it makes for some pretty dry reading. And the parables are neat but oddly shoved in with the essays. I think what keeps me from giving this five stars is Borges's genius is muddled by the collection throwing all these different things into one book. TWO introductions is also ridiculous; I could not give less of a crap about William Gibson's rambling, pointless musing on Borges.
But let me be clear: I really, really liked this. Borges was a keen and inventive thinker, and it's obvious how he blazed the trail for a lot of other writers, like Umberto Eco. He's rightfully required reading. I just wish the collection was given as much thought and care as Borges puts into every single one of his fictions.