by Alberto Manguel
Thomas Allen Publishers, 99 pp.
"I would like to write a story that had the quality of a dream."
With Borges, the brief new work by bibliophile Alberto Manguel, reads like a dream. For four teenage years, Manguel climbed six flights of stairs in a Buenos Aires building to read for the blind Tiresias of 20th-century literature, Jorge Luis Borges. In Borgess modest apartment, where he lived with his mother, Manguel read aloud from the writers library of authors Kipling, Stevenson and Henry James or from Borgess extensive collection of Norse sagas.
Borges lived from 1899 to 1986, was director of the National Library in Buenos Aires and was an obsessive reader of encyclopedias. "He never abandoned this custom of trusting himself to the ordered chance of an encyclopedia," writes Manguel. From this pool of imagery, Borges created his favourite form of literature, the fantastic. (Borges aficionados know literature doesnt merely describe the world, it is part of the world.)
By the time Manguel was reading to him from 1964 to 1968 Borgess sight had completely degenerated. When, later in life, Manguel discovers that Borges had many other people who also read to him, it comes across like a realization of infidelity. But what ultimately binds Borges and Manguel as subject and author is that they see themselves as readers first and writers second. This is what makes With Borges so uniquely readable.
Despite his aunts urging, the young Manguel took no notes during his evenings with Borges. But now he writes, "the conversations with Borges were what, in my mind, conversations should always be about: about books and about the clockwork of books, and about the discovery of writers I had not read before, and about ideas that had not occurred to me
. I didnt take notes because during those evenings I felt too contented."
This contentment comes through in rereading With Borges, as does Manguels craft as a writer of creative non-fiction. Black-and-white archival photos of Borges by Argentine photographer Sara Facio have a further dreamlike effect. With the turn of a page, suddenly Borges is there again in his apartment, in front of the books on his shelves.