Tuesday, April 13, 2004

No Edith Wharton for Borges
from the Toronto Globe and Mail
Borges was strange, even bizarre, in his reading habits. His grandmother had been English, and he loved Anglo-Saxon poems so much that he learned to read Old English in order to enjoy them. He also embraced Virgil and Homer, and a host of difficult writers from the Renaissance to the 20th century.

At the same time, he was a huge fan of detective and science-fiction novels. He worshipped what are still considered middlebrow authors like Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson (Manguel's novella, Stevenson under the Palm Trees (Thomas Allen, 2003), is a kind of tribute to Borges's obsession with the author of Treasure Island).

Borges also memorized tango lyrics and "atrocious verses by long-dead poets." At the same time, he casually disliked and cast aside many of the "great" writers. "You could do a history of literature with the novels he didn't like," observes Manguel. Borges's hit list included Jane Austen, Cervantes, Edith Wharton and Garcia Lorca.

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