Shelf Defense: Shakespeare’s Memory

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In late 2011 I decided, in the hopes of keeping my library down to a manageable size, to comb through the unread sections in alphabetical order. It was a naïve, Sisyphean project, and it will take forever—so I’d better get moving. Shelf Defense is my occasional notebook about what I dig up, from Alphabet Juice to Point Omega.

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JORGE LUIS BORGES, SHAKESPEARE’S MEMORY (1983, TRANS. ANDREW HURLEY)

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: See here.

THOUGHTS: Here we are. The end at last. I started reading Borges’s Collected Fictions back in August, with only a handful of his stories already under my belt; now I think I’ve read close to 100—or however many it was he published in his lifetime. Because now, following the slim, four-story volume Shakespeare’s Memory, I’ve read it all.

Continuing the streak he started with 1975’s Book of Sand, here Borges again seems virile and full of energy. These final stories do retrace and intermingle his old themes and preoccupations—“Blue Tigers” and the title story being my personal favourites—but then again, he’d already been doing that kind of thing for decades. The style is sharp, the images vivid. I don’t know if I would call it a fitting farewell, because I still, despite everything, struggle to see through Borges’s supposedly autobiographical fiction to the real man who wrote it all down (“Borges and I” be damned). But it’s the final brick in one of the great churches of 20th-century literature, and it’s been rewarding as hell to go back and watch it get built.

Which brings me to another note: this is the last instalment of Shelf Defense. I’ve been doing this ridiculous project for just over a year now, and I haven’t even made it through the first two letters of the alphabet. It’s allowed me to read a ton of stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to, and it was a great motivator during those times when I couldn’t otherwise decide what to read next. And it also showed me the virtue of slowing down and spending more time with a given author than is my wont. But now I’m ready to get back to those flighty ways. I just bought two Flann O’Brien novels, for instance—and I wasn’t about to wait until 2019 to read them. No sir.

Either way, thanks for sticking it out with me this long. Another similarly quixotic project is, no doubt, just around the corner.

KEEP OR SELL: Keep.

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