Jorge Luis Borges and Vladimir Nabokov are the cleverest writers I know. Although they come from radically different cultures (Argentina and Russia, respectively), they were born in the same year (1899), both were educated in continental Europe, both write with an erudition that seems beyond reach, and both have a degree of control over their prose that I can only call mastery. They leave me with the certainty that I didn’t follow every reference or understand every level on which their stories are working.
Nevertheless, the experience of reading their work—and perhaps more importantly, rereading—is always worthwhile; indeed, this reading of Borges’ Ficciones (my third?) was satisfying, engrossing, enlightening, ecstatic. The stories explore infinity, purpose, dreams, reality, death, and the arbitrariness of life; despite the fact that each story is rooted in the concreteness of earthly detail, they have a mystical or parable-like quality that Nabokov’s writing does not. Published in 1944, Ficciones offically pre-dates post-modernism, but it is often self-referential and frequently calls attention to its form. Borges never fails to help me consider my life and its place in the universe; after reading him I feel small, but also content with my fate. In my mind, Borges is required reading—along with others such as Calvino, Carver, de Maupassant, O’Connor, and Welty—for the short story lover or aficionado.