The Book of Sand, as translated by Borges himself and Norman Thomas di Giovanni, was published in English by Dutton in 1977 and proved to be the last collection of fiction Borges was to assemble during his life...it was also the first collection of his I was to read, and I was hooked for life.
The Other (El Otro)
The Congress (El Congreso)
"There Are More Things" ("There Are More Things")
The Sect of the Thirty (La Secta de los Treinta)
The Night of the Gifts (La noche de los dones)
The Mirror and the Mask (El espejo y la máscara)
Utopia of a Tired Man (Utopía de un hombre que está cansado)
The Bribe (El soborno)
Avelino Arredondo (Avelino Arredondo)
The Disk (El disco)
The Book of Sand (El libro de arena)
Almost all of these stories were written after Borges's blindness had progressed to the point that he could no longer read for himself, and that perhaps contributed to the emphasis on memory in most of these, and perhaps some of the vivid imagery (not that that these elements were absent from the work of the younger Borges). "'There Are More Things'" was his slightly sardonic tribute to Lovecraft, thus nudging Borges into the elite class of Lovecraftians, however briefly (though their concerns with existential horror were not dissimilar, their approaches to the subject could hardly be more unalike: Borges is cool and offhanded where Lovecraft tends toward the perfervid). "The Book of Sand" itself is a masterful reapproach to the same concerns as drove "The Library of Babel," but more compactly...rather than an infinite library, the newer fiction offers an infinite book, or at least a book with an apparently infinite number of pages, and likewise containing all the possible combinations of characters. "The Night of the Gifts" was one of Borges's too-infrequent gaucho stories, Argentine westerns; "The Disk" another charming, if slight, peak at the same sort of fantastic visual device that was the McGuffin of "The Aleph"; "The Other" one of several encounters (like "Borges and Me" and "The Other Death") by twinned personas of Borges himself. "Utopia of a Tired Man" is a fine science-fictional encounter; "The Congress" a fine paranoid conspiracy tale...these are all pretty much examples of past mastery at play and work. It's a continuing shame that this edition is pointedly out of print because of the hassle between di Giovanni and the Borges estate.
I have less to say about the charming The Castle of Crossed Destinies, the 1977 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich edition translated by William Weaver, other than it was the first Calvino book I took on, and it might be the most Borgesian of his I've read so far (it was the also the only one I've attempted, with very modest progress, in the original Italian). A series of interlinked vignettes driven by tarot cards Calvino was fascinated by (a fascination shared, of course, by many other fantasy writers, including such students of tarot as Rachel Pollack and K. A. Laity), Calvino has always struck me as someone who was trying to bring the experience of the spoken tale to the page in a more immediate way than most writers, certainly than those who use frames such as having a tale told within their stories (contrast Borges, who was more interested in playing with the forms of literary genre itself, or Fritz Leiber, whose work I was reading as quickly as I could find it at the time I first read these books, who constantly threatens to, when he doesn't actually do so, break into actual playwriting in his prose fiction). At least this one's in print!
For more Friday books, please see Patti Abbott's blog