The world is full of strange coincidences. Stories that you hear. Some that are true and some that you want to believe happened. Then there are the coincidences that happen to you. That you find very hard to believe. One such coincidence took place in the life of Alberto Manguel – a celebrated writer and bibliophile, which changed his life in more than one way. He was all of sixteen, working at a bookstore, and one fine day in 1964, in Buenos Aires, walks a writer in to the shop, asking Alberto if he would be interested in a part-time job reading aloud to him as he is blind. The writer was none other than Jorge Luis Borges. That changed in lot of ways the way the sixteen-year old would view the world from thereon. He would also chronicle his experiences with Borges in a book called, “With Borges”, which I have just finished reading.
“With Borges” is a simply written book. It is almost a dedication to Borges and to his love of words and stories. Borges somehow knew that he would end up blind, just like his father and maybe this led him to memorizing everything, well almost everything. Words, stories, verses, the structure of his house and the books in the library, of which he was the director. Manguel traces the life of a writer and of the person in this short and brilliant work of seventy-seven pages. For me, reading this book was an experience of envy – I was envious at the encounter and how that culminated to a beautiful friendship. To me that was the most important quality of this memoir.
There are parts that I could not help but underline and reread them. The ones where they talk books and what Borges wants to read. I wished the parts on Borges’s craft were a little more elaborated on. There is only this much that seventy-seven pages can do, however Manguel does not waste a single word. No word also seems out of place or not needed – almost like a short story written by Borges. Manguel talks about the way he also transcribed some of Borges’s writing for him – it was as though the writer knew what he wanted to write, the power of imagination but after all was not gone. I started reading Borges when I was nineteen and since then I haven’t stopped. I go back to his stories time and again and they somehow infuse new life in me at the end of it. This memoir almost did that. Manguel’s writing is beautiful in the sense that it is honest. From speaking of Borges’s mood swings to the way he was about literature to also his bookshelves, Alberto covers every single ground. I guess it is experiences such as these that also sometimes led Manguel to heavily feature Borges in almost all his books.
One thing I am sure of – I will certainly go back and reread this gem of a book on Borges, on reading, on bibliophiles, on the need to continue to read even though you cannot, to see the world with your dreams and to the love of reading. This short masterpiece has it all. A must read for budding readers and writers.