Jorge Luis Borges Selects 74 Books for Your Personal Library

borges personal library

“Jorge Luis Borges 1951, by Grete Stern” by Grete Stern (1904-1999). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Jorge Luis Borges’ terse, mind-expanding stories reshaped modern fiction. He was one of the first authors to mix high culture with low, merging such popular genres as science fiction and the detective story with heady philosophical discourses on authorship, reality and existence. His story “The Garden of the Forking Paths,” which describes a novel that is also a labyrinth, presaged the hypertextuality of the internet age. His tone of ironic detachment influenced generations of Latin American authors. The BBC argued that Borges was the most important writer of the 20th century.

Of course, Borges wasn’t just an author. When not writing fiction, Borges worked as a literary critic, occasional film critic, a librarian, and, for a spell, as the director of the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires. His tastes were famously eclectic. He did not think of much of canonical writers like Goethe, Jane Austen, James Joyce and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He favored the 19th storytellers like Edgar Allan Poe and Rudyard Kipling.




In 1985, Argentine publisher Hyspamerica asked Borges to create A Personal Library -- which involved curating 100 great works of literature and writing introductions for each volume. Though he only got through 74 books before he died of liver cancer in 1988, Borges’s selections are fascinating and deeply idiosyncratic. He listed adventure tales by Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells alongside exotic holy books, 8th century Japanese poetry and the musing of Kierkegaard. You can see the full list below. A number of the selected works can be found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books collections.

1. Stories by Julio Cortázar (not sure if this refers to Hopscotch, Blow-Up and Other Stories, or neither)
2. & 3. The Apocryphal Gospels
4. Amerika and The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
5. The Blue Cross: A Father Brown Mystery by G.K. Chesterton
6. & 7. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
8. The Intelligence of Flowers by Maurice Maeterlinck
9. The Desert of the Tartars by Dino Buzzati
10. Peer Gynt and Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen
11. The Mandarin: And Other Stories by Eça de Queirós
12. The Jesuit Empire by Leopoldo Lugones
13. The Counterfeiters by André Gide
14. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
15. The Greek Myths by Robert Graves
16. & 17. Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
18. Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner
19. The Great God Brown and Other Plays, Strange Interlude, and Mourning Becomes Electra by Eugene O'Neill
20. Tales of Ise by Ariwara no Narihara
21. Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, and Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville
22. The Tragic Everyday, The Blind Pilot, and Words and Blood by Giovanni Papini
23. The Three Impostors
24. Songs of Songs tr. by Fray Luis de León
25. An Explanation of the Book of Job tr. by Fray Luis de León
26. The End of the Tether and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
27. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
28. Essays & Dialogues by Oscar Wilde
29. Barbarian in Asia by Henri Michaux
30. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
31. Buried Alive by Arnold Bennett
32. On the Nature of Animals by Claudius Elianus
33. The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
34. The Temptation of St. Antony by Gustave Flaubert
35. Travels by Marco Polo
36. Imaginary lives by Marcel Schwob
37. Caesar and Cleopatra, Major Barbara, and Candide by George Bernard Shaw
38. Macus Brutus and The Hour of All by Francisco de Quevedo
39. The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts
40. Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard
41. The Golem by Gustav Meyrink
42. The Lesson of the Master, The Figure in the Carpet, and The Private Life by Henry James
43. & 44. The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus by Herdotus
45. Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo
46. Tales by Rudyard Kipling
47. Vathek by William Beckford
48. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
49. The Professional Secret & Other Texts by Jean Cocteau
50. The Last Days of Emmanuel Kant and Other Stories by Thomas de Quincey
51. Prologue to the Work of Silverio Lanza by Ramon Gomez de la Serna
52. The Thousand and One Nights
53. New Arabian Nights and Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
54. Salvation of the Jews, The Blood of the Poor, and In the Darkness by Léon Bloy
55. The Bhagavad Gita and The Epic of Gilgamesh
56. Fantastic Stories by Juan José Arreola
57. Lady into Fox, A Man in the Zoo, and The Sailor's Return by David Garnett
58. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
59. Literary Criticism by Paul Groussac
60. The Idols by Manuel Mujica Láinez
61. The Book of Good Love by Juan Ruiz
62. Complete Poetry by William Blake
63. Above the Dark Circus by Hugh Walpole
64. Poetical Works by Ezequiel Martinez Estrada
65. Tales by Edgar Allan Poe
66. The Aeneid by Virgil
67. Stories by Voltaire
68. An Experiment with Time by J.W. Dunne
69. An Essay on Orlando Furioso by Atilio Momigliano
70. & 71. The Varieties of Religious Experience and The Study of Human Nature by William James
72. Egil's Saga by Snorri Sturluson
73. The Book of the Dead
74. & 75. The Problem of Time by J. Alexander Gunn

As you will observe, Borges' list is very short on books by women writers. As a counter-offering, you might want to explore this list: 74 Essential Books for Your Personal Library: A List Curated by Female Creatives.

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Related Content:

"Borges: Profile of a Writer" Presents the Life and Writings of Argentina’s Favorite Son, Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges’ 1967-8 Norton Lectures On Poetry (And Everything Else Literary)

Jorge Luis Borges’ Favorite Short Stories (Read 7 Free Online)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.


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Comments (23)
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  • firpo says:

    Regarding Cortázar’s Stories, he refers to the short stories you find in Bestiario (1951) and Las armas secretas (1959).

  • Ahmad Mubarak says:

    Fabulous

  • lokezombie says:

    This is my favorite website on the internet you guys always put me on to great stuff. Borges was an amazing writer and reader and all around human being and getting a look at some of his reading list is really interesting. I want to check out a bunch of these books now just to see if I can get in his head a little bit.

  • Jan English Leary says:

    Where are the women writers?

  • Lindsey says:

    Did I miss someone? I mean, is there not a single woman?? I love Borges, but wow is this disappointing….

  • Kevin says:

    I echo Jan and Lindsey, but we can also ask why the list lacks authors from certain cultures and even entire entire continents. I guess if it’s a personal library, it’s the books he enjoys, not necessarily those he thinks everyone must read (although that does seem implied).

  • Lynne cresitello says:

    That he would place Robert Louis Stevenson on his list with Kierkegaard assures my attention. Stevenson is the first author I ever knew because my mother read to me from him when I was 3 and 4 years old; she did not read to me from Kierkegaard. Yet here on this list it’s more than just eclectic to see them together. Also, it’s not often one expects to find both Henry and William James on the same list. He’s easily forgiven for seeming not to appreciate any women writers, but it is more lamentable perhaps for him I’d say than for myself.

    Appreciated post. Thank you. lsc

  • maria says:

    I think it was something personal, not an “official” list of books people should read. Being personal, it doesn’t have anything to do with politically correctness or to how (in)complete it is.
    Asking why there are not women it’s like asking why is there Aeneida and not also Odisea by Homer? It’s just a matter of taste. Taste is sometimes random, and taste sometimes doesn’t have a certain gender.

  • Eric Bourland says:

    >>>The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus by Herdotus

    typo?

  • Lindsey says:

    I fail to understand how Borges’ declining to include *one* book, like the Odyssey, is in any way comparable to his inability to recommend a single female author. It’s clear this list represents his personal taste… what I am surprised by is the fact that someone as famously widely-read as Borges couldn’t come up with a single female writer to be excited about. Like, not even one. No George Eliot, no Gertrude Stein, no Alejandra Pizarnik, no Clarice Lispector—not even Sappho or Emily Dickinson. That’s not just picking the Aeneid over the Odyssey—that’s ignoring a huge population of hugely influential and innovative literary landscapers.

    I am, however, very happy to see so many Latin American and Spanish language writers I never knew before. Adding those to my list.

  • ĐURO MARIČIĆ says:

    Očigledno da je JOSE LUIS BORGES slabo poznavao rusku književnost.

  • Gira says:

    Great List.

    I think it’s matter of good taste to prefer Aeneida over Odyssey. Also it’s not surprising that there is a lack of female authors, I don’t think that someone like JLB would modify his personal taste only to satisfies mediocrity or political correctness. I can’t imagine any ‘best of list’ – in any field that have something to do with creativity – with females. Of course you can push it just for the sake of your political agenda, but that’s something else.

  • Nicolás says:

    First, great post. Thank you.
    Second, just a detail: Borges died July 14th, 1986, not 1988.

  • Nicolás says:

    I mean June.
    My bad.

  • Dick Tam says:

    Just a matter of fact, he likes the work of Silvina Ocampo, claiming her as one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language.

  • Isela says:

    He also liked the work of Virginia Woolf. He translated her novel Orlando (into Spanish), which is considered a feminist classic.

  • I am also puzzled by the lack of female authors. Surely in the history of books and reading – there can be found a number of talented, worthy female authors that could be included on his list. I am a “fan” of Mr. Borges. He directly influenced my passion for book collecting and he inspired me to grow my personal library. He said, “I have always imagined Paradise to be a kind of Library.” His list was unfinished at the time of his death so we can only wonder how he may have completed the list. I choose to believe there were to have been women in some of the remaining positions…

  • Eduardo Aparicio says:

    I find that shocking too, Maria. I’m surprised he didn’t even list Virginia Woolf, and yet he translated A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN into Spanish. I have a copy, which he was gracious enough to autograph for me in Chicago, back in 1980, as part of his US tour.

  • f staal says:

    Nobody knows (except Borges) the reasons behind his selection of these books, and there could be many. To me, it looks like a list of writings that he thought, at the time he was asked (very late in his life) informed or moved him. Please stop trying to make him, or his choices, conform to YOUR early 21st century ideal of political correctness. He was human and therefore unique; not perfect, not God. His education and thus *some* of his sensibilities were part the early 20th century, a very different time than now. We are all products of out times and you can be sure that many of our contemporary ideals and customs will look silly, obsolete, or barbaric in another hundred years.

  • P. Kubala says:

    I didn’t know he didn’t like Marquez…where have you read that? I seem to remember an interview in which he says that he doesn’t read Vargas Llosa, but he does read Marquez. I can’t imagine Borges not liking One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is borgesian in many ways

  • Carlo Martinez says:

    Borges refers to all of them short stories of JC.

  • Dubi says:

    It is unreasonable to criticize Borges for not including any women writers onto his list. I wouldn’t read it as a misogyny, or belittling of women. As wise as he was, he was a man from other times. Besides, he – as anybody else – had a right to his personal tastes, that are not pushed onto anybody else.
    Analyzing female characters in the Odyssey saga using 21st century’s feminist points of view is a lack of historical perspective, and the same is valid for analyzing Borges’s “best books” list using these points of view.

  • Mauricio Suarez says:

    The real Borges list (Hyspamerica para Orbis (1985)) in spanish is:
    1 Joseph Conrad Con la soga al cuello. El corazón de las tinieblas
    2 Julio Cortázar Cuentos
    3 Oscar Wilde Ensayos y diálogos
    4 William Blake (1757-1827) Poesía completa
    5 Henri Michaux Un bárbaro en Asia Un barbare en Asie (1933)
    6 Anónimo INDIA Bhagavad-Gita Poema de Gilgamesh
    7 Gustave Flaubert La tentación de San Antonio La Tentation de saint Antoine (1874)
    8 Gustav Meyrink El Golem The Golem (Der Golem) (1914)
    9 Robert Louis Stevenson Short stories Las nuevas noches Árabes. New Arabian Nights (1882) Markheim “Markheim” 1885 JLB/BP9b
    10 William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) La piedra lunar (vol.I) The Moonstone (1868)
    11 William Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) La piedra lunar (vol.II) The Moonstone (1868)
    12 Marcel Schwob Vidas imaginarias Vies imaginaires (“Imaginary Lives”) (1896)
    13 Fray Luis de Leon Cantar de Cantares. Exposición del Libro de Job (1855)
    14 Herman Melville Benito Cereno. Billy Budd, .Bartleby,el escribiente
    15 Ariwara No Narihira JAPON Cuentos de Ise 伊勢物語 (Ise Monogatari) (794 to 1185 ?)
    16 Henry James Short story La lección del maestro The Lesson of the Master (1888). La figura en la alfombra The Figure in the Carpet (1896). La vida privada The Private Life (1892)
    17 Virgil La Eneida
    18 Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) Saga de Egil-Skallagrimsson Egils saga (1240 AD?)
    19 Franz Kafka TWC América Amerika (1927).
    Relatos breves
    20 Arthur Machen Los tres impostores The Three Impostors (1895)
    21 Dino Buzzati El desierto de los tártaros Il deserto dei Tartari (1940)
    22 Francisco de Quevedo Marco Bruto. Vida de Marco Bruto (1644) La hora de todos (1699)
    23 G.K. Chesterton short story La cruz azul The Blue Cross (1910) y otros cuentos
    24 Maurice Maeterlinck ensayo La inteligencia de las flores L’Intelligence des fleurs (1907)
    25 Anónimo ensayo Evangelios apócrifos
    26 Hernrik Ibsen teatro Peer Gynt (1867) teatro Hedda Gabler (1890)
    27 J. M. Eça de Queiroz El mandarín O Mandarim (1880)
    28 Leopoldo Lugones El imperio jesuítico
    29 Andre Gide Los monederos Falsos Les Faux-monnayeurs (1925)
    30 Anónimo ensayo Evangelios apócrifos JLB/BP30
    31 H.G. Wells La máquina del tiempo The Time Machine (1895) El hombre invisible The Invisible Man (1897)
    32 Fyodor Dostoyevsky Los demonios I
    33 Fyodor Dostoyevsky Los demonios II
    34 Fyodor Dostoyevsky Los demonios II
    35 Anónimo ensayo Evangelios apócrifos
    Robert Graves Los mitos griegos
    36 Edward Kasner + James Newman ensayo Matemáticas e imaginación
    37 Eugene O´Neill (1888-1953) Nobel 1936 El gran dios Brown The Great God Brown (1926)
    Extraño interludio Strange Interlude (1928)
    38 Eugene O´Neill (1888-1953) Nobel 1936 A electra le sienta el luto
    39 Giovanni Papani Lo trágico cotidiano. El piloto ciego. Palabras y sangre,
    40 Edgar Allan Poe Cuentos
    41 Edward Gibbon Decadencia y ruina del Imperio Romano
    42 Herman Hesse Nobel 1946 El juego de los abalorios
    43 Enoch Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) Enterrado en vida Buried Alive (1908)
    44 Claudio Eliano Historia de los animales
    45 Thorstein Veblen Teoría de la clase ociosa
    46 Juan Rulfo Pedro Páramo JLB/BP
    47 George Bernand Shaw Nobel 1925 César y Cleopatra. La comandante Bárbara. Cándida
    48 Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) Los rojos Redmaine The Red Redmaynes (1922)
    49 Soren kierkegaard Temor y temblor
    50 Heródoto Los nueve libros de la historia
    51 Heródoto Los nueve libros de la historia
    52 Rudyard Kipling Nobel 1907 Cuentos
    53 William Beckford Vathek
    54 Daniel Defoe Moll Flanders
    55 Marco Polo Viajes
    56 Jean Cocteau El secreto profesional y otros textos
    57 Thomas de Quincey Los últimos días de Emmanuel Kant y otros relatos
    58 Ramón Gómez de la Serna la obra de Silverio Lanza
    59 Adolf Galland (1649-1715) selección Las mil y una noches según Galland I
    60 Adolf Galland (1649-1715) selección Las mil y una noches según Galland II
    61 León Bloy La salvación por los judíos
    62 Juan José Arreola Confabulario
    63 David Garnett De dama a zorro. Un hombre en el zoológico. La vuelta del marinero
    64 Jonathan Swift Viajes de Gulliver
    65 Paul Groussac n. Argentina ensayo Crítica literaria
    66 Manuel Mujica Lainez Los ídolos
    67 Juan Ruiz (arcipreste de Hita) (c1283-c1351) Libro de buen amor (1330 y 1343)
    68 Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) En la plaza oscura Above the Dark Circus (1931)
    69 Ezequiel Martínez Estrada Obra poética
    70 J. W. Dunne ensayo Un experimento con el tiempo
    71 Voltaire (1694-1778) Cuentos
    72 Attilio Momigliano ensayo Ensayo sobre el “Orlando Furioso”
    73 William James Las variedades de la experiencia religiosa (I) .
    74 William James Las variedades de la experiencia religiosa (II) .
    75 Alexander Gunn (1896–1975) El problema del tiempo (I)
    76 Alexander Gunn (1896–1975) El problema del tiempo (II)
    78 Fray Luis de León Exposición del libro de Job (II)
    80 Anónimo El libro de los muertos

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