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

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Image by Grete Stern via Wikimedia Commons

In Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “The Library of Babel,” the titular library contains “all that it is given to express, in all languages”:

Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels’ autobiographies, the faithful catalogue of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues… the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.

As well as an ironic allegorical take on the Newtonian notion of the universe as legible and organized, Borges’ story enacts his experience of a life lived almost entirely inside literature as one of the most erudite writers, essayists, and librarians of all time. Borges was not only intimidatingly widely-read, but his critical opinions were notoriously idiosyncratic and contrarian. He preferred the obscure to the widely celebrated, castigating, for example, admirers of Baudelaire as “imbeciles” (according to his longtime friend and biographer Adolfo Bioy Casares) while professing his own admiration for Baudelaire’s onetime friend, the morose and unpleasant zealous Catholic convert Leon Bloy.

But in addition to his penchant for writers no one reads, Borges also loved more populist writers like G.K. Chesterton and Rudyard Kipling and had the canons of several European literatures memorized, not to mention the labyrinthine works of several medieval Catholic philosophers and all of Spinoza. In short, his tastes were unpredictable and entirely his own, untainted by any gestures toward fashion or public sentiment. And that is why he is an excellent guide to the genre of writing that his name has become associated with more than any other: that of speculative fiction or “fantastic tales.” In 1979, Borges edited a collection of such writing, in 33 volumes, in Spanish (though perhaps originally in Italian). Each volume is devoted to a selection of works from a single author (including Borges himself, volume 2) or to a geographical distribution, such as “Russian Tales” (volume 29) and “Argentinian Tales” (volume 30).

In a 2009 piece for The Rumpus, Grant Monroe details his attempt to track down the contents of this massive anthology, called, after Borges’ story, The Library of Babel. While the collection is considerably less impenetrable, “indefinite and perhaps infinite” than the library-world of his famous story, it is nonetheless daunting, and one could get lost in its corridors for several months. Below, you can find a list of seven selected stories—with links to online versions—very roughly representative of the breadth and strange depths of Borges’ curatorial imagination. Then see the full contents of The Library of Babel anthology below the jump.

1. Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, “A Torture by Hope

A contemporary and friend of Borges’ detested Baudelaire, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam was just the kind of down-at-heel aristocratic roué whom everyone imagines when thinking of French symbolist poetry. Greatly influenced by Poe, his Cruel Tales, from which the story above comes, is a collection of mostly mystical stories.

2. Pu Songling, “The Tiger Guest

This 17th century Chinese writer was much-beloved by Borges, and his influence on the latter’s work is patently evident from a cursory scan of the titles in Pu’s collection, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.

3. Charles Hinton, “A Plane World

Hinton, a British mathematician and sci-fi writer who was much interested in the fourth dimension and who coined the word “tesseract,” wrote speculative fiction deeply informed by physics and mathematics, often complete with diagrams, as in the above short work, one of nine pamphlets published as Scientific Romances.  Hinton is mentioned in at least two of Borges’ stories.

4. Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Crocodile: An Extraordinary Incident

One does not generally think of Dostoevsky as a writer of “fantastic tales,” nor, for that matter, of short fiction. But Borges includes this little-known short in his volume of Russian Tales.

5. Arthur Machen, The Shining Pyramid

Briefly associated with British occultists like A.E. Waite and exerting a great deal of influence on Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft, and generations of genre writers, Welsh writer Arthur Machen was also a favorite of Borges.

6. Voltaire, “Micromegas

Everyone is familiar with Voltaire the philosopher and satirist, but few know of his contribution to the development of science fiction with his seven-part story “Micromegas,” the tale of a 20,000 foot tall alien banished from his world for heresy.

7. Leopoldo Lugones, “Yzur

This Argentinian writer was a major influence on Borges. Although he receives his own edited volume in the anthology (volume 19), this story appears in volume 30, “Argentinian Tales.”

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)

Two Drawings by Jorge Luis Borges Illustrate the Author’s Obsessions

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hemingway Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time      

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

List via The Rumpus

The Library of Babel

1. Jack London, The Concentric Deaths

“The Minions of Midas”

“The Shadow and the Flash”

“Lost Face”

“The House of Mapuhi”

“The Law of Life”


2. Jorge Luis Borges, August 26, 1983

“August 26, 1983″

“The Rose of Peracelsus”

“Blue Tigers”

“Shakespeare’s Memory”

An Interview with Borges, with Maria Esther Vasquez

A Chronology of J.L. Borges’ Life, from Siruela Magazine

The Ruler and Labyrinth: An Approximation of J.L Borges’ Bibliography, by Fernandez Ferrer


3.  Gustav Meyrink, Cardinal Napellus

“Der Kardinal Napellus”

“J.H. Obereits Besuch bei den Zeitegeln”

“Der Vier Mondbrüder”


4.  Léon Bloy, Disagreeable Tales

“La Taie d’Argent”

“Les Captifs de Longjumeau”

“Une Idée Médiocre”

“Une Martyre”

“La Plus Belle Trouvaille de Caïn”

“On n’est pas Parfait”

“La Religion de M. Pleur”

“Terrible Châtiment d’un Dentiste”

“La Tisane”

“Tout Ce Que Tu Voudras!”

“La Dernière Cuite”

“Le Vieux de la Maison”


5.  Giovanni Papini, The Mirror That Fled

“Il Giorno Non Restituito”

“Due Immagini in una Vasca”

“Lo Specchio che Fugge”

“Storia Completamente Assurda”

“Il Mendicante di Anime”

“Una Morte Mentale”

“Non Voglio Più Essere Ciò che Sono”

“Chi Sei?”

“Il Suicida Sostituto”

“L’ultima Visita del Gentiluomo Malato”


6.  Oscar Wilde, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime

“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”

“The Canterville Ghost”

“The Selfish Giant”

“The Happy Prince”

“The Nightingale and the Rose”


7.  Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, El Convidado de las Últimas Festivas

“L’Aventure de Tsé-i-la”

“Le Convive des Dernières Fêtes”

“A Torture By Hope”

“La Reine Ysabeau”

“Sombre Récit Conteur Plus Sombre”




8.  Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, El Amigo de la Muerte

“El Amigo de la Muerte” [or “The Strange Friend of Tito Gil”]

“The Tall Woman”


9.  Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener

“Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street”


10.  William Beckford, Vathek

Vathek, a novella.


11.  H.G. Wells, The Door in the Wall

“The Plattner Story”

“The Story of Late Mr. Elvesham”

“The Crystal Egg”

“The Country of the Blind”

“The Door in the Wall”


12.  Pu Songling, The Tiger Guest

“The Buddhist Priest of Ch’ang-Ch’ing”

“In the Infernal Regions”

“The Magic Mirror”

“A Supernatural Wife”

“Examination for the Post of Guardian Angel”

“The Man Who Was Changed into a Crow”

“The Tiger Guest”

“Judge Lu”

“The Painted Skin”

“The Stream of Cash”

“The Invisible Priest”

“The Magic Path”

“The Wolf Dream”

“Dreaming Honors”

“The Tiger of Chao-Ch’ëng”

“Taking Revenge”


13.  Arthur Machen, The Shining Pyramid

“The Novel of the Black Seal”

“The Novel of the White Powder”

“The Shining Pyramid”


14.  Robert Louis Stevenson, The Isle of Voices

“The Bottle Imp”

“The Isle of Voices”

“Thrawn Janet”



15.  G.K. Chesterton, The Eye of Apollo

“The Duel of Dr Hirsch”

“The Queer Feet”

“The Honor of Israel Gow”

“The Eye of Apollo”

“The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse”


16.  Jacques Cazotte, The Devil in Love

The Devil in Love, a novella.

“Jacquez Cazotte,” an essay by Gerard de Nerval


17.  Franz Kafka, The Vulture

“The Hunger Artist”

“First Sorrow” [or “The Trapeze Artist”]

“The Vulture”

“A Common Confusion”

“Jackals and Arabs”

“The Great Wall of China”

“The City Coat of Arms”

“A Report to the Academy”

“Eleven Sons”



18.  Edgar Allan Poe, The Purloined Letter

“The Purloined Letter”

“Ms. Found in a Bottle”

“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”

“The Man in the Crowd”

“The Pit and the Pendulum”


19.  Leopoldo Lugones, The Pillar of Salt

“The Pillar of Salt”

“Grandmother Julieta”

“The Horses of Abdera”

“An Inexplicable Phenomenon”


“Rain of Fire: An Account of the Immolation of Gomorra”


20.  Rudyard Kipling, The Wish House

“The Wish House”

“A Sahib’s War”

“The Gardener”

“The Madonna of the Trenches”

“The Eye of Allah”


21.  The Thousand and One Nights, According to Galland

“Abdula, the Blind Beggar”

“Alladin’s Lamp”


22.  The Thousand and One Nights, According to Burton

“King Sinbad and His Falcon”

“The Adventures of Bululkia”

“The City of Brass”

“Tale of the Queen and the Serpent”

“Tale of the Husband and the Parrot”

“Tale of the Jewish Doctor”

“Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince”

“Tale of the Prince and the Ogres”

“Tale of the Wizir and the Wise Duban”

“The Fisherman and the Genii”


23.  Henry James, The Friends of the Friends

“The Friends of the Friends”

“The Abasement of the Northmores”

“Owen Wingrave”

“The Private Life”


24.  Voltaire, Micromegas

“The Black and the White”

“The Two Conforters”

“The History of the Travels of Scaramentado”

“Memnon the Philosopher”


“The Princess of Babylon”


25.  Charles Hinton, Scientific Romances

“A Plane World”

“What is the Fourth Dimension?”

“The Persian King”


26.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Great Stone Face

“Mr. Higginbotham’s Catastrophe”

“The Great Stone Face”

“Earth’s Holocaust”

“The Minister’s Black Veil”



27.  Lord Dunsany, The Country of Yann

“Where the Tides Ebb and Flow”

“The Sword and the Idol”


“Idle Days on the Yann”

“The Field”

“The Beggars”

“The Bureau d’Echange de Maux”

“A Night at an Inn”


28.  Saki, The Reticence of Lady Anne

“The Story-Teller”

“The Lumber Room”



“The Background” [translated as “El Marco” (or “The Frame”)]

“The Unrest Cure”

“The Interlopers”

“Quail Seed”

“The Peace of Mowsle Barton”

“The Open Window”

“The Reticence of Lady Anne”

“Sredni Vashtar”


29.  Russian Tales

“Lazarus”, Leonid Andreyev

“The Crocodile”, Fydor Doestoevsky

“The Death of Ivan Illitch”, Leo Tolstoy


30.  Argentinean Tales

“El Calamar Opta por su Tinta,” Adolfo Bioy Casares

“Yzur,” Leopoldo Lugones [See above.]

“A House Taken Over”, Julio Cortazar

“La Galera,” Manuel Mujica Láinez

“Los Objectos,” Silvina D’acampo

“El Profesor de Ajedrez,” Federico Peltzer

“Pudo Haberme Ocurrido,” Manuel Peyrou

“El Elegido,” Maria Esther Vasquez


31.  J.L. Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, New Stories of H. Bustos Domecq


32.  The Book of Dreams (A Collection of Recounted Dreams)

List of Authors: Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas, Alexandra David-Néel, Alfonso X, Alfred de Vigny, Aloysius Bertrand, Antonio Machado, Bernabé Cobo, D. F. Sarmiento, Eliseo Díaz, Francisco Acevedo, François Rabelais, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gastón Padilla, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Gottfried Keller, H. Desvignes Doolittle, Herbert Allen Giles, Herodotus, H. Garro, Horace, Ibrahim Zahim [Ibrahim Bin Adham], James G. Frazer, Jorge Alberto Ferrando, Jorge Luis Borges, José Ferrater Mora, José María Eça de Queiroz, Joseph Addison, Juan José Arreola, Lewis Carroll, Lao Tzu, Louis Aragon, Luigi Pirandello, Luis de Góngora, Mircea Eliade, Mohammad Mossadegh, Nemer ibn el Barud [no Wiki entry; see Amazon comment field], O. Henry, Otto von Bismarck, Paul Groussac, Plato, Plutarch, Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven, Raymond de Becker,  Rodericus Bartius, Roy Bartholomew, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sebastián de Covarrubias Orozco, Thornton Wilder, Lucretius, Tsao Hsue Kin [Cao Xueqin], Ward Hill Lamon, William Butler Yeats, Wu Cheng’en, Giovanni Papini, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Baudelaire


33.  Borges A to Z (A Compilation)

(Contents unknown.)

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