Jorge Luis Borges Picks 33 of His Favorite Books to Start His Famous Library of Babel

borges-libray of babel

“Jorge Luis Borges 1951, by Grete Stern.” Licensed under Pub­lic Domain via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Over the years the rec­om­men­da­tion robots of Ama­zon and oth­er online ser­vices seem to be usurp­ing the role of the librar­i­an. I do not know if this is ulti­mate­ly good or bad—we may see in the future arti­fi­cial­ly intel­li­gent librar­i­ans emerge from the web, per­son­al lit­er­ary assis­tants with impec­ca­ble taste and sen­si­tiv­i­ty. But at present, I find some­thing lack­ing in online cura­tion cul­ti­vat­ed by algo­rithms. (I have a sim­i­lar nos­tal­gia for the bygone video store clerk.) Yes, cus­tomers who bought this book also bought oth­ers I might like, but what, tell me, would a gen­uine read­er rec­om­mend?

A read­er, say, like that arch read­er Jorge Luis Borges, “one of the most well read men in his­to­ry,” writes Grant Munroe at The Rum­pus. Part of the thrill of dis­cov­er­ing Borges resides in dis­cov­er­ing all of the books he loved, both real and imag­i­nary. The author always points to his sources. Borges, after all, “pre­sent­ed the genius of Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote [a sto­ry about writ­ing as scrupu­lous­ly faith­ful rewrit­ing] by first care­ful­ly enu­mer­at­ing each book found in Menard’s per­son­al library.” Borges him­self, some read­ers may know, wrote the bulk of the short sto­ries for which he’s known while work­ing at a library in Buenos Aires, a job he described in his 1970 essay “Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Notes” as “nine sol­id years of unhap­pi­ness.”

Although he dis­liked the bureau­crat­ic bore­dom of library work, Borges was bet­ter suit­ed than per­haps any­one for a cura­to­r­i­al role. Giv­en this rep­u­ta­tion, Borges was asked more than once to select his favorite nov­els and sto­ries for pub­lished antholo­gies. One such mul­ti-vol­ume project, titled Per­son­al Library, saw Borges select­ing 74 titles for an Argen­tine pub­lish­er between 1985 and his death in 1988. In anoth­er, Borges chose “a list of authors,” Mon­roe writes, “whose works were select­ed to fill 33 vol­umes in The Library of Babel, a 1979 Span­ish lan­guage anthol­o­gy of fan­tas­tic lit­er­a­ture edit­ed by Borges, named after his ear­li­er sto­ry by the same name.”

Mon­roe tracked down all of the titles Borges chose for the eclec­tic anthol­o­gy, “a fun, bril­liant, poly­glot col­lec­tion” that includes a great many of the author’s peren­ni­al favorites, many of which you’ll rec­og­nize from their men­tions in his fic­tion and essays. Below, we repro­duce Mon­roe’s recon­struc­tion of the 33 Library of Babel vol­umes, with links to those works avail­able free online. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many of these sto­ries are not avail­able in trans­la­tion. Oth­ers, such as those of Leon Bloy, have just become avail­able in Eng­lish since Mon­roe’s 2009 arti­cle. Thanks to his dili­gence, we can enjoy hav­ing Jorge Luis Borges as our per­son­al librar­i­an.

The Library of Babel

(Note: The titles of all sto­ries cur­rent­ly with­out a prop­er trans­la­tion into Eng­lish have been left in their orig­i­nal lan­guage.)

(Also note:  All sto­ries marked with [c] are still pro­tect­ed by US copy­right law.  Only res­i­dents of the UK and Aus­tralia can legal­ly click on the hyper­link pro­vid­ed.)

  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”

  1. Jorge Luis Borges, August 26, 1983

(All but the last three arti­cles are avail­able in Penguin’s Borges: The Col­lect­ed Fic­tions.)

“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

  1. Gus­tav Meyrink, Car­di­nal Napel­lus[ii]

“Der Kar­di­nal Napel­lus”
“J.H. Obere­its Besuch bei den Zeit­egeln”
“Der Vier Mond­brüder”

  1. Léon Bloy, Dis­agree­able Tales 

[All avail­able in a trans­la­tion pub­lished just this year]

“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”

  1. 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”

  1. 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”

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

(Used copies of the 1985 Oxford U. Press trans­la­tion of Cru­el Tales (the col­lec­tion in which these sto­ries are pub­lished) are avail­able online.)

“L’Aventure de Tsé-i-la”
“Le Con­vive des Dernières Fêtes”
“A Tor­ture By Hope” [trans. 1891]
“La Reine Ysabeau”
“Som­bre Réc­it Con­teur Plus Som­bre”

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

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

  1. Her­man Melville, Bartle­by the Scriven­er

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

  1. William Beck­ford, Vathek

Vathek, a novel­la.

  1. 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”

  1. Pu Songling, The Tiger Guest [iii]

“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”

  1. Arthur Machen, The Shin­ing Pyra­mid

“The Nov­el of the Black Seal”
“The Nov­el of the White Pow­der”
“The Shin­ing Pyra­mid”

  1. Robert Louis Steven­son, The Isle of Voic­es [iv]

“The Bot­tle Imp”
“The Isle of Voic­es”
“Thrawn Janet”

  1. 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” [c]

  1. Jacques Cazotte, The Dev­il in Love

(A new trans­la­tion is avail­able from Dedalus Press of the UK.)

The Dev­il in Love, a novel­la.
“Jacquez Cazotte,” an essay by Ger­ard de Ner­val

  1. Franz Kaf­ka, The Vul­ture

(While I’ve pro­vid­ed links to online trans­la­tions, they’re some­what sus­pect; prob­a­bly bet­ter to check the Com­plete Short Sto­ries.)

“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”

  1. 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”

  1. Leopol­do Lugones, The Pil­lar of Salt

(A new trans­la­tion of Lugones’ sto­ries, pub­lished by The Library of Latin Amer­i­ca, is avail­able at Powell’s.)

“The Pil­lar of Salt”
“Grand­moth­er Juli­eta”
“The Hors­es of Abdera”
“An Inex­plic­a­ble Phe­nom­e­non”
“Rain of Fire: An Account of the Immo­la­tion of Gomor­ra”

  1. Rud­yard Kipling, The Wish House

(All the copy­right­ed sto­ries are from Kipling’s Deb­its and Cred­its.  They should be avail­able in any thor­ough col­lec­tion of his short fic­tion.)

“The Wish House” [c]
“A Sahib’s War”
“The Gar­den­er” [c]
“The Madon­na of the Trench­es” [c]
“The Eye of Allah” [c]

  1. The Thou­sand and One Nights, Accord­ing to Gal­land

“Abdu­la, the Blind Beg­gar” [trans. 1811]
“Alladin’s Lamp” [ibid]

  1. 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”

  1. Hen­ry James, The Friends of the Friends

“The Friends of the Friends”
“The Abase­ment of the North­mores”
“Owen Wingrave”
“The Pri­vate Life”

  1. Voltaire, Micromegas

(A con­tem­po­rary trans­la­tion of these sto­ries is avail­able at Powell’s.)

“The Black and the White”
“The Two Con­forters”
“The His­to­ry of the Trav­els of Scara­men­ta­do”
“Mem­non the Philoso­pher”
“The Princess of Baby­lon”

  1. Charles Hin­ton, Sci­en­tif­ic Romances

“A Plane World”
“What is the Fourth Dimen­sion?”
“The Per­sian King”

  1. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Great Stone Face

“Mr. Higginbotham’s Cat­a­stro­phe”
“The Great Stone Face”
“Earth’s Holo­caust”
“The Minister’s Black Veil”

  1. 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”

  1. 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”

  1. Russ­ian Tales

“Lazarus,” Leonid Andreyev
“The Croc­o­dile,” Fydor Doesto­evsky
“The Death of Ivan Illitch,” Leo Tol­stoy

  1. Argen­tinean Tales

“El Cala­mar Opta por su Tin­ta,” Adol­fo Bioy Casares
“Yzur,” Leopol­do Leones [See above.]
“A House Tak­en Over,” Julio Cor­tazar
“La Galera,” Manuel Muji­ca Láinez
“Los Objec­tos,” Sylv­ina Decam­po
“El Pro­fe­sor de Aje­drez,” Fed­eri­co Peltzer
“Pudo Haberme Ocur­ri­do,” Manuel Pey­rou
“El Elegi­do,” Maria Esther Vasquez

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

(Avail­able at

  1. 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, 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

  1. Borges A to Z (A Com­pi­la­tion)

via The Rum­pus

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jorge Luis Borges Selects 74 Books for Your Per­son­al Library

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

Vis­it The Online Library of Babel: New Web Site Turns Borges’ “Library of Babel” Into a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty

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

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