Short Saturday: Murakami, Borges, and Babel

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

on seeing the 100% perfect girl

As you know, if you read the header above, I’ve been talking about Capote‘s A Christmas Memory like a broken radio. But from last week conversations in the comments, I just remembered that there was another short story that blew me away with the same magic! It was recommended by a friend IRL years ago and I read it online. I have probably read it a couple of times by now, which is unheard of for me.

It is none other than:

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami

which you can read in full online (thank you, steph tai). It is available at more sites, but I love that particular one, because of the illustration and the way the text is put together. Tips: if it appears too small on your browser, press Ctrl + (plus sign) until it gets to the right size.

Please read it too. You’ll fall in love with it. I promise.

This short story is included in his short story collection Elephant Vanishes, which I sadly do not own, and it is not available at my libraries. Another of his short in the collection called Sleep was recommended by Rob (link to Rob’s review), which he rated 5 stars, and is “about an insomniac wife who gets into a habit of reading literature all night”. That sounds amazing! I have to get hold of the book.

Last week, I roamed around my library and found this lovely anthology called In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians, Edited by Michael Cart.

In the StacksThe cover looks very plain, but really, shorts about libraries and librarians?! How enticing is that? And look at the big names inside! Italo Calvino, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Babel, Lorrie Moore, Francine Prose, Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, and more!

This morning I went straight to:

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

“The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings.”

The Library of Babel is a universe of books, the world where people are born and live, where every book ever written in every possible language resides.

Knowing how famous it was, I was quite surprised to find how short it was! However, while the premise can’t be more amazing, I found the writing was rather hard to get into. The translation maybe? Borges was Argentinian, it was translated from Spanish. It did feel like reminiscence of Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. It also bothered me that he mentioned alphabet has 22 letters. Does Spanish have only 22 letters?

It deserves a re-read. But for now, I’ll rate it

4 stars

Some of you may wonder what happened to My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. I had to return it to the library. (Library!) I’ll borrow it and continue again later, because there are more that I want to read. Isaac Babel‘s story is one of them. So when I saw In the Stacks also has his short (a different one) in it, I jumped into it.

The Public Library by Isaac Babel

With mere 3 pages long, this must be the shortest of shorts I’ve read so far. But it’s a nice complement after The Library of Babel. The Public Library shows a glimpse of a public library, its attendants and regular visitors.

“You can feel straightaway that the book reigns supreme here. All the people who work in the library have entered in communion with The Book, with life at second-hand, and have themselves become, as it were, a mere reflection of the living.”

I liked the writing, and I’ll watch out for more Babel in the future. (Just realized the author shares last name with Borges’s short… Coincidence?)

4 stars

I mentioned Lorrie Moore last week and am excited to find she also has a short in the anthology titled Community Life. I’ll save that for next week ;)

Okay, I’m gonna have breakfast now. I woke up, read the 2 shorts and wrote this post first thing in the morning. Argh, what am I doing?! I haven’t even had tea or something!

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

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28 thoughts on “Short Saturday: Murakami, Borges, and Babel”

  1. This is a short story collection I would definitley love. And it sounds like you’ve got a good book in your hands. I wonder if they have this book at the book exchange place down the road from my place…. Hmm..

    1. Michelle– What’s book exchange? Is it a second-hand bookshop? Just that ‘exchange’ gave me the impression that you exchange book with book (not with cash :).

      I just checked that the book was published in 2002. I guess it’s not that old, but I never knew about its existence before I stumbled upon it at the library. It’s probably a bit obscure.

      1. It’s something like a second hand bookstore, but they give you the choice to have the book at half the price if you bring in another book in exchange. =) I discovered it not too long ago, that’s where I got my copy of Middlesex.

  2. I would like very much to read Murakami’s short story online soon. I’m not sure the link works for me–but I’ll find it. The others sound interesting, too, but I have other short stories to read at home. Thanks for your reviews.

    Your blog looks terrific, and the new format is easy on the eyes.
    .-= [Suko´s last blog: Shanghai Girls Giveaway Winners] =-.

    1. Suko– Does the link really not work for you? Let me know if you find any great short stories!

      Thanks Suko. I grew to like this current theme too :)

    1. Great! I’m a tiny bit disappointed that the other link doesn’t work for you, but it’s cool as long as you can read it somewhere! :)

  3. Hi Mee,
    Firstly, I’m loving the look of In the Stacks. How can an anthology of stories related to libraries and librarians NOT be good, especially with such a line up of writers?

    Anyway, moving on and thank you for the mention. It’s a shame that Sleep no longer appears to be available to read online. Although I have the story collection in which this short is featured, I didn’t have it at the time that I read the story so I’m sure I’ve still got the electronic version stored around the place somewhere. I’ll have a look and send it on if I find it.

    As for Lorrie Moore, you know I’ve been reading her for a while now, but in all honesty I’ve not really connected with her. This all changed on Thursday though when I read Go Like This. It’s about a woman dying from cancer – so not very cheery – but the story is incredibly intense. Anyway I wrote about it in my reading journal so if you have time to skim that.

    That’s all for now. Continued success with your short story reading.
    .-= [Rob´s last blog: Reading Journal: Thursday 28th January 2010] =-.

    1. Hey Rob, actually I just double checked your link a minute ago to the Sleep story online and it is available! Was it off when you checked? I will grab it right now :). I wish I had the book though, because I don’t fancy reading stories electronically.

      Thanks for the recommendation for Go Like This. I’m not sure how I can read more of her stories yet, because my libraries don’t stock many of her books at all. But she seems to be included in many anthologies, so I’ll just have to scrounge them slowly.

    1. My last Murakami was Kafka on the Shore too. I have read 4 of his books. I’m gonna save one book of his per year so I don’t run out so quickly :)

    1. My friends IRL raved about his short stories (as opposed to his novels). I don’t know why I haven’t read more of them.

    1. So I read your comment this morning and because you shouted, I listened to it in the afternoon. So at this point, I have listened to it. To be honest, I don’t really get it. But I’ll bug you about it later.

      1. Oh come on, there’s lots of stories we read and don’t understand quickly (sometimes not at all). To be honest, when I read Murakami I usually just allow myself to get lost in the story not bother anymore whether I get it or not :) But anyway, don’t worry. I can’t say I understood this story in full as well. I think there are different ways to look at it, or interpret it. But I just thought that for something so short, it’s quite good (style-wise at least).

        Feel free to buzz (or bug) me anytime ;)
        .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Woolf in Winter: To the Lighthouse] =-.

        1. I repeated the ending like 5 times because I didn’t get it. Until I continued on and Paul Theroux explained it.. Oops..

          Mmm I haven’t read many Murakami short stories to compare. But with novel you have more time and space to not make reader completely go “huh?” at the end.

          1. Haha, yeah you have a point. Hey, you really have to listen to the entire podcast first. That’s how I do it. The discussions are often very enlightening and they tend to point something out that will make you focus on some part of the story when you listen to it again.

            Hmm… what should I recommend next? (trying to figure out which one you’ll like)… I guess the episode “Books and Blades” (Nabokov’s “My Russian Education”) or “From Russia With Love” (Sergei Dovlatov’s “The Colonel Says I Love You”).
            .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Woolf in Winter: To the Lighthouse] =-.

            1. Yea now I know. I’ll listen to the entire podcast first next time. Though I do like it more if I can understand a story without someone having to explain it to me. Okay, those two up next!

    1. I was confused too to be honest. Not because the topic was weird, but because… I don’t know what it was! Was it the translation? I just listened to another of his short this afternoon called The Gospel According to Mark, and I don’t think I get it.

      Yes you need to read Murakami. He’s so universal. I can talk about his books to everybody. Even to people who are not big readers.

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