I’m cautiously dipping my toes into Penguin Modern Classics Selected non-fiction by Jorge Luis Borges. The jacket informs me that Borges is one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers and the scope of his writing certainly is vast. Borges was born in Argentina, 1899, died 1986; he was awarded academic honours and literary prizes, and became Director of the National Library of Buenos Aires for nearly 20 years. His earlier writing deals with authors no longer so popular, H G Wells, and in particular Wells’ famous story The Time Machine . Now despite modern advances in space exploration, we are still unable to travel through time, save through the imagination, and, as I have recently proved, via the dentist’s chair. I know that one’s personal perception of time is very much tied to present events and that time spent in the dentist’s chair elongates to infinite aeons. Does this qualify as time travel, I wonder? Conversely, we have all experienced time passing in a flash, usually due to experiences of heightened pleasure – ecstasy, even, brought about by sex, drugs or religion. Ecstasy seems to fall within these general parameters but maybe we should include the long-distance runner’s endorphins too.
So Jorge Luis Borges is providing plenty of food for thought as I wander through pages of articles on the classics, music, history, literature, politics, film and book reviews, – Borges writes about everyone and everything. Again, the cover blurb sums up the contents succinctly: Dizzying in scope and dazzling in execution …
On a much less elevated plane I have been greatly entertained by Craig Brown’s book One on One, in which he has cunningly linked one-hundred-and-one 1001 word pieces about famous peoples’ meetings (in the case of Adolf Hitler and John Scott-Ellis a literal collision), each meeting leading neatly on to the next incident. All the accounts are factual, with dates supplied . For instance, H .G. Wells “ has never met a more candid, fair and honest man than Josef Stalin” – the Kremlin, Moscow, July 22nd, 1934; this is followed by an account of Josef Stalin meeting Maxim Gorky – Moscow 1936 and preceded by President Theodore Roosevelt “finding it hard to get a word in edgeways with” H.G. Wells, at the White House, Washington DC, May 6th, 1906. It’s fascinating: these glimpses of the famous and the notorious. The most recent meetings are in 2005 and 2006, the earliest is 1876. We meet writers, actors, royalty, politicians – as I said, the famous and the infamous.
One on One consoled me after a particularly savage bout with the dentist. I lay groggily on my bed, chortling feebly as I picked my way through the daisy-chain pieces. I must say Chocolat was splendidly supportive throughout my recent ordeal. She parked herself on my chest, purring agreeably, for hours on end, and only returned to her garden sunbathing once I was promoted to the walking wounded. Greater love hath no cat.