Imaginary Books

I recently started reading Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions (translated by Andrew Hurley) and I’m in love with the way he writes stories about stories, creating this feeling of a whole undiscovered world of impossible works of literature.

In the introduction to Ficciones, I think one of his best regarded collections, he writes:

It is a laborious madness and an impoverishing one, the madness of composing vast books—setting out in five hundred pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes. The better way to go about it is to pretend that those books already exist, and offer a summary, a commentary on them.

While I don’t know about the “perfectly related orally in five minutes” piece, this is certainly an appealing concept!

Another book with fictional books at it’s center is If on a winter’s night a traveller by Italo Calvino, but there he uses the mechanism to a completely different effect.

There’s also books mentioned in passing in other works, like all these books mentioned in Harry Potter

What are your favorite fictional books? Are there ones that particularly resonated with you? Or any interesting ways that the books were used in the more real books they were in?

1 Like

Yes! Borges is so good… I have the mega-collection of his fiction (this one) and I’ve maybe only read through like half of it, but I think I’ve read most of the ones from Ficciones. Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote are a couple that stood out.

I guess metafiction would be a good (if somewhat more general) term that describes this sort of thing. If on a winter’s night… clearly seems metafictive, about its own constructedness and the act of reading. Some of the Borges stories seem not so much meta, or maybe meta in a different way…more recursive or something.

If metafiction is about the constructedness of the story, its own fictive nature, the artifice of reading, etc., this sort of nested books-within-books device seems (at its best) more about density, compression, and evocation, demonstrating — as in that great quote you shared above — how a small bit of text can call forth various complex hypotheticals, including whole worlds!

Hmm as far as some specific books within books—