“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – Jorge Luis Borges”
My favorite short story in the collection Ficciones, Borges’s exhaustive imagining of the fictional Tlön, “with its architecture and its playing cards, with the dread of its mythologies and the murmur of its languages, with its emperors and its seas, with its minerals and its birds and its fish, with its algebra and its fire, with its theological and metaphysical controversy,” and its languages that contain no nouns, but rather “impersonal verbs, modified by monosyllabic suffixes (or prefixes) with an adverbial value” is encyclopedic and still manages to mystify. Throughout the entire work, one feels as though one is reading something that is somehow forbidden and sinister, and yet that Borges is saying something altogether different than what is written on the page.
Four Quartets – T. S. Eliot
I favor “Burnt Norton” above all for its meditation upon time, and its gorgeous sounds and imagery: “my words echo / Thus, in your mind. / But to what purpose / Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves / I do not know.”
A Haunted House and Other Short Stories – Virginia Woolf
In particular, I am drawn to the short story “The Lady in the Looking-Glass,” with its mysterious narrator (who, after all, is this narrator on the sofa observing Isabella Tyson?) and its opening warning to the reader: “People should not leave looking-glasses hanging in their rooms any more than they should leave open cheque books or letters confessing some hideous crime.” The veiled identity of the narrator beautifully reflects the unknowable aspect of the self. This is some of Woolf’s finest writing.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Shelley’s masterful examination of the nature of evil is most eloquent in the Creature’s spoken lines, and especially in the closing passages, which are among the most beautiful I have ever read. I won’t spoil the ending for those who have not read it by including the quotation that moves me the most.
In Other Words – Jhumpa Lahiri
With my ongoing acquisition of Spanish, Lahiri’s bilingual reflection on learning to speak, think, and write in Italian resonated deeply. I read this book in two hours sitting in a Toronto coffee shop next door to the bookstore where I purchased it, utterly unable to escape its grasp.
Tamara Burross Grisanti is the founder and editor-in-chief of Coffin Bell Journal. Her poetry and prose appear or are forthcoming in The New Mexico Review, New World Writing, Former Cactus, Pussy Magic, and in various other journals. When she isn’t reading submissions or writing, she’s most likely making candles or steeping in an existential crisis.