...For us Borges may be the ur-writer, but he thought of himself primarily as a reader; writing was just among the most intensely engaged ways of reading. In his essay “Literary Pleasure,” reprinted in ON WRITING (Penguin Classics, $15), one of three new Borges anthologies appearing this month under the general editorship of Suzanne Jill Levine, he says of his youthful reading — “the greatest literary joys I have experienced” — that he “believed everything, even errata and poor illustrations.” Reading was faith; writing a call-and-response form of prayer. To love a text: isn’t that just to find oneself helplessly casting about for something to say in return?
Which brings us back to worship. If serial rereading is one way to define worship, then one of Borges’s most revered gods was Robert Louis Stevenson. This even though in Borges’s time, Stevenson’s work was basically considered kid stuff. The first seven editions of the Norton Anthology of English Literature do not deign to include Stevenson, though he finally surfaces in the eighth edition, published in 2006. Borges not only commented on books that didn’t exist. He read books — pulpy and arcane alike — that few others bothered to see.
The Stevenson book Borges revisited most often was “The Wrecker,” a relatively obscure novel that Stevenson wrote with his stepson. Published in 1892, “The Wrecker” is a story of high seas adventure, high stakes speculation and high interest loans; it’s part mystery novel, part adventure novel, part mock Künstlerroman...
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