I was familiar with his name but until recently, had not read his work. He has written short stories, poems and at least one novel, but I am drawn to his lectures and essays. Born in 1899, Borges began writing in 1922. By the time he was twenty, he was familiar with the writings of philosophers Herbert Spencer, George Berkeley and David Hume. He also read the works of British and American writers (including Romantic poets), German Expressionist poets and the Greek Classics.

In 1914, the Borges family moved from Buenos Aires to Geneva, where Jorges L. Borges learned to speak and read French, Latin and German. Then, in 1921, the family moved back to Buenos Aires. Within two years, Borges was a prolific writer of Latin American poetry and short stories about Argentine life. Over the next ten years, Borges was one of the most recognized writers in Argentina’s literary history (Weinberger 527).  In 1932, Borges began to write non-fiction works, including essays, short biographies and book reviews. By 1936, he “was the best-known poet and essayist in Argentina” (529).

Jorges Luis Borges’s father had been chronically ill as an adult and he eventually went blind. The adult-onset blindness was hereditary and Borges suspected that he, too, would become blind as an adult. In 1938, his father died, leaving Borges as the patriarch of the family, which included his mother, his sister Norah, and Norah’s husband. Borges continued to write essays, but in 1941, he decided to devote most of his time to writing fiction. El jardín de los senderos que se bifurcan was published that year, and an expanded version was published in 1944 (535). He also translated stories from English into Spanish during this period.

By 1948, in addition to being known as one of Argenitina’s most prolific writers, he also became known as a “symbol of resistance to Perón” (540). As a result, Perón imprisoned Borges’s sister and put his mother under house arrest. Borges had always wanted to become the Director of the National Library. When Perón was overthrown in 1955, Borges achieved his goal. He wrote about the position, stating, “There I was, the center, in a way, of nine hundred books in various languages, but I found that I could barely make out the title pages and the spines” (475). Soon afterwards, Borges’s gradual blindness became exacerbated. Before long, his physician “forbade him to read and write” (541).

As mentioned previously, his adult-onset blindness was expected. However, he did retain some color recognition. He stated in a lecture, “I can still make out certain colors; I can still see blue and green. And yellow, in particular, has remained faithful to me” (Borges 474). Borges also mentioned that he could not see black or red. I believe that Jorges Luis Borges wrote beautifully. In his lecture on blindness, he further explained,

“…my father and my grandmother, …both died blind, blind, laughing, and brave, as I hope to die. They inherited many things ─ blindness, for example ─ but one does not inherit courage. I know that they were brave” (474).

Instead of considering his blindness as a profound loss, he viewed it differently. He explained, “I have lost the visible world, but now I am going to recover another, the world of my distant ancestors… from Germany, Denmark and the Low Countries, who conquered England…” (477). He began to study the history of the English language, the study of Anglo-Saxon, and did not allow his blindness to intimidate him.  From September 1961 to February 1962, Borges became a visiting professor at University of Texas at Austin. While there, he attended a course on Old English/Anglo-Saxon literature, taught by Professor Rudolph Willard (Seale).

Borges believed that what happened to him (his blindness) was an instrument. He viewed his blindness as a gift. He explained:

“[blindness] gave me Anglo-Saxon, it gave me some Scandinavian, it gave me a knowledge of medieval literature I didn’t know, it gave me the writing of various books, good or bad, but which justified the moment in which they were written. Moreover, blindness has made me feel surrounded by the kindness of others” (483).

Borges ended the lecture by saying that his gradual blindness was not a complete misfortune. Instead, it was a new beginning for him, enabling him to learn things that he, otherwise, may not have pursued. I am encouraged by Jorges Luis Borges’s steadfast devotion to words, the history of language and his optimism in the face of adversity.

The following sources were referenced in this essay:

Borges, Jorge L. The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986. Ed. Eliot Weinberger.    2nd ed. New York: Penguin Books, 2001. 473-545. Print.

Seale, Avrel. "Was Borges in Your Class?" The Alcalde 90.2 (2001): 62. Print.

I prefer to own books, although I download audio books from my library's website when there is a book I really want to "hear." When I buy a book, there is nothing like going to an independent bookstore. When I lived in Connecticut, I frequented my favorite bookstore,  R.J. Julia Booksellers. It is so much more than a place to buy books. The tall wooden bookshelves are lined with handwritten reviews on cardstock, tucked underneath many of the books.

There are two front entrances to the bookstore. One leads into the main part of the store, with a Café straight ahead. To the left of the entrance is a wooden staircase, which is lined with books. The other entrance brings one into the magazine, cookbook, animal-related and blank journal section, with an assortment of gifts displayed. This description does nothing to describe how cozy and beautiful the bookstore is inside.

This is an exterior shot of R.J. Julia Booksellers:

rj-julia-booksellers

The bookstore is in Madison, Connecticut which is on the shoreline of the Long Island Sound. Madison is my favorite Connecticut town! Often, when I go to Madison, I will drive past R.J Julia's. Not too far from the bookstore is Hammonassett Beach State Park. I spend time there, laptop computer in tow, where I sit on huge rocks and write while watching the waves crashing against the rocks.

Here is a picture that I took while sitting on one of those large rocks. After a while, I could taste salt on my lips!

Hammonnasset rocks

After spending time there, I drive to R.J. Julia Booksellers. When I am there, I choose the book I want to read, buy it, then head into the Café.

I always order the same thing: Cranberry-Walnut salad, which includes organic spring greens topped with goat cheese, cranberries, mandarin oranges and candied walnuts. With that, I drink a carbonated lemonade. I bring my meal onto the back patio, which is made of uneven bricks, surrounded by wrought iron tables and chairs. There is plenty of shade from large trees that envelop the patio. It is a beautiful setting. When I lived in Connecticut, I treated myself to this experience once a week, on Fridays. Yea, the ritual became expensive... so sometimes I bought a magazine, instead of a book.

Although R.J. Julia happens to be my FAVORITE bookstore in the United States, there is a close second. It is in the town of Hardwick, which is nestled within Vermont's "Northeast Kingdom."

The Galaxy Bookshop, an independent bookstore, is in an old bank building. The children's section of the bookstore is in the bank vault!

Galaxy Bookshop vault

The bookstore, like R.J. Julia's, is very cozy inside. The woodwork inside the store is unpainted and the windows remind me of those found in a Craftsman home. The hardwood floors throughout the store also contribute towards the cozy "at home" ambiance.

To find an independent bookstore near you, click here.

I am going to write something that you, my dear readers, may not need to know. I prefer baths... long, leisurely baths. (My bathtub is pictured below.) On those days that I don't have to hurry up and get out the door, I take my long, leisurely baths. When the water starts to cool, I let some of the water out of the tub and add more hot water. During these hour-long hot baths, I read.

My bathtub

My current bathtub read is titled,  "Vision in the Sky: New Haven's Early Years, 1638 - 1783," written by Myrna Kagan . It is actually a children's book, geared toward 10 years and up, and written for a reading audience of local New Haven school kids. It doesn't matter! It is a wonderful book and her writing style is such that I feel as if she is telling me a story ...while sitting on my couch! It is a cozy read.

Kagan refers to New Haven's streets and landmarks and writes about how they have evolved during the past 371 years. So, unless you are familiar with New Haven, you might miss part of the fascination!

I have been interested in New England Puritans for many years, but one mostly reads about the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony. So, it was intriguing to read about those who left Boston in the 1630's and migrated to New Haven to start "New Haven Colony." My hometown of Wallingford, CT was a part of New Haven Colony in those early years.

Here is an example of Kagan's relaxed writing style. In this paragraph, the author mentions my hometown:

"You might ask what, exactly, the English got in the way of land. They had bought, or practically had been given, the land that is now the towns of New Haven, East Haven, Branford, North Branford, North Haven, Wallingford, Cheshire, Hamden, Bethany, Woodbridge and Orange. Probably, you and many of your friends live in one of these towns. Wouldn't you agree that Mr. Eaton and his friends paid a very small sum for this great tract of land whose worth is so great today it cannot be calculated?" (Kagan 40-41).

Myrna Kagan can come to my house anytime to tell me stories of New England's early history. I think she is a magnificent writer! I will read more of her works.

Work Cited:

Kagan, Myrna. Vision in the Sky: New Haven's Early Years, 1638 - 1783. 2nd ed.   New Haven: Hillhouse Press, 2007. Print.

As mentioned in my "About Me" page, I am a college student, majoring in English with a Writing minor. Today, I registered for the Spring 2010 semester. I am nearing the end of a long journey. The Spring semester will be the last full time semester I will need to graduate. I will need to take one more Spanish class in the summer and then I will be done!! It's taken a long time, with many major life changes along the way. I began the degree in August 2004.

I have learned so many things while taking the courses required for the degree. Since a Baccalaureate degree is interdisciplinary, I have taken courses that I otherwise would not have chosen to take. One of the most unusual things that I learned in my Sociology class is that when you are at a restaurant, do not complain about your food and ask for it to be taken back to the kitchen to be fixed. There is a high probability that the food will be tampered with (read: spit on...) or worse!

When I heard that, I doubted whether it was true. But, studies (what studies... where can I read them) have been done to show that restaurant workers are often very unhappy in their job and will resent customer complaints. In their frustration, the food may be spit on if you send it back to the kitchen. I am still not convinced of this, as it seems to be a stereotype.... and I don't like to categorize groups of people based on an assumption. But, who knows? In any case, my husband and I make fresh meals and never go out to eat. OK... not entirely true... there is a Thai restaurant in our hometown that we go to once in a while. Their Fresh Spring Rolls (not fried) are delicious and filling.

Taking English literature and Writing classes has opened up a world of discovery for me. I have read Chaucer in Middle English and by the end of that semester, I was able to get through the  Canterbury Tales without too much difficulty. I became familiar with the vocabulary and actually enjoy the vocabulary quizzes. It was a fun challenge!

Through the years, I have discovered that I love nineteenth-century British literature. Jane Austen's fiction and Virginia Woolf's non-fiction essays are favorites. George Eliot's  Middlemarch was also one of my favorite stories, but I haven't read any of her other works. The plight of women prior to 1920 was brought to my attention based on the themes of the stories and essays that I have read. In particular, the Married Woman's Property Act of 1870 and how it affected women. I also became familiar with the Victorian servant class (and the classes within the servant class.)

I am merely skimming the surface in this blog post. My awareness and life perspective has changed immensely since beginning my English degree plan. In the writing classes that I have taken, I read the essays of E.B. White,  William Zinsser and Virginia Woolf. I admire their writing styles and hope to become as concise a writer as they were.

We have all heard of "Charlotte's Web" and those who haven't read the book have, most likely, seen the animated movie. The book was published on October 15, 1952. In honor of Wilbur, I refrained from eating bacon for breakfast 17 days ago! OK, so it's true that I didn't eat bacon on October 15th, but it had nothing to do with Wilbur. E.B. White also wrote the children's stories, "Trumpet of the Swan" and "Stuart Little." Although the three stories were originally created for his nieces and nephews, he was encouraged to have them published.

White was an essayist and long-time columnist at New Yorker magazine and Harper's between 1927 - 1943. He also revised his former professor William Strunk's book, "The Elements of Grammar." This little handbook is a staple in every writer's personal library. White emphasized clarity of expression as the key to good writing, saying that a few words used with purpose are better than many words that ramble on without a point.

As I began working toward my Bachelore degree in English, I took a Rhetoric/Writing class called "Editing, Usage, Style and Clarity." In this class, my professor introduced me to E.B. White's essays. Since then, I have been hooked! When I write essays, I try to use the concise styles of E.B. White and William Zinsser.

Here are some online essays written by E.B. White:

Once More to the Lake

Death of a Pig

Here is a short essay in which E.B. White defined "The Meaning of Democracy."

"We received a letter from the Writer's War Board the other day asking for a statement on "The Meaning of Democracy." It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure. Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don't in don't shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea that hasn't been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It is the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of the morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is."