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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

April 25, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

WITH BORGES ON AN ORDINARY EVENING IN BUENOS AIRES: A Memoir by Willis Barnstone (University of Illinois Press: $27.50; 198 pp.) Readers with only a passing acquaintance with the work of Jorge Luis Borges know he loved to play word games. Less well known is Borges' willingness to speak with virtually any admirer, his fondness for long nighttime walks and his modesty--which, according to one editor, he wielded "like a club." These are some of the insights provided into the writer by fellow poet Willis Barnstone, an American comparative literature professor who was a friend and disciple of Borges for nearly two decades. Borges, as described in this book, seems a charming companion, always ready to talk and parry and entertain, but the same cannot be said of Barnstone; he's annoyingly obsequious about Borges, going so far as to say that almost every sentence Borges spoke should have "found itself on some page for the rest of us to savor." Much of "With Borges," as a result, is pedestrian, Barnstone being so awed by the master that he can't seem to tell an illuminating conversation from a dull one. There are high points, though, as when we learn (by osmosis more than Barnstone's analysis) how Borges' blindness affected his writing, and the origin of Borges' approach to the writing of verse. "Here in Argentina," he once told Barnstone, "no one reads poetry, so I'm free to do what I want."

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