Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges
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really liked it
bookshelves: made-me-think, the-shorts, classics, literary-stuff, library-fantasy

I read "The Library of Babel," one of Jorge Luis Borges’ most famous stories, as part of the Ficciones collection. “The Library of Babel” posits a universe in the form of a library made out of connected hexagonal rooms, each room filled with books and the barest necessities for life. Each book contains 410 pages, with 40 lines of 80 letters each. There are 25 letters and punctuation marks in the alphabet. The Library contains every possible combination of those letters. Most of the books are complete gibberish, of course, but like the Infinite Monkey Theorem says, if you have enough monkeys banging away on typewriters for long enough (i.e., infinite time and infinite monkeys), eventually they’ll write Hamlet.

But life for the people dwelling in this library is profoundly frustrating, even depressing, since only a vanishingly small percentage of the books make any sense at all. Borges explores the ways that people might react to this, with several nods to religion and philosophy. There's not any real plot to this story; it feels more like an essay or an intellectual exercise ("How would people react if...").

Mathematicians have had a field day with this book’s concept, figuring out how many books such a library would contain. Per Wikipedia’s article on this story, there would be far more books in this library (1.956 x 10 to the 1,834,097th power) than there are thought to be atoms in the observable universe (10 to the 80th power). It's mind-boggling.

But this story is not so much about the numbers, as about what it would be like to live in this intriguing but highly frustrating world.

You can read a copy of this story here.
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Reading Progress

October 6, 2016 – Shelved
October 6, 2016 – Shelved as: made-me-think
October 6, 2016 – Shelved as: the-shorts
October 6, 2016 – Shelved as: classics
June, 2017 – Started Reading
June, 2017 – Finished Reading
July 2, 2018 – Shelved as: literary-stuff
July 22, 2019 – Shelved as: library-fantasy

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin Oh, I am going to have to read this! It's been ages since I've read Borges.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Kerstin wrote: "Oh, I am going to have to read this! It's been ages since I've read Borges."

It's worth reading just because it's such an interesting idea to contemplate. As stories go, though, I liked some of his others in the Ficciones collection better. My favorites were The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero and The South.


message 3: by Teresa (new)

Teresa I salute you guys! This would be way over my head.


message 4: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ wrote: "My favorites were The Theme of the Traitor and the Hero and The South. "

I have a collection of his stories, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, which I bought long ago and never really got into them. It was one of those impulse buys remembering reading 'The Garden of Forking Paths' in college. Except for 'The South', it has the other stories you highlighted.


message 5: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin Teresa wrote: "I salute you guys! This would be way over my head."

It is not something you read half-tired :)

I don't recall if he is part of the "magical realism" genre like Gabriel García Márquez, though his imagination is really unique.


message 6: by Czarny (new)

Czarny Pies Now you are ready to read the name of the Rose.


message 7: by Henry (last edited Jul 11, 2018 12:46PM) (new)

Henry Martin Nicely done. This story is also in Labyrinths a fine collection by Borges.


message 8: by Peter (new)

Peter @Czarny Pies: According to my understanding one of the main characters in "The name of the Rose" Jorge da Burgos is actually named after Jorge Borges


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Peter wrote: "@Czarny Pies: According to my understanding one of the main characters in "The name of the Rose" Jorge da Burgos is actually named after Jorge Borges"

Man, I completely missed that when I read The Name of the Rose ... probably because I wasn't familiar with Borges at the time. Cool to know!


message 10: by Best Eggs (new)

Best Eggs I want to read it now.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Petra X wrote: "I want to read it now."

Well, it’s short and free online, so no excuse not to!


Cecily A story designed to be the very definition of tantalising, as you eloquently demonstrate.


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