"You are going to the moon never to come back to earth. You can take one book and one film with you. Choose a fiction or non-fiction book and a fiction or non-fiction movie for your trip. Write a report/review about each."
If I could only bring one movie and one book with me to read forever, I would want something that is enjoyable, layered and fascinating, but not frustratingly dense. Sometimes I think that scenario is the only way I’ll ever get through Crime and Punishment, a book I’ve picked up and stopped reading at the same point 4 different times in my life. I wouldn’t want it to be so easy or mindless that I bore of it easily.
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges would be the perfect book for just such an adventure. Ficciones is a collection of short stories, but each one feels like a novel. In a good way! They’re very dense, and take a long time to read. They’re wordy, and descriptive, and at times mind-boggling. They’re also amusing, fascinating, and beautiful.
Borges is the most visual writer I’ve ever encountered. Even though the idea of filming any of his stories would be impossible, he paints vivid pictures. He leaves out most of the descriptive words and phrases that authors use. He rarely describes what someone looks like, what colors you see, or even where we are in time or space. He gives us these worlds though that only exist in his head but are immediately familiar. They're our thoughts and dreams. They're every weird thought you ever had fleshed out and given meaning.
I believe Borges may have invented the twist ending. Maybe it technically existed before he did, no one could have done it better than he. In ‘The Lottery of Babylon,' he writes a story about the beginnings of a lottery in a community. It starts off as a normal lottery would, where people participate and one person wins money. It goes on to include punishments for non-winners, mandatory drawings for all community members, separate rules for the elite. Ultimately you realize he’s describing the meaning of life- the hand we’re all dealt at birth. The slow reveal and unusual way of looking at this issue is amazing. I admire any writer who attempts to tackle this issue- Vonnegut being another favorite of mine. What Vonnegut does in a novel though, Borges does in about 5 pages. Those 5 pages though, take you about a week to fully comprehend.
Borges, who wrote these stories in the 1930’s and 40’s, was also somewhat prescient. Many believe that his story “The Garden of Forking Paths” to be a precursor to hyperlinks on web pages, he describes going down the rabbit hole of the internet decades before the internet existed.
The most amazing story in the book to me, is “The Library of Babel.” In this, Borges describes a library that contains every book there ever was and ever will be. Each book in this infinite library consists of 410 pages. Every combination of letters and spacing is represented, so at some point, every book ever written would be in this library. It seems incomprehensible at first, but even now as I write, I think- this would be in that library. There’s no combination of words or sentences that couldn’t exist there.
He creates entire universes in stories that are a few pages long. He has made false histories of the world, his own languages and countries. The theme of questioning the world around me has come up a lot recently. I’m not one to take anything at face value, and I have always believed that there are things in the world beyond any human’s capability to understand it. Borges takes this same feeling and does something about it. He makes up his own answers to these questions.
Film is a little trickier. I love movies. I was a film major because I wanted to make them. The movies I watch over and over again though, are not necessarily the one I want to be stuck with for all time. I can watch Mean Girls or The Devil Wears Prada anytime I’m bored at home or sick or cleaning. However, I would have to go with a movie that also made it into my Top Ten list- It’s A Disaster.
I believe this movie was made for me, and I don’t expect anyone else to enjoy it as much as I do, nor understand why I love it so much. I’ve watched it over and over again, but I don’t put it on as a distraction. I’ve put it on for a new person each time, hoping they’ll have the same reaction I do. They never really do. They like it, but they don’t love it. Love it.
This movie starts off at a ‘friends brunch.’ A ritual gathering of 3 couples and one single woman who seems to have an ever changing roster of boyfriends to join her. It quickly takes a turn into sci fi when they discover that a bomb has gone off, and they will most likely all be dead in a very short amount of time. Some react with shock, some go a little crazy, some start spouting conspiracy theories. It felt like exactly what would happen if I was trapped with my friends facing the apocalypse.
No one has a plan, no one knows what to do. I have a go bag, but no plan. I don’t even know what’s in or where the go bag is- I had nothing to do with it. For someone extremely worried and frequently thinking about the end of the world, I am NOT prepared for it in any way emotionally or physically.
The characters in It’s A Disaster are still bickering and harping on petty issues right up to the end. They're arguing about what to do and who to listen to. One couple breaks up with about an hour left to live. It shows a strange combination of survival instinct and total resignation that must live within all of us.
I’ve recently been dealing with a strange and unexpected death in my extended family, and I’ve never been more confused in my life. I don’t want to talk about it, but then I can’t shut up. I want to know more about the accident, but then I can’t read more than an article or two about it. I went to their house to sit shiva and would go from laughing to near tears from second to second. Everyone else was exactly the same way.
Our tiny human brains are not able to hold onto too many thoughts at once. When faced with something bigger than us, an innumerable amount of ideas just ping pong around in our brains. Occasionally one hits the vocal center and we say it out loud, but that doesn't mean that’s the right one or even the one we really feel at that moment. It's just what makes it way out.
Looking at both together, a normal person probably wouldn't see much overlap. One is kind of a goofy comedy while the other is a renowned piece of literature. The connections are there though. Themes about life and death, mysteries of the world, the human capacity to feel and understand are present in both. They take issues bigger than any one person, but make them accessible and understandable on a small scale. They're both thoughtful and well done, every detail paid attention to. I would be happy to be stuck with either of them for the rest of my life.