Nash comes across mostly as I’d always imagined him — by far the most decent of CSNY as a person, though not overburdened with a sense of modesty — I lost count of the times he praised the insight and beauty to be found in his own songs.
The story he has to tell about his own life is so exactly the same as his contemporaries that one could almost write it without actually knowing anything about him. The impoverished childhood (with every “grim up North” cliche imaginable, right down to his dad going to prison and saying “you’re the man of the house now”), copying the Everly Brothers with his best mate at school, pop stardom with fun pop songs, taking dope and wanting to grow as an artist, leaving the schoolmates and first wife behind, hanging out in California with other “serious artists”, everyone taking too much cocaine and being a complete arsehole to each other, then second marriage and stability.
But where, for example, Ray Davies’ autobiography manages to capture much the same sequence of events with wit and insight, Nash’s book reads like it was written by a bright fifteen-year-old, and is all simple declarative sentences. The only real colour or character in the writing comes when one cringes at the repeated hippyisms (money is always “bread”, dope smoking is always “smokin’ it”, and so on).
The book is no doubt useful for discovering more about Nash’s life, but there’s little deep insight into the work, or into the events that he lived through. Disappointing.
It’s almost impossible to say anything sensible about Borges in the short confines of a GoodReads review (I plan to write a longer piece, to be called “Andrew Hickey, Author of Borges”, on my blog at some point…)
Suffice to say that without Borges, literature — and thought itself — would have been unimaginably different after 1940 or so. Long before I grew aware who Borges was in my late teens, I was already living in an imaginative world Borges created.
Borges is that rare thing — a “literary” writer who is an unalloyed pleasure to read. In fact, the pleasures of reading Borges are often on the lowest level imaginable — Borges sometimes triggers the same part of my brain that responds to roleplaying sourcebooks — though more often the pleasure one gets is more akin to that of a good late-Victorian or Edwardian Gothic story by M.R. James, Dunsany, or Machen.
But Borges’ concerns are more philosophical than theirs, and consequently his work has much more bite. I don’t think it an exaggeration to say he is to literature what Russell was to philosophy, Godel was to maths, or Welles to film.
Certainly the concerns in the first half of this short book are very similar to theirs. In that half (which contains at least four of the finest stories ever written — Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius; Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote; The Library of Babel; and The Garden of Forking Paths) Borges mostly uses the form of the literary essay, but writing about nonexistent books and authors, to deal with questions of authorship, the distinction between imagination and reality, and the distinction between signifier and signified:
“The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a résumé, a commentary. Thus proceeded Carlyle in Sartor Resartus. Thus Butler in The Fair Haven. These are works which suffer the imperfection of being themselves books, and of being no less tautological than the others. More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.”
The second half is, to my mind, weaker (though this is a relative, not an absolute, weakness). In this, Borges mostly writes more conventional stories, all based around themes of sacrifice and betrayal, but also with the idea that all people are really one. If we are all really one, then was Judas also Jesus? This, and variants (was Brutus also Caesar?) is the theme of the second half, explicitly in Three Versions of Judas and implicitly in the other stories. To me, this is a less interesting question than those dealt with in the first half, and the more straightforward style less interesting than that of the essays, but objectively there’s still much of value in there.