Number 7 on my list of the ten books left off the 100 best of the 20th century list:
Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
Itís hard to recommend one Borges book as the man never wrote anything but short stories and essays, all of which have been collected in various combinations. Likewise it is hard to recommend just one story as the shiniest diamond on the heap as theyíre all great jewels of literature and for wildly different reasons. I picked Labyrinths mainly because itís the one I have. And itís the one I have because it contains my favorite Borges story, Tlon, Uqbar, Orbus Tertius.
The space needed to adequately summarize this story would be longer than the story itself. And thatís what is so great about Borges. His concision is razor sharp and he manages, somehow to do more in one five page story than most novelists can do with a whole trilogy. In one paragraph heíll reference some obscure Brazilian custom, a fifteenth century alchemist, Don Quixote, a Sufi parable and a popular movie from the nineteen twenties without it seeming the least bit claustrophobic or pretentious. He can casually discuss the merits of Gnostic Eschatology as if it were common practice to run excerpts from Second Century Coptic texts in the lifestyle section of the Sunday paper.
Labyrinths also contains a selection of great essays and parables. Reading them is like reading some super dense library from the future, written by someone who was never told that everything worth saying has already been said.
Also, Borges is the reason I want to be a librarian, as he was, in the hope that I can maybe just get a glimpse inside the headspace of someone who wrote such profound stories.