Borges famously wrote:

"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 resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books."

In this spirit, The Modern Word sponsored a "Borgesian Book review" contest:

In the spirit of Borges' remark, write a book review of an imaginary book. (Between 500-1000 words.) The book may be from any time period, it may be fiction or non-fiction, and its author may be either an invention or an actual writer.

With over 80 entries, we received many wonderful submissions, and narrowing it down to a few was no easy task. There was a wide variety of books, from one-page pamphlets to vast sets of encyclopedias. Several people submitted some rather treacherous books – books as labyrinths to trap the reader or reviewer, books that exploded, or books that contained an infinite regression of other books. A few used their review to fashion small but apocalyptic science fiction stories; whereas Kyle Callahan's The Saddest Words of Tongue or Pen set free the sentient notion of World Peace. Aaron Matthews invented "background plotting" in Black Rain Stories, and Angela Epps suddenly decided halfway through her review that she was the reincarnation of the long-dead writer. Sabrina Abid reviewed the sixth Harry Potter book – clocking in at 1616 pages! – and Sabrina Peek submitted a generic book review. One book under review – Remembering Ramon, Remembering America – seemed so utterly realistic, I had to check Amazon.com to make sure that Mark Scheel wasn't trying to spoof the contest itself!

In the end, the judges decided on four top winners and ten honorable mentions. Evaluations were made based on originality and creativity, basic writing skill, and how the review fit in with the spirit of Borges' quotation and The Modern Word itself.

Winner's Shelf

1. Plethora: Lost Verse 1942-2002
By William Coraxe
Review by Ronald Flanagan
Note: Due to its special formatting, this pops up as a PDF.

2. Untitled
By Anonymous
Review by Benjamin Kline (also fictional)
Submission by Joshua Cohen

3. For third place, we have a tie:

The Collected Novels of Jorge Luis Borges
By Jorge Luis Borges
Review by Ben D. Anderson

The Wake's Wake
By Icaro Canto
Review by Wally Bubelis

Honorable Mentions:

Special prize for the entry that most divided the judges:

Unshellt Her
By Periwynklette
Review by Suzanne Nixon

The judges would like to single out these two entries on account of their unique ideas:

Space
By Everett Mull, Translated by Cecily Killen
Review by Allen Roberts

Scrabble
By Robert Elks
Review by Lucas Klein

Other Honorable Mentions:
(Listed alphabetically by submitting writer)

Dys
By Thomas Pynchon
Review by Dan Geddes

"Improbable Visions and Damned Women"
By Laurence Whittaker & Barbara Verwoerd
Review by Fred Johnston

Project Jupiter
By Anson Spanner
Review by Christy Leonardo

A Little Tale's Tale
By Jonathan Woodrow
Review by Yorgos Maragos

On the History That Never Was
By W. Dodson
Review by R. Stephen Sparks

The Future Is in Millions of Pieces: The Double Life of Birdie Hegarty
By Logan Gwinnet Roche
Review by Seamus Sweeney

And finally, a special mention for the strangest entry, in which the reviewer is also fictional (and seemingly losing his marbles):

Tapping, Tapping, Jumping
By Filigree Johnson
Review by Bertrand Fugue
Submission by Emmet Cole


The First Place winner will receive a package of five books as a prize: D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy, Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake, Matthew Derby's Super Flat Times, Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing, and the new centennial edition of George Orwell's 1984, with a foreword by Thomas Pynchon. (Prizes courtesy of Plume, Picador, Back Bay, Vintage, and Plume, respectively.)

The Second Place winner will recieve D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy and Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing.

One Third Place winner will receive a copy of The Buzzing, the other a copy of Lucky Wander Boy.

All winners, including honorable mentions, will remain on The Modern Word in perpetuity, at stable URLs, until the end of the world as we know it.

Your friendly neighborhood judges:

Richard Behrens
Andrew Duncan
Chris Gross
Allen B. Ruch
Richard Ryan