The Martel-Harper Challenge is based on a list of books that the Canadian author Yann Martel has sent to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to read. I find this list fascinating, and I love the letters that Martel sends along with his book choices. He sends a new one every two weeks, which I think is a little unfair, as the Prime Minister is probably a busy man. But it doesn't really matter, since it doesn't seem like he even looks at them. He certainly does not bother to respond to the letters. But it gives the rest of us a good reason to stretch our horizons when it comes to reading. You can find more information on the website.
I honestly have no idea what made me choose Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, out of the entire list of books. I did not think that I had even heard of Borges, let alone read any of his stories. On that point, I was wrong.
Fictions is a book of short stories, fantasies mostly, but not the kind of fantasy that I am prone to read. They are flights of fancy, literary plays, that I found really enjoyable, even though half the time I did feel a little lost. Martel does a much better job describing this book in his letter to Stephen Harper, so you should read that if you want a better description than the one I can give. One of my favorite quotes from the letter is describing a quote from the book: "That’s intellectually droll, in a nerdy way." That quote basically sums up how I felt while reading the book. I would find something amusing, and feel kind of nerdy for "getting it", but at the same time I wasn't quite sure if I actually got it at all. Another good quote from the letter: "One of the games involved in Fictions is: do you get the references? If you do, you feel intelligent; if you don’t, no worries, it’s probably an invention, because much of the erudition in the book is invented." I found reading these stories very enjoyable, mainly for their subtle absurdity, but I am glad they were short stories only. I think that I would have gotten very bored reading an entire novel written in this way.
There was probably only one story that really made me stop and say "Woah" when I had finished it - "Three Versions of Judas". That's also the only story that Martel felt made an intellectually thought-provoking point. The other stories are thought-provoking (at least I found them to be), but it is hard to find the point. Overall, this book stretched my reading boundaries, and I think it is worth reading for that purpose. Also, I realized that I had already read at least two of these short stories in English classes in the past. Obviously English teachers find them thought-provoking as well.
This book is on one of the lists (maybe both) of the 1000 books you must read before you die. I used this combined list to find books to read for the 1% Well-Read Challenge. And because this book is translated from the Spanish, it qualifies for the Lost in Translation Challenge.