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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis Paperback – 4 Aug 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0241950031
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241950036
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 246,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Big rejoicing: Lydia Davis has won the Man Booker International prize. Never did a book award deliver such a true match-winning punch. Best of all, a new audience will read her now and find her wit, her vigour and rigour, her funniness, her thoughtfulness, and the precision of form, which mark Davis out as unique.

Daring, excitingly intelligent and often wildly comic [she] reminds you, in a world that likes to bandy its words about, what words such as economy, precision and originality really mean. This is a writer as mighty as Kafka, as subtle as Flaubert and as epoch-making, in her own way, as Proust.

A two-liner from Davis, or a seemingly throwaway paragraph, will haunt. What looks like a game will open to deep seriousness; what looks like philosophy will reveal playfulness, tragicomedy, ordinariness; what looks like ordinariness will ask you to look again at Davis's writing. In its acuteness, it always asks attentiveness, and it repays this by opening up to its reader like possibility, or like a bush covered in flowerheads.

She's a joy. There's no writer quite like her.

(Ali Smith)

About the Author

Lydia Davis is the author of one novel and seven story collections, the most recent of which was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award. She was named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her fiction and her translations of modern French writers, including Blanchot and Proust.

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Paul Bowes TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Sept. 2010
Format: Hardcover
'The Collected Stories' contains all the stories from the separate volumes 'Break It Down' (1986), 'Almost No Memory' (1997), 'Samuel Johnson Is Indignant' (2001) and 'Varieties of Disturbance' (2007) - nearly two hundred stories in all. Almost all of them are rather short, and some take the form of a single sentence or short paragraph: a form that more closely resembles the aphorism than the short story as traditionally conceived.

Lydia Davis has become known in some spheres mainly for these extreme condensations, but to suggest that they are typical of the texts collected here would be a serious distortion. Davis can work perfectly well at much greater length - she is the author of a highly regarded novel - and the ultra-short pieces here are in the end as typical or atypical as the handful of conventionally longer pieces ('Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality' runs to nearly 50 pages, but is by far the longest story here: only a small number exceed a dozen pages). More genuinely characteristic are texts of two to three pages: still very short, but for a writer concerned with economy of means and concision of expression, surprisingly ample spaces in which to delineate character or explore an idea.

Davis is sometimes cited as a leading American postmodernist writer, but in her case the term 'postmodernist' seems more than usually inadequate. Certainly one can see the influence of Beckett, Kafka, and Proust (whom Davis has translated); and there are stylistic similarities to Donald Barthelme and Walter Abish.
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66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Jaimie Johansson on 9 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
Every bad review I've ever read has involved a litany of statements such as 'this is not a short story!', 'this doesn't do what a book is supposed to do!'! What is a book 'supposed' to do? Instruct and delight? Have a beginning, middle and end? Welcome to the 21st (and 20th!) century.

So yes, her stories are 'tedious, obsessive ramblings pointlessly replay the mundane' -- that's the point, and that's why they're so good. Davis very well knows what a story is, what a book is 'supposed' --traditionally-- to do: she's translated Proust. What these stories 'do' is problematise the idea of literary form and in doing so present a complete internal portrait. By 'replaying' the mundane, Davis creates art. Of course repetition -- both of the mundane and as a formal device -- highlights and interrogates what it repeats. Davis fits human emotion into the emotionless: complaint letters, 'Letter to a Funeral Parlor', academic studies, 'We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters From a Class of Fourth-Graders' and 'Helen and Vi: A Study in Health and Vitality', lists, and other 'mundane' forms. Her stories are linguistically mathematical, many exploring the permuatations of reaction, experience, and situations: 'When he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband'; or ways of being, creation of the self or selves: 'Shall I know the classics, like K.? Shall I write letters by hand, like B.? Shall I write 'Dearest Both,' like C.?'

But unlike many 'experimental writers', Davis' prose is accessible. Perhaps this is what frustrates her critics: the extreme accessibility, repetitive language, simple vocabulary.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 7 Aug. 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a lovely book, nice and thick (733 pages of text), and with countless short pieces which you can dip and out of. For while many of the stories are a few pages long, quite a few of them are just a paragraph or two, or even just a few lines, expressing depth with concision as with a Japanese Haiku.

The stories cover a vast range of subjects and it would be impossible to even begin to categorise them. A few samples might cover short portraits of a relationship, jury service, motorcycling, journeys, music and just about anything else you'd like to think of - its probably somewhere in there. The stories all share a rather quirky outlook on life which challenges the customary way of looking at things.

As I read this collection, I realised that you have to read several at a time in order to appreciate Lydia's unique view on life. She has the ability to look at things from a new angle so that her readers suddenly see the strangeness of things they usually take for granted.

All Lydia's stories stimulate reflection in oen way or another. They can't be taken at face value, but have to be reflected on. The blanks have to be filled in. And yet, despite the brevity of many of the stories, they are not poetry. They are precise, elegant pieces, each of which has at least a tiny narrative flow to them which qualifies them as stories and nothing more pretentious.

I am pleased to have this book on my bedside table and will dip in and out of it for some time to come. It would make a great gift for any reader as I'm sure anyone would find something of interest in it.
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