The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

by Lydia Davis

Paperback, 2010

Call number




Picador (2010), Edition: 7th, 752 pages


A single-volume compilation of the National Book Award finalist's short stories includes "Break it Down" and "Varieties of Disturbance."

Media reviews

Davis approaches the short-story form with jazzy experimentation, tinkering with lists, circumlocutions, even interviews where the questions have been creepily edited out. You don’t work your way across this mesa-sized collection so much as pogo-stick about, plunging in wherever the springs meet the page.
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With the publication of this big book... Davis might well receive the kind of notice she's long been due. She is the funniest writer I know; the unique pleasure of her wit resides in its being both mordant and beautifully sorrowful

User reviews

LibraryThing member absurdeist
Jorge Luis Borges wrote summary abstracts of novels that don't exist. Samuel Beckett wrote novel-abstracts that do. Lydia Davis writes abstracts of an abstract's abstract. Some push ten to fifteen pages, and can be good, like "Thyroid Diary". Anybody who's ever had thyroid issues will particularly enjoy it. If only the bulk of her stories were that long and that good. But most average one to two pages, and are not very good, if occasionally clever and mildly amusing they be -- the way Bob Saget hosting America's Funniest Home Videos was clever and mildly amusing. "Mown Lawn" is moderately amusing and linguistically clever, but it's an exception to the rule in her collected stories. Many of her "stories" are paragraphs. Quite a few are single sentences, single lines. Lydia Davis is a molecular scientist of a writer conducting experiments at the sub-atomic level of prose. She's too minimal to be a minimalist, and too miniscule to be a miniaturist.

These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:

The above italicized ten words and colon are one such story-experiment, "Certain Knowledge from Herodotus," quoted in its entirety. Naturally I'd of preferred quoting only an excerpt from her story rather than the whole thing, but how?

No matter what the erudite tastemakers of contemporary literary fiction have to gush about Lydia Davis, even awarding her recently the Man Booker International Prize (one on the Booker panel, in fact, beamed about her "texts" and "apophthegms" without a smidgeon of irony), I'd rather read whatever "certain knowledge from Herodotus" I could glean myself straight from The Histories, rather than another text or apophthegm by this overly lauded, alleged genius of the short form.

These are the facts about the fishy abstracts in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis.
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LibraryThing member aaronbaron
A mixed bag of little gems, some flawed and cracked, others brilliant, all of them interesting. Davis is fiercely intellectual but never pedantic; within the stictly delimited space of her very short stories she can flit between erudite French wordplay and poignant commentary about being human. She has a keen sense of humor, a cultured ear, and a sharp eye. She can say more and do more in six paragraphs than most writers can achieve in a thick novel. This book made me want to write fiction again, if you can call this fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member MichaelDC
One of the best collections of short stories I've read. That's all I can say.

Update 2/25/12--Ha, in my earlier review, I left out a key word: best. I was correct in that it was indeed a collection of short stories.
LibraryThing member rmckeown
Ion Trewin, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, explains the idea behind the Booker Prizes on the official website. He wrote, "From the very beginning of what was originally called the Booker Prize there was just one criterion - the prize would be for 'the best novel in the opinion of the judges'. The aim was to increase the reading of quality fiction and ... The real success will be a significant increase in the sales of the winning book.” As my readers know I have mentioned several times, the Booker prize represents the best fiction written in English today since 1969. The International prize began in 2004 and is awarded every other year – not for an individual title, but for a body of work. The winners include Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, and American novelist, Philip Roth. The winner for 2013 is another American, short story writer Lydia Davis.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis total 298 on well over 700 pages. Some of the stories are as short as a few lines, which evidences her creativity and desire to break new ground in the venerable genre stretching back well over 100 years. Not a book to be read in a sitting, but rather wandered through like a museum, stopping here and there to take in a particularly artful piece.

I hardly read any of the stories I did not like, but rather I sipped and enjoyed even the shortest pieces like a glass of fine Bordeaux. Here is an example of one of these short-short stories, titled “The Fish Tank,” “I star at four fish in a tank in the supermarket. They are swimming in parallel formation against a small current created by a jet of water, and they are opening their mouths and staring off into the distance with the one eye, each, that I can see. As I watch them through the class, thinking how fresh they would be to eat, still alive now, and calculating whether I might buy one to cook for dinner, I also see, as though behind or through them, a larger, shadowy form darkening their tank, what there is of me on the glass, their predator” (172).

Most of the stories deal with ordinary people facing life’s difficulties and joys, getting by day to day. Others seem to be sketches prepared while outlining a story. Here is the beginning of “The Center of the Story”: A woman has written a story that has a hurricane in it, and a hurricane usually promises to be interesting. But in this story the hurricane threatens the city without actually striking it. The story is flat and eben, just as the earth seems flat and even when a hurricane is advancing over it, and if she were to show it to a friend, the friend would probably say that, unlike a hurricane, this story has no center” (173).

But my favorite is “French Lesson I: Le Meurtre”: “See the vaches ambling up the hill, head to rump, head to rump. Learn what a vache is. A vache is milked in the morning, and milked again in the evening, twitching her dung-soaked tail, her head in a stanchion” (103). Clever and creative.

I have always loved short stories, and The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis has shot to the top of my favorites list. Take a sip of Lydia Davis’ work, and you will have many hours of enjoyment. 5 stars
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LibraryThing member ddonahue
See article LRB 22JUL 2010 by Clancy Martin
LibraryThing member saskreader
I am so thankful I happened upon a review of Lydia Davis and that I picked up this book on a whim. I love, love, love these stories! I have never read anything written in a style quite like hers. The stories in this collection range from less than one page long to dozens of pages long, and even though they are short, I was able to read only 3 or 4 in one sitting so as to savour and understand as much as I could. Some stories are symbolic of a much deeper meaning and some, I think, are simply just a story told in a unique way. I like her run-on yet coherent style. I like how each story is a little glimpse into a character's inner life, and how they evoke such interesting feelings in me.… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This is a really unusual collection of short stories. Lydia Davis plays with structure in a manner I have not seen before. I saw her speak as part of the Rochester Arts & Lecture Series 2010-2011, and was powerfully struck by her intellect and very dry wit. These qualities come through in her stories. She is a master of minutiae, able to make a pwerful statement in as little as 2-3 sentences. This is a great collection to pick up and put down in order to savor the material over time.… (more)
LibraryThing member stef7sa
Many of these "stories" are more like short observations and, to me, not very special ones at that. A few do make you smile, most leave me indifferent. Not my cup of tea.
LibraryThing member mausergem
Lydia Davis is a short story writer. She was awarded the Man Booker International prize in 2013.

She from her writing seems to be a middle aged woman recently divorced with identity issues. Her writing is easy going but story after story on similar themes of loneliness are tedious.

I left this book a quarter way in and I will congratulate anyone who can read Lydia Davis at one go. These stories can be consumed only in short bursts according to me.
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LibraryThing member thatotter
These stories are long on ideas and word choice, and they're short on plot. Her writing reminded me of a lot of things at different points, from Amy Hempel to Borges. Occasionally I'd read something that just struck me as so hilarious or so true, but sometimes I felt bored or uninterested. Overall, though, I approve.

The physical volume is very handsome--I wish there were more books that looked like this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member jon1lambert
I read a wonderful review of this collection and the reviewer was right. I've only read two or three but they are just the type of short story I like. Trust the reviewer.




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