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Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,287 Ratings  ·  111 Reviews
From one of our most imaginative and inventive writers, a crystalline collection of perfectly modulated, sometimes harrowing and often hilarious investigations into the multifaceted ways in which human beings perceive each other and themselves. A couple suspects their friends think them boring; a woman resolves to see herself as nothing but then concludes she's set too hig ...more
Paperback, 201 pages
Published September 1st 2002 by Picador (first published 2001)
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Gilead by Marilynne RobinsonThree Strong Women by Marie NDiayeSamuel Johnson Is Indignant by Lydia DavisThe Cows by Lydia DavisInfidelities by Josip Novakovich
2013 Man Booker International Finalists
3rd out of 97 books — 11 voters
Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeJane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëWuthering Heights by Emily BrontëMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Great Women Authors
148th out of 752 books — 191 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,704)
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Dec 16, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it
I think plot can be an overrated thing. I suspect Lydia Davis might share this sentiment.

Looking through some of the reviews for the book from people I know on the major criticism seems to be the super short stories. For example this one:

that Scotland has so few trees.

I don't know exactly what this story 'means' but I love that she thinks it's a self-contained piece. yeah it's only a sentence but I get more of a kick out of it than a lot of literary st
MJ Nicholls
May 03, 2014 MJ Nicholls rated it it was amazing
The stories of Lydia Davis differ from most modern short stories in that each short or longish tale is distinct and memorable, taps into several emotions at once, and lends itself to an enlightened or enlightening re- or re-reread. Flitting between profound seriousness and intellectual impishness, Davis has that unique tone all writers of the short form seek and spend far too long attempting to cultivate (looking at thou, George Saunders). Whether indulging in language games or light whimsy, as ...more
Apr 07, 2014 notgettingenough rated it really liked it
Ensconced, as I am right now, in short stories, one could scarcely imagine a greater contrast with Alice Munro. This is not just because Davis does rather stretch – or should I say shrink – the boundaries of what a short story is. Take this, for example:

Certain Knowledge from Herodotus

These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:

That’s it, the entire enchilada. It made me google Herodotus, fish and Nile, which sent me to this rather wonderful quotation:

There are many ways how to hunt crocodile
Justin Evans
Aug 05, 2014 Justin Evans rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'll save you another review about how Lydia Davis is good when she's writing really short stories that break the rules/writing standard short stories that are really emotionally affecting, and bad when she's writing standard short stories that are really emotionally affecting/writing really short stories that break the rules. Suffice it to say, she does both of these things fairly well.

That aside, I have no idea what all the hype is about. Having read all of one book by Davis and two by Knausg
Sep 28, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing
I first learned about Lydia Davis from Michael Silverblatt's Bookworm radio show (podcasts available online here:, changed my life here in lonely Japan with no books to read and no one to talk to about books), and he said that she ought to be read at the rate she appears in the little mags, one short piece per every few weeks, and I agree. This is a writer to be savoured. That hasn't stopped me from gorging myself on her writing for the last couple of months t ...more
Jul 13, 2009 David rated it it was ok
My overall rating comes in at 2.5 stars. Here's why:

Begin with the not completely irrelevant observation that I plunked down $17 to buy my copy of this book, having been seduced at least in part by McSweeney's hype. Seventeen dollars.

Next, observe that here are some of the book's contents: (Note that each page is quoted in its entirety.)*

These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:

that Scotland has so few trees.

Apr 15, 2009 Weinz rated it liked it
Oh Lydia, you lured me. You teased me with the two or three short story gems that I happened to read first. That bar was set high and I had only high hopes for the future. My heart was won over but alas, big plans for our reader/writer love affair were dashed and destroyed as I read on and the stories went dooooownhill.

Fear not dear Ms. Davis, I will not give up on you. Our affair is not over yet Lyds, I have Varieties of Disturbances and will give you another chance. Be warned dear one, no mor
Oct 02, 2007 Summer rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: flash fictionistas
A joy to read. Sweet like dried fruit, not candy. No, really. While many authors process reality so it's delectable and you want to suck on the words all day, Lydia Davis has a way of preserving the texture of a single moment or entire relationship so it's nummy, chewy, and yet immediately recognizable for what it was while fresh, alive, or being lived.
I started reading this as if I had found my muse, a writer's voice who said the things I'd always been urged to say, but couldn't say all that well. Isn't that a sign of great writing -- when someone else is saying what you wish you could? Short, tight, brilliant constellations of words. I was mesmerized, and, at the same time, thought maybe the moment had come to finally pick up my own pen. Driving home from the library I was forming my first Davis-inspired lines. But something must have happen ...more
Trever Polak
A return to form for Davis after the disappointing (to me, at least) Almost No Memory. I always end up skipping the longest story in Davis's collections because they're almost never as good as any of the other ones; in this case I skipped "In A Northern Country". I'll probably buy her Collected Stories anyway, so I can always go back and reread it. This is probably a good place to start if you've never read Davis before, also.
Nathan Long
There's a thin line between real literary innovation and cheap gimmicks. Lydia Davis dances on it in a performance to rival Philippe Petit's. When she's good, she's sharp, funny interesting and forward thinking. She writes stories like "Almost Over: Separate Bedrooms" which is as follows:
They have moved into separate bedrooms now. That might she dreams she is holding him in her arms. He dreams he is having dinner with Ben Johnson.
which conveys a feeling perfectly. Because of her sheer verbal a
Jan 10, 2008 Dorian rated it it was amazing
If the house is on fire and there's only time to save one book, this might just be the one.
Oct 16, 2012 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana, racconti
Che cos’è questo oggetto strano che abbiamo tra le mani e che rifugge da qualsivoglia catalogazione, che lascia il lettore interdetto eppure, fino dalla prima parola, lo affascina senza dargli tregua? chiede Valeria Parrella nella postfazione.
Le risposte sono tante, e sono tante perché la scrittura di Lydia Davis è fuori dal coro, non assomiglia a nessuno, neppure a Kafka che lei individua come padre putativo, né tanto meno a Ca
Mar 03, 2013 Keith rated it really liked it
"Not long after Gus Van Sant got the bright idea of doing a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s "Psycho" in color, I ran into him at the Calcutta Film Festival and asked him why in the hell he’d come up with that bright idea. "So that no one else would have to," he replied serenely. With his new film, "Gerry," he has removed another project from the future of the cinema and stored it prudently in the past. He is like an adult removing dangerous toys from the reach of reckless kids." - Roger Ebert ...more
Julie Franki
Ain't nobody writes short stories like Ms. Davis. See those five stars? That's right, five. And because she's a genius, she breaks rules, and will twist your cranium at times, but most of all she will move you. I'm a big fan of McSweeney's, who first showed me the Light (of Lydia). I didn't figure out the title out until many years after I read this (probably because my historical knowledge is patchy at best). Who is Samuel Johnson? And why is he indignant? Read Davis, do a Wiki search on Johnso ...more
May 12, 2014 William rated it really liked it
I'm reading Davis' short story collections in order, and this, the third, is far superior to the first two. More of the stories are memorable, though not all of them, and there is a fascination exploration of the forms a story can take.

Somehow the bleakness I absorbed from the earlier books is far less in this one. The theme of human communication being difficult continues, but relationships seem less hopeless and more firmly bonded. The challenge of communication comes through now as an inevita
Tyler Jones
Mar 20, 2013 Tyler Jones rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
I really expected to love this book. I really wanted to love this book. People I know and respect love this book. So what didn't I like? The tone is so... pessimistically hip. It reminded me of those kids back in University who equated seeing the downside in everything with being smart. Whatever. Technical prowess with out any human listening to Yngwie Malmsteen. Not my thing.
Kevin Fanning
Apr 05, 2008 Kevin Fanning rated it it was ok
I enjoyed the pieces where she messes with language and grammer. It reminded me of Tender Buttons, and I could have read a whole book like that. But I didn't care for the more straight-forward fiction pieces. She does thing to keep the reader detached from the action and emotionally distant from the characters, which is an interesting stylistic choice, but not to my taste.
Lee Foust
Nov 15, 2015 Lee Foust rated it really liked it
I've been reading Davis's story/text anthologies in order (from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis collection actually) and this, the third of four in that collection of anthologies, or anthology of collections(?), is, to me, the best so far. As usual, gravitating between one-liners, short observations, word games, and a few more sustained arguments/semi-narratives, it's an engrossing and rewarding read.

Of course it's hard to remember details of the other collections since most of the pieces a
Lucas Miller
May 22, 2008 Lucas Miller rated it it was amazing
i really enjoyed this book. it made me feel that i was reading an answer key to a creative writing class. these stories feel like exercises. the point is rarely plot driven, but more as if there is something specific to be achieved. i thought that this would become really tiresome, but davis is very intelligent, and funny and sad and a very good writer.
May 21, 2008 Julie rated it did not like it
Some of these are just one sentence "stories". Maybe I'm not smart enough, but most of these stories or meditations or experiments (or whatever they are) seem pointless and almost insulting. If I had paid more than a couple of dollars for this, I'd be angry.
Jun 26, 2007 Margaret rated it really liked it
I don't know why, maybe because they look alike but I can't stop thinking about Laurie Anderson whenever I read Lydia Davis. They both have this blunt, bone-dry sense of humor and a completely awesome disregard for what's "supposed" to happen in their art.
Marisela Chavez
Mar 05, 2008 Marisela Chavez rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like or would like to try sushi with cheese on top
it's not love/hate i have with LD, more like yes!/no!. i've landed on yes....this book's light and heavy at the same time. sushi w/melted cheese on top...initially seems yucko and then you have another little piece...
Aug 03, 2012 Joe rated it liked it
Samuel Johnson is Indignant is a short story collection that really lives up to its classification. Most of these stories are really short. I found no issue with this, but its important to know going in. In fact I found that the best story was actually 'Certain Knowledge from Herodotus', one of the shortest in the book, at only one line! But it still had the power to set me off on some long philosophical musings. Lydia Davis' stories are good in this manner. They explore the many connections and ...more
Adrianne Mathiowetz
Oct 21, 2008 Adrianne Mathiowetz rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Miranda July
Recommended to Adrianne by: Peter Horan
I tried to go through and dog-ear all of my favorite stories from this book: the ones with the most articulate, simple lines, hilarity, or just plain spoke-to-me-ness. (A few years ago I realized this kind of thing can come in handy later, during dark times -- I know pages like these will snap me out of any foreseeable funk. This can be especially convenient in the middle of an argument.) It turns out, I dog-eared nearly every story.

It begins with a bang.

Boring Friends

We know only four boring pe
This isn't a sit down and read it all at once book. At least it wasn't for me. I wouldn't say that it was deep (maybe because the deep stuff went over my head), but more weird and amusing. In this collection, I was always just waiting for the twist. Of course some of the stuff is so short, you don't have to wait very long:

“Spring Spleen

I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly.
Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.”

See...that is pretty funny. A lot of the book is lik
Gwendolyn Jerris
Aug 26, 2014 Gwendolyn Jerris rated it really liked it
i ought to wait a minute to write a review, only because this was my first time reading Lydia Davis and words are kind of like falling pebbles from a landslide right now. i'm likely giving a higher rating than it warrants, as i am wont when introduced to sheer newness, startling audacity, the excitement of never-before-have-i. but that can't be all, can it? it's that also i laughed, really hard. and bewildered, i think that is a good one. and then sometimes rolled my eyes or squeezed them shut. ...more
Naomi Williams
Jun 17, 2015 Naomi Williams rated it it was amazing
I love the way reading Lydia Davis makes you realize that absolutely everything & anything is "writable" & "literature-izable." And the way the disarming simplicity of her prose can also fool you into thinking, Geez, I could do this. Ha!

The pieces I keep coming back to over & over in this collection are "Priority," which records the circular thoughts of a young mother trying to figure out what, if anything, can be accomplished during her child's naptime, and "Mir the Hessian," which
May 15, 2012 Molly rated it really liked it
Recommended to Molly by: Meryl
(3.5) I have mixed feelings after reading this: I think I would prefer to have stumbled upon these pieces in a literary journal than reading the collection as a whole. Or maybe I should not have checked it out at the library but instead got my own copy to dip into on random occasions; it's not one that needs straight-through reading. It is one that depends a bit on mood too; perhaps better for a rainy afternoon.

There were lines that really sprung out at me as being excellent in the precise caden
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Lydia Davis, acclaimed fiction writer and translator, is famous in literary circles for her extremely brief and brilliantly inventive short stories. In fall 2003 she received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation “Genius” awards. In granting the award the MacArthur Foundation praised Davis’s work for showing “how language itself can entertain, how all that what one word says, and leaves unsaid, can hold ...more
More about Lydia Davis...

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“The word "fine" is the greatest abbreviation and obviously wrong.” 10 likes
“I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly. Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.” 8 likes
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