Samuel Johnson Is Indignant
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Samuel Johnson Is Indignant

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  1,093 ratings  ·  102 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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Three Strong Women by Marie NDiayeGilead by Marilynne RobinsonSamuel Johnson Is Indignant by Lydia DavisInfidelities by Josip NovakovichThe Cows by Lydia Davis
2013 Man Booker International Finalists
3rd out of 97 books — 9 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
138th out of 641 books — 129 voters

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Community Reviews

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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...more
MJ Nicholls
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
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
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...more
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
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.

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...more
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
Oct 02, 2007 Summer rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
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...more
"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
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...more
Tyler Jones
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
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.
Lucas Miller
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.
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.
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.
If the house is on fire and there's only time to save one book, this might just be the one.
Aidan Watson-Morris
lydia davis don't play by the rules
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 5 of 5 stars
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...more
I enjoyed this micro fiction from Lydia Davis (which reminded me a ton of Erica's work!), but reading about forty or so of those dreamy, plotless, albeit delightful, stories made it a little hard to remember exactly what I read. I remember a few about aging that were really poignant, and a few BJ Novak-like one or two liners. Unfortunately none of them really stuck with me (which is not great as I read this for book club).
Gwendolyn Jerris
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
May 15, 2012 Molly rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Short stories often leave me wanting. However, "Samuel Johnson is Indignant" seems less of a short story collection and more like a collection of cerebral musings. The best stories were deceptively simple and melancholy, like "The Old Dictionary," a story of a mother who wonders if she treats objects better than she treats her own son. With any collection, there are few duds, a glaring example "Companion: We are stilling here together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working aw...more
On the surface a very unassuming collection of tiny stories, the real genius of Lydia David's prose is how completely she can create a character in just a few words. There are so many individual characters in this book - dozens and dozens of individuals wholly unlike each other, similar to people almost all of us must known, archetypes but not stereotypes. Since I read this in one sitting, the variety of characters she creates struck me particularly deeply - I have such admiration for people who...more
Eric T. Voigt
Alright alright! Very grateful to Nicholson Baker, for without his "The Mezzanine" on my "currently reading" shelf I'd never've had this specific volume recommended to me, to goodreads for doing the recommending, and to Lydia Davis for being my new favorite author! No, no, not really, but if she plays her cards right? I don't see it being an impossibility. These stories left me feeling tended to, coddled, maybe even hugged? There wasn't a story I didn't see play out with extreme clarity behind m...more
Well I've heard so much about her and finally I've completed one of her books. I enjoyed much of it, and I do love short or flash fiction. She is not exactly flash compared to others I've read. I think she is very good, but it didn't grab me immensely. Lots of smart, clever, interesting, some math, some personality quirkiness. I'm going to keep reading her next book I have from the library. One thing for sure is she has managed to successful with short stories, and what I understand that is near...more
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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...
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis Varieties of Disturbance Break it Down The End of the Story Can't and Won't: Stories

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“The word "fine" is the greatest abbreviation and obviously wrong.” 5 likes
“I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly. Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.” 4 likes
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