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Varieties of Disturbance

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  1,430 ratings  ·  191 reviews
Lydia Davis has been called "one of the quiet giants in the world of American fiction" (Los Angeles Times), "an American virtuoso of the short story form" (Salon), an innovator who attempts "to remake the model of the modern short story" (The New York Times Book Review). Her admirers include Grace Paley, Jonathan Franzen, and Zadie Smith; as Time magazine observed, her sto ...more
Paperback, 219 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Remember one of those moments when a friend utters a single word or phrase and it makes you both burst into side-splitting laughter, leaving others around you perplexed. That is kind of how some of Davis's very short stories work, except there is not so much laughter.

Many of her stories are about quirks and absurdities of our daily lives, little moments, our common experiences and absent-minded musings. These may be some little experiences which we vaguely recognize, but can't quite put our fing
MJ Nicholls
When Davis isn’t off winning MacArthur fellowships and whipping up essential translations of Proust and Flaubert she also writes almost-award-winning story collections of pulsating sharpness. To spend time in Varieties of Disturbance is to nestle down inside a superhuman mind in a continual state of ecstatic whirr and recline divinely on dark and comforting truths about the human condition. Like Ali Smith (who is better at novels) Davis favours micro-portraits, throwaway whimsies, vacation snaps ...more
Hm. Stars. I don't know what to do about those pesky little stars...

I related to the stories on an intellectual level, that I can say for certain. They were well written and thoughtful. Problem is, I didn't relate to the stories emotionally at all. At all. And that, for me, is the most important part. I like stories that make me feel SOMETHING. Stories do not have to make me feel good, in fact, the best ones leave me feeling very unsettled.

These stories, unfortunately, left me feeling... nothin
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Feb 08, 2015 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Alan Chen
When I first heard about Lydia Davis, I felt like I should have already known of her. This is my first attempt to remedy that absence.

I'm not surprised that the friend who recommended her comes from my book club that read Infinite Jest, as there is one story in this set that makes me think of David Foster Wallace (where the footnote is longer than the story.)

And most stories in here are short. Short is an understatement. Tiny. I believe the word is micro fiction. Many are more like poetry. And
I admit that when I received this book in the mail nearly a year ago, I read the shortest stories first and these two-line stories made me feel (with a trace of shame) like Lydia Davis was cheating. Afraid that she would not live up to all the Lydia Davis hype, I tucked the book away in my shelves.

Last night, this book seemed to want attention so I said okay and started reading from the beginning. Few stories are more than a page. The three long-ish stories in the book are all set up like lab re
I read some of these stories four or five times over. Davis somehow manages to compress entire universes into single sentences. She has the studied and deft hand of a master. No one that I've read captures alienation like her while still managing to show you how beautiful life can be through simple, detailed observation. Not every story hit, but five stars for sheer originality.
There are different kinds of ‘special’ in this world:
1. There is the ‘oh, that’s special’ from a mother or a colleague perhaps, when commenting on a new dress or a new coat of paint in your living room. Make no mistake, it’s not really compliment, it means that they just don’t know what else to say.
2. There is the type of ‘special’ invented by marketeers: a now-or-never advertisement trick that always sounds like a good idea at the time, but rarely is.
3. And, then there is the real special: like
'varieties' is accurate in that she has several techniques, vaguely constellated around her interests (of translation and epistemology, of 'deep ideas' of self).

she's a great bridge to the Modernists... she's thinking about them--Kafka, Proust, Beckett, Woolf--throughout, but we hear her thinking in a very contemporary language, one that is constructed and fragmented *from* modernism, a cento of modernism. relatedly: she's a good mimic. beyond this also, she's several of her own styles.
the sh
Lady Ethereal Butterfly
Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbance is a unique short story collection with stories ranging in length from multiple pages to a single sentence. The stories are often clever with an underlying humor, but some I just fond plain odd. Perhaps I missed the point in a few of them. Quite a few of the shortest stories were more like humorous observations of life rather than stories.

This collection of short stories is very character-driven. With a few of the stories, you aren’t introduced to the chara
So-so, with flashes of cleverness and sincerity here and there.

Ones I liked: "Grammar Questions," "What You Learn About The Baby," "Passing Wind," "For Sixty Cents," "Order," "The Strangers," "The Caterpillar," "The Fellowship"
Well basically my favorite book. Sean calls it "Proust tweets for Baller," Baller being me. I guess that is accurate. My favorite was the one in which she reads and doesn't read Worstward Ho on the bus.
Jenny Shank
Lydia Davis' 'Varieties of Disturbance'

By Jenny Shank For the Camera
Friday, September 14, 2007

Lydia Davis writes experimental short fiction, a practice that would seem to confine her work to the audience that reads obscure literary magazines. But Davis' stories are so skillful, incisive, and funny that she enjoys a much broader reach, publishing widely and earning many accolades and awards for her fiction, including a 2003 MacArthur Fellowship.

How does Dav
Jan 17, 2010 Elina added it
I love the short story form and Varieties of disturbance is one of the most innovative short story collections I've come across. I appreciated the stories with a very dead-pan reportlike feel and the use of repetition. My favorite story was We Miss You: A Study of Get-well letters From a Class of Fourth-Graders. There were so many that just left me exhilarated. I loved being surprised by all the different angles and techniques. I think the book really suits my way of thinking, this kind of going ...more
I really liked this book, and took my time reading it. Some of the stories are very, very short. Some of them are a little long. All of them are interesting with a unique perspective. One of my favorites was "Tropical Storm," which I can quote in its entirety: "Like a tropical storm, I, too, may one day become 'better organized.'"

There's another story that analyzes the get well letters sent to a 2nd grader by his classmates. Not the typical short story topic, but seems to fit right in. Another a
Lydia Davis' Varieties of Disturbance is crazy good.

In my copy (and by "mine," I mean the Detroit Public Library's), there's a blurb by the late Grace Paley that goes: "Davis is the kind of writer about whom you say: 'Oh, at last!'"

And that's it: it's all exhales and inhales. It's juxtapositions and rhythms. White space and absences. Sentences might turn tense and strange, only to unravel relaxedly in a single clause. Extraordinarily short stories that smack like snickering punchlines, paired ne
I never write in books, never did in college, but I wrote in this one. I annotated the table of contents. Some of the stories in the collection were excellent, and halfway through the book I was ready to tear through the rest. But my attention flagged when the second half of the work didn't contain anything different from the first, anything improving upon the first portion. I will definitely come back to the half dozen I check-marked, but I'm not rushing out to buy the rest of the Lydia Davis c ...more
This is the fourth book in "The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis," and I have read them in order. This may not have been the best way to approach her work, since the book dragged for me quite a lot, more than the first three, and my judgment may be unenthusiastic because of fatigue.

This collection is significantly different from its predecessors, and reflects once again Davis' creativity in finding new approaches to the short story genre. There is more humor (though still not a great amount), an
Alyson Foster
I decided to check out this collection after reading a recent New Yorker article on Lydia Davis. Anyone unfamiliar with Davis will quickly learn that many of her stories aren't what one typically thinks of when one thinks of short stories -- they more often resemble what might be called prose poems. Some of them are only a few sentences in length.

Meaning: if plot and character are crucial to you in the way that one usually thinks of these things, you won't find them here.

If you're looking for st
Two things that this collection repeatedly brought to mind: the classic sixties comedy sketch about class with the two Ronnies and John Clease ("I look up to him, but I look down on him" etc.) with its endless permutations; and the current fad on TV cookery shows for dishes like 'Rhubarb five ways' (stewed, jellied, freeze-dried dust, a compote, and a deconstructed crumble...) which are inventive, technically very skilled, but at the end of the day all taste of rhubarb.

I hadn't read Davis before
Felix Purat
It seemed only natural for somebody who has been called "the quiet giant of American fiction" to attract my attention, that being Lydia Davis. However, I found Varieties of Disturbance to be a waste of my time, as shady as it is to say so (luckily I did not pay for it). Admittedly her forms of short story structure are interesting and original (though the three-liner short stories might as well have been saved for a poetry compilation). But it was the content that did not speak to me at all. I k ...more
Cynthia Romanowski
I feel like I missed the boat on this one friends. Inventive, smart, unique, I agree but I felt cold most of the time. The short shorts were exceptionally well done, however, I think I need to read another one of hers just in case.
Aug 10, 2014 Jessica rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jessica by: Keri Kellerman
Shelves: short-stories
Not all of it landed with me, but when it did it was like an electrical current.

Favorite stories:
Kafka Cooks Dinner
Grammar Questions
We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders
Sep 28, 2013 Teresa added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Didn't finish, but read enough to know these stories are not for me. Though the stories are (too?) clever, and though I did chuckle in a couple of places, I found them boring for the most part.
love this woman.

poems/short stories that are sometimes only a line long, sometimes dozens of pages. topics include: grammar quirks, secrets to longevity, flies, family, the things we tell ourselves.

exhibit a:

idea for a short documentary film

representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.

exhibit b:


no one is calling me. i can't check the answering machine because i have been here all this time. if i go out, someone may call while i'm out. then i can
Mike Nettleton

As a reader, I'm thankful for the way Davis writes. She completely ignores standard use of plot, character development and story structure without asking the reader to struggle with awkward grammar or meandering sentences for the sake of gratuitous artistic license. Case in point: Davis makes lists and generalities jump off the page. Lists and generalities! It's as if she read a writing manual and thumbing her nose, deliberately stepped in every so-called mistake to make a point.

Most of these stories were super short, which made it challenging to stop and give them the consideration they deserved. And they deserved great consideration, because beyond the formal games she's playing with story length and structure lurks lots of emotional weight and impact.

I wasn't a fan of her research report style stories, which seemed to be a trite jab at the way science can lessen the impact of emotional truths, but her story about two academics wandering through a university town at
Collaboration with a Fly

I put that word on the page,
but he added the apostrophe.

p. 8

I tend to like short stories. So after I read an article about Lydia Davis, I naturally checked out a book of her stories. Although it took me awhile to get through this collection, the stories were well worth reading. I just got distracted by some other books along the way.

Davis has a way with words that leaves me flabbergasted. How do people take the English language bent it and twist it as Davis does? Every
Tom Bensley
I am writing a pointless review of this book. It's not worth reading (this review), because I can't explain why I didn't like Varieties of Disturbance. I can explain why I SHOULD like it, which probably just makes the review even more pointless.


First thing about it that I should like but don't (for a reason I can't explain, as I said, this is a pointless review), is Davis's writing style. She's super literal, to the point of almost being gimmicky, but she's talented and interesting enough
Do you remember when you were a teenager, and your friends all really liked this one band, but you just didn't understand the appeal of their music? And you had a sneaking suspicion that at least a few of your friends were pretending to like it to seem cool? And maybe even you pretended to like it to seem cool, too?

That is how I feel about this collection, though I'm old enough now to not bother wasting time pretending to be cool. I just straight up don't get it. Another review I read said altho
I think I would give this a higher rating if I could stop thinking about Bolano's 2666. But as much as I admire Lydia Davis' writing, and as much as I respect her ingenuity, few of her stories knocked me out. All of her stories were clever, and most were full of beautiful turns of phrase and fantastic experimentation, I was not always engaged. That said, some of her stories are fantastic, and a few are contemporary classics.

Davis is the new heir to American experimental writing, and is definitel
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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 Can't and Won't: Stories Samuel Johnson Is Indignant The End of the Story Break it Down

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“Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.”
“What was happening to them was that every bad time produced a bad feeling that in turn produced several more bad times and several more bad feelings, so that their life together became crowded with bad times and bad feelings, so crowded that almost nothing else could grow in that dark field. But then she had a feeling of peace one morning that lingered from the evening before spent sewing while he sat reading in the next room. And a day or two later, she had a feeling of contentment that lingered in the morning from the evening before when he kept her company in the kitchen while she washed the dinner dishes. If the good times increased, she thought, each good time might produce a good feeling that would in turn produce several more good times that would produce several more good feelings. What she meant was that the good times might multiply perhaps as rapidly as the square of the square, or perhaps more rapidly, like mice, or like mushrooms springing up overnight from the scattered spore of a parent mushroom which in turn had sprung up overnight with a crowd of others from the scattered spore of a parent, until her life with him with be so crowded with good times that the good times might crowd out the bad as the bad times had by now almost crowded out the good. ” 10 likes
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