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Varieties of Disturbance

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,569 Ratings  ·  206 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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MJ Nicholls
Jan 03, 2013 MJ Nicholls rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 04, 2012 Megha rated it really liked it

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
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 really liked it
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
Jul 26, 2016 Christopher rated it really liked it
Subtle and remarkable. I understand the misgivings some have regarding "micro-fiction" in general, but I would offer this as an argument for the form.

Will post a link to my extended review, when I write it.
Jul 21, 2009 Samantha rated it it was amazing
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
May 31, 2014 Bryant rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 19, 2014 Hanne rated it liked it
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
May 25, 2007 Eugene rated it really liked it
'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
Tim Love
Apr 18, 2016 Tim Love rated it really liked it
"Grammar Question" is a 2 page essay addressing issues like whether "his body" or "the body" is appropriate for a dead person. "We Miss You: A Study of Get-Well Letters from a Class of Fourth-Graders" is 24 pages long, with a "Sentence Structures" section where sentence length and complexity are studied, and a conclusion entitled "The Daily Lives of the Children, Their Awareness of Space and Time, and Their Characters and States of Mind" - readers need to infer emotional content from the lingui ...more
Jan 25, 2011 Josie rated it it was amazing
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.
May 21, 2016 Erik rated it it was ok
Shelves: short-stories
Ones I liked: "Grammar Questions," "What You Learn About The Baby," "Passing Wind," "For Sixty Cents," "Order," "The Strangers," "The Caterpillar," "The Fellowship"
Nov 10, 2014 Carly rated it did not like it
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
Jenny Shank
Nov 25, 2010 Jenny Shank rated it really liked it
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
Jun 22, 2008 Vicki rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 12, 2008 Anna rated it really liked it
Shelves: stories
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
Oct 15, 2009 Brian rated it liked it
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
May 16, 2014 William rated it liked it
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
Apr 06, 2014 Alyson Foster rated it liked it
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
Feb 21, 2014 David rated it it was ok
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
Tom Romig
Oct 23, 2015 Tom Romig rated it it was ok
One of the most boring books I've ever read! I know, I know: National Book Award finalist, laudatory blurbs by writers I enjoy (Grace Paley, Charles Baxter, Dave Eggers, Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Franzen). So, even though it's exposing some deficiency on my part, I have to admit that I found reading these stories a wallow in tedium.

Some exceptions, sure. For example, Kafka Cooks Dinner and perhaps Passing Wind, but only if you recall middle school humor fondly as I do. If you like your irony i
Felix Purat
Jul 17, 2014 Felix Purat rated it it was ok
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
ülgen Ayrancı
writer has a unique style. every single story makes you think about smth after reading it. I apretiate this being different and innovative, but this is not a book that you keep reading and reading.. altough I like the idea behind a story, I confess that I couldn't finish some of them :)
Cynthia Romanowski
Apr 04, 2013 Cynthia Romanowski rated it liked it
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 liked it
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.
Feb 20, 2014 ania rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 03, 2014 Mike Nettleton rated it it was amazing

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.

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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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“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. ” 14 likes
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