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Selected Stories

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4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  781 ratings  ·  80 reviews
How to place the mysterious Swiss writer Robert Walser, a humble genius who possessed one of the most elusive and surprising sensibilities in modern literature? Walser is many things: a Paul Klee in words, maker of droll, whimsical, tender, and heartbreaking verbal artifacts; an inspiration to such very different writers as Kafka and W.G. Sebald; an amalgam, as Susan Sonta ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 31st 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

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RandomAnthony
From the author’s bio on the inner front cover:

Robert Walser (1878-1956) was born in Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering and precarious existence while producing essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium—where he remained for the rest of his life. “I am not here to write,” Walser said, “but to be mad.”

Meet the first book I’ve read in a long time worthy of five stars.

Robert Walser’s Selected Stories is, quite simply, a jaw-dropping
...more
David
I just don't get Robert Walser. I want to. I really do. I mean, I've read a lot of the other reviews on this site (most of which should come with a mop and some wetnaps), and apparently anybody who ever reads this thing ascends immediately into the heavens with a pure, beatific light emanating from the nucleus of his soul while a thousand choirs erupt in a song so rapturous that its very vibrations elicit a cataclysmic orgasm in all its listeners. (In other words... I'll have what they're having ...more
Stephen P
Jun 11, 2014 Stephen P rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Those who have not read it.
Recommended to Stephen by: Ben Winch
Shelves: short-story
He has in writing explicitly invited us along with him. He acknowledges that as a writer he is afraid of the reader and often apologizes to us throughout this fine collection of stories, notes, fragments. It is an interesting relationship between Walser and his reader. As a reader have we also become an Other to him, which signifies the possibility of criticism, humiliation, as when writing in his room he has become an Other to himself. When he leaves his writing room, if in this book he ever ha ...more
Jimmy
Might I confess to finding that it is exquisite to be of two minds regarding works of art? To find fault with something that I welcome on the whole, how nice I find this!

These are quiet, quirky stories. Some are very funny. Some are very modest, not even stories, just sketches, just thoughts captured in a weird head. Most end not with a bang, but with a whimper. But this is a good thing, in the hands of Walser. These stories are meant to be read really slowly, I think, not in the hurry that we a
...more
jeremy
this is a remarkable collection. there is a deceptive simplicity to walser that belies his authorial prowess. these stories elicit a lasting effect not unlike strolling amid a snowfall: a sense of enchantment, breathtaking beauty, and dazzling serenity countered by fragility and potential devastation. refined, resplendent, and slightly rueful.

of all these exceptional stories, "kleist in thun," "helbling's story," "the little berliner," and "the walk" shine brightest.

"we don't need to see anythin
...more
Nora Dillonovich
Robert Walser's shortshort stories made me want to do the following things:
take long long walks in the country
rent a room in the home of an aging woman (preferably Ursula Le Guin)
lay down in the woods, the left side of my face upon a patch of moss
pick wildfllowers, slowly
write a letter
go to a mueseum with old art, watch the paintings, see them slowly
Kimley

"What are you?" the lady asked.
"A poet!" I replied.
She went away without a word.


Spoiler alert....

That lady came to a bad ending.
David
The early 20th century Swiss author Robert Walser might be described as an outsider artist of the literary sort; he was also I gather a writer’s writer, appreciated by the likes of Kafka and Hesse. He ultimately wound up having himself committed in a sanatorium. Whatever he was or became, his various jottings and elocutions take the reader to a distinctly different mental space. I’m inclined to compare him to Samuel Beckett, although the effect is different. Many people find Beckett terribly sad ...more
Sarah Etter
the thing is, i love robert walser. the first six or seven stories in this collection ripped my guts apart. so did the last two. the middle sort of slumped for me, but overall, i'm shocked more people aren't screaming walser's name off of mountain tops.

it's easy to drop kafka's name every five minutes, especially if you're in any sort of MFA program. but walser is the spine.

"response to a request" is one of my favorite stories ever written - whenever i read it, i end up writing something new. i
...more
Megan
It would be easy to list all of the writers who were influenced by Walser. The author himself seems to hover above the time line of writers who came before him, for the most part unaware of his position in history. This guy is fucking brilliant- so pure, so slow, so incredibly soulful. This is a bit morbid but- if you know Walser you know about his gentle mysterious death- check out the Billy childish painting of that famous photograph of him lying in the snow. His final rest.
M. Sarki
I finally finished the complete book. I did like it. But I really do believe Susan Bernofsky makes Walser come alive in ways that Middleton, the translator of this particular book, for one reason or another, is unable to accomplish. I would love to re-read a Bernofsky translation of this same book, however. She did translate "The Walk" which is also included in this selection and it is very very good.
Jeremy
I overuse 'sublime' when writing about writing. Walser is actually sublime. Calm, playful, wistful, odd, ineffable. Sebald said Walser's lines dissolved off the page, effervessed. Here is a High Modernist of (Swiss) German lit that should be shelved beside Mann, Kafka, Musil, Broch -- Borges and Woolf in there fictionish nonfictions.
Andrew
Odd, scattershot, brief, ultimately absolutely lovable. There's such an immense emotional range, from the cascading, poetic pieces that seem to grasp perception at the rarefied Woolf/Sebald level, to portraits of Germanic blowhards of the sort that Kafka so thoroughly skewered (see "The Walk," or as I have subtitled it in my head "Portrait of the Pompous Ass as a Young Man"). But somehow, I feel like I'm not describing anything about Walser well-enough. Again (like Kafka)(the comparisons are ine ...more
Andrew
I can't believe it took me as long as it has to find Walser. The stories in this book are so perfect in style and temperament that I don't know how I survived without them. I love stuff like this: "I sit down somewhat reluctantly at my desk to play my piano, that is to say, to begin to discourse on the potato famine" and "Perhaps one can say that tact is the point from which powerlessness spreads more and more into the male world."

This book solidified Walser's place in my own personal pantheon a
...more
Ahmed Al Hokail

Walser is one of the most authentic writers of his generation.

As you read "Kleist in Thun" and "the walk" you will notice the most important element: the profound presence of the surroundings, the fragmented vast city soaking in a river of movement, "the music of human activity" as he calls it. You will recall a mixture of Kafka and Chekhov, the vital tenderness of a lively environment covered with a deep mysterious feeling of savory sadness. That's why all this beauty did not prevent Kleist fro
...more
Weinz
A wise man once said "If Kafka and David Foster Wallace met at a bar and had a contest to see who could make the other laugh or cry first, their stories would sound like Robert Walser’s." and right he was.

What a subtle and brilliant man.
Wayne
Amazing! I have discovered so many gems in the short time I've been on Goodreads. I can't believe Robert Walser flew under my radar for so long. I don't think I had heard of him before, but 'The Walk' should be essential reading. No verbal pyrotechnics for the sake of being verbally pyrotechnical (like some postmodernists). I never doubted the honesty of his observations. There wasn't a story I didn't thoroughly enjoy. I will always look at trousers a little differently.
Saxon
Dec 15, 2007 Saxon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Walser is like no one I have read before. His writing walks a perfect balance between the absurd, the beautiful, the meloncholy and the tragic all in sometimes 3 pages or less. Walser's stories imaginitively reinvent the world with a strange innocence that appreciates simplicities of life but can also make the most mudane trivialities facisnating, wonderous and sometimes heartbreaking.
Jonathon
Walser combines a good command of poetic language with simple, everyday language......He is way under appreciated. He supposedly was admired by Kafka a lot, but Walser is less surreal as Kafka and focuses more on realistic thingys...which I like more.... No wonder Herman Hesse stated "If he (Walser) had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place."..........I dont know who Herman Hesse is, nor do I know what that quote means.... but I guess he was some important person.... and ...more
David
last night. coming home to the dark. flipping on an old lamp with weak light and patting the dogs i sat down with a cup of tea against the cold and turned the pages. i turned the pages to this:

"If I am well-disposed, that's to say, feeling good, I tailor, cobble, weld, plane, knock, hammer, or nail together lines the content of which people understand at once. If you liked, you could call me a writer who goes to work with a lathe. My writing is wallpapering. One or two kindly people venture to t
...more
Amy
I would describe this collection of short stories first and foremost as "lovely." Some are quite sad and some very funny or childlike. Almost all are relatively simple, not usually driven by plot, but more by inner reactions and revelations. Sometimes the character is just going for a walk and describing the scenes he encounters, sometimes he talks about a book he has read, and other times we hear about the observations of a specific relationship, but no matter how sparse the subject, the langua ...more
Paul Harris
Really quite perplexed about this. I was led by other reviews to expect a collection of small masterpieces - and was sorely disappointed. There were some here that I did enjoy - Balloon Journey, Kleist In Thun, The Job Application, Helbling's Story, Winter, A Village Tale, and Masters And Workers. The remainder though I'm afraid left me with a feeling of what I can only describe as numbness.



The Walk, in particular - possibly owing to it being the lengthiest story here - I found a struggle to get
...more
david blumenshine
the first half, maybe even the first 3/4ths is an easy 5. it just became a little heavy in the saddle after a while, though perhaps that's attributed to my current mood. while reading i thought to myself that walser reminds me of a more english voiced version of kafka; however, i am just coming off reading kafka's complete works, and the format is similar. but then, to my surprise, the liner notes said that walser was an influence to kafka, and that walser is swizz. now that makes sense. the swi ...more
Robert

This is not so much a review but an appreciation. An appreciation and an invitation. Yes, why not take hold of this slender volume of very short stories—if stories is the right word

Perhaps, taken together these often-poetic pieces could be assembled into a book. Walser did write four novels, none of which I've read yet. A friend handed me this book and I'm very grateful he did. Up to that moment I had not heard of Robert Walser.

The stories, let’s agree to call them that, are strange in the best
...more
Thomas Armstrong
I wasn't as wild about this book as I was his novel Jacob von Gunten. This book of what seemed like odds and ends was more uneven. Some of the stuff was great. I loved his surrealistic walk in the eponymous short story in the book. Things would be so naturalistic and then boom, you're in the twilight zone, and then boom, back again in the ''real'' world. Many of the stories were just so conventional and/or sentimental that they didn't do anything for me, the text would become tiresome. I was int ...more
Yume
I went for a walk today, and I took this book along. It's this month's book club book. The walk was nice - Brooklyn is beautiful when the sun shines, though sometimes when you pass the corners it smells, because of the trash cans, which are overflowing on Sundays.

By the way, it was Easter, which I don't normally celebrate beyond Easter baskets and chocolate eggs. I do like chocolate malted eggs.

I read this book as I walked (appropriately, I was reading "The Walk"), which you may think is quite d
...more
Cynthia
Oscar Wilde is not the only writer to have made the paradox into a kind of art form. Walser walks a line in these very short stories between looking inward and outward, happiness and sadness, connection and loneliness. In a sketch called "Nervous" a sentence that begins "I am not old, not in the least..." leads to the next one where he reflects "Quite definitely I am a little old and used up."

Walser's touch is always light enough that this endless negotiation inside the self doesn't become nave
...more
William
Jun 30, 2012 William marked it as to-read
These stories are both delightful and the best sleeping pill.
Kurt
Robert Walser is such a special author to me that there's nothing I can say that can adequately express how I feel when reading him. Sometimes the writing is just too tender and I have to put the book down because it's too much for me to take. He is such a character that some of his writing is amusing and ticklish, but he is so open about his inner feelings that I sometimes feel like it's too personal and I am intruding on a gentle, sensitive person's internal world. Who wants to trod on such a ...more
Matt Britton
Robert Walser seems to be primarily lauded for being an influence on Kafka, and since that comparison was all over the dust jacket, I definitely read these stories with that in mind. Walser, though, is lighter than Kafka, and while very much mired in describing himself and his relationship to society, he seems less straightforwardly self-recriminating. My favorite story was an early one, about the meaning of pants. In fact, there's a good deal of humor in these pieces, which sometimes read like ...more
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NYRB Classics: Selected Stories of Robert Walser 1 4 Oct 30, 2013 09:47PM  
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16073
Robert Walser, a German-Swiss prose writer and novelist, enjoyed high repute among a select group of authors and critics in Berlin early in his career, only to become nearly forgotten by the time he committed himself to the Waldau mental clinic in Bern in January 1929. Since his death in 1956, however, Walser has been recognized as German Switzerland's leading author of the first half of the twent ...more
More about Robert Walser...
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“Houses, gardens, and people were transfigured into musical sounds, all that was solid seemed to be transfigured into soul and into gentleness. Sweet veils of silver and soul-haze swam through all things and lay over all things. The soul of the world had opened, and all grief, all human disappointment, all evil, all pain seemed to vanish, from now on never to appear again. Earlier walks came before my eyes; but the wonderful image of the humble present became a feeling which overpowered all others. The future paled, and the past dissolved. I glowed and flowered myself in the glowing, flowering present. From near and far, great things and small things emerged bright silver with marvelous gestures, joys, and enrichments, and in the midst of this beautiful place I dreamed of nothing but this place itself. All other fantasies sank and vanished in meaninglessness. I had the whole rich earth immediately before me, and I still looked only at what was most small and most humble. With gestures of love the heavens rose and fell. I had become an inward being, and walked as in an inward world; everything outside me became a dream; what I had understood till now became unintelligible. I fell away from the surface, down into the fabulous depths, which I recognized then to be all that was good. What we understand and love understands and loves us also. I was no longer myself, was another, and yet it was on this account that I became properly myself. In the sweet light of love I realized, or believe I realized, that perhaps the inward self is the only self which really exists.” 15 likes
“It doesn't take much to show love, but at some time or another in your, praise God, disastrous life you must have felt, honestly and simply, what love is and how love likes to behave.” 7 likes
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