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Samuel Johnson Is Indignant: Stories

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,462 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
One of the Village Voice's 25 Favorite Books and the ALA's 2002 Notable Books, this collection of 56 stories is like nothing else. By which we mean: there is nothing else like this. Lydia Davis makes simple things complicated and complicated things simple, and it is all amazing to behold.
Hardcover, 201 pages
Published October 1st 2001 by McSweeney's
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She thought that perhaps she should limit the review to 805 words. This was the average length of the stories in the book. But the median length was far less. She researched, and estimated it to be 205 words. 27 stories had fewer words, the shortest one-pagers being one-liners. She thought to quote those shortest:

Samuel Johnson Is Indignant:

that Scotland has so few trees.

he certainly looks indignant


Certain Knowledge from Herodotus

These are the facts about the fish in the
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
Oct 16, 2012 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
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
Sep 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Samuel Johnson Is Indignant is a testament to Davis's range, and the range of her influence. Indeed, Davis is a writer's writer; she is well read and knows how to apply the styles and techniques utilized by writers such as Russell Edson, Gertrude Stein, Jorge Luis Borges, Donald Barthelme, etc...
We know only four boring people. The rest of our friends we find very interesting. However, most of the friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us the most boring. The few w
Aug 05, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.

Justin Evans
Aug 05, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 16, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Trever Polak
Jul 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-americans
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.
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If the house is on fire and there's only time to save one book, this might just be the one.
Gabino Garcia
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It is so weird and mad. Her writing voice is exactly like my train of thought. I felt like my craziness was expressed in a book.
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
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
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
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
May 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Margaret Wappler
Jun 26, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Apr 02, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rather than comment on the stories in this collection I will let the author speak for herself. Here are selected paragraphs from "Blind Date";

""There isn't really much to tell," she said, but she would tell it if I liked. We were sitting in a midtown luncheonette. "I've only had one blind date in my life. And I didn't really have it. I can think of more interesting situations that are like a blind date--say, when someone gives you a book as a present, when they fix you up with that book. I was o
Nov 11, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
If you’re interested in more about this book, please see Ted's’s review. Before I’d read his review, I’d already figured Lydia Davis was not really for me; but based on Ted’s comments, I checked out this book from the library to read “Jury Duty” and "Marie Curie, So Honorable a Woman". The former didn't do anything for me, but I did like the latter quite a bit. In probably a completely superficial way, it reminded me of the title story in Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, which is about a late-1 ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this, but couldn't. There's not a whole lot of plot, but there is a whole lot of structural games, a whole lot of what feels like mantras (I was lost early on with her plays on "a mown lawn"). The title story's full text, besides its title, is "that Scotland has so few trees." These sorts of things, besides feeling like a freshman triple spacing his size 14 font and 2 inch margins on his research paper, never really feel as clever as you can tell the author felt they were.

Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the midst of a writing slump, I re-discovered Lydia Davis. I realized for the first time how brilliant her stories are. Especially the short ones. (I didn't quite understand the longer pieces.) In just a few sentences or paragraphs, Davis makes startling observations about everyday life which are often funny and always fresh. Here is one of her most charming short-short-stories, titled "Digestion":

"We are sitting here together, my digestion and I. I am reading a book and it is working away at
Jonathan Hiskes
Funny, sharp-edged, philosophical stories ranging from a few sentences each to a more-conventional 10 pages or so. From what I've heard, Davis has largely pioneered the field of flash (very short) fiction. I like the tautness/velocity/espresso-jolt she generates through the very short pieces.

A piece about a woman moving to a nursing home ends: "Tentatively at first, and with growing wonder, she realized that she had been nearly dead among the living. Among the nearly dead, she was at last beginn
Mar 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Whether you call these pieces stories or not, they are almost every single one of them perfect. There is often nothing you would ordinarily recognize as a plot and, when there are those kinds of tropes, they don't end the way you would expect them to or want them to. But like a song whose melody leads you to think it will proceed one way but then proceeds another and despite your grudging intentions you come to believe the way it really ended up is the only way it really could have been right, y ...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...
“I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly. Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.” 13 likes
“The word "fine" is the greatest abbreviation and obviously wrong.” 12 likes
More quotes…