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Forty Stories

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  3,113 ratings  ·  174 reviews
This collection of pithy, brilliantly acerbic pieces is a companion to Sixty Stories, Barthelme's earlier retrospective volume. Barthelme spotlights the idiosyncratic, haughty, sometimes downright ludicrous behavior of human beings, but it is style rather than content which takes precedence.
Paperback, Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics, 246 pages
Published April 7th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 1987)
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 ·  3,113 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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Glenn Russell
Apr 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I openly admit my tastes tends to be a bit quirky, even oddball, which probably accounts for the fact that I really, really, really enjoyed two stories in this collection, two stories not given so much as a mention in other reviews, at least the ones I’ve read on this thread. And what, you may ask, are those two Donald Barthelme stories? Answer: Chablis and The New Owner. And I really, really, really had a blast doing the write-up of each of these yummy chocolate snappers. After sampling as per
Sentimental Surrealist
Feb 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: collection
Forty Things to Know About Barthelme

1. He had a beard.
2. He had a bad relationship with his father.
3. His father was an architect of some renown
4. He was an experimental writer, considered by many to be among the best of his generation.
5. Taking a sample of ten Barthelme stories, three will be genius, six will be good, one will be crap.
6. His more famous stories include "The Balloon," "Me and Mrs. Mandible," "At the End of the Mechanical Age," "King of Jazz" (none of which are included here),
Paul Bryant
Aug 04, 2008 rated it liked it
From "Engineer-Private Paul Klee misplaces an Aircraft between Milbertshofen and Cambral, March 1916" :

"We do not have your secrets and that is what we are after, your secrets. Our first secret is where we are. No one knows. Our second secret is how many of us there are. No one knows. Omnipresence is our goal. We do not even need real omnipresence. The theory of omnipresence is enough. With omnipresence, hand-in-hand as it were, goes omniscience. And with omniscience and omnipresence,
Aug 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2008
Usually when I find a pile of books in a box on the sidewalk it's filled with junk books, like self-help finance twaddle and new-age crap about death and terrible pop fiction. So imagine my surprise when, underneath The Artist's Way and Lovely Bones, I found this book! Yay!!

Anyway, this was both better and worse than I expected. As a collection, it's really uneven; some stories I could only read a paragraph or two before frantically paging through to the next one, whereas others I actually
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Que mais comentar senão a genialidade das histórias, a inteligência, o humor, o absurdo, a sátira, e ler, ler com um sorriso do princípio ao fim, e claro, uma excelente tradução, 40 histórias do melhor de DB (a que se seguem as outras 60 no livro seguinte - por acaso lidos pela ordem inversa).
Estos ’40 relatos’ (Forty Stories, 1987) de Donald Barthelme, enganchan desde la primera frase. (Por ejemplo, ‘Chablis’, el primer cuento: ”Mi mujer quiere un perro, aunque ya tiene una niña. La niña tiene casi dos años. Según ella, es la niña la que quiere el perro”.) Y es que Barthelme sabe cómo llamar la atención del lector. Todos los cuentos son diferentes: algunos humorísticos, otros paródicos, otros absurdos o excéntricos, pero bajo todos ellos subyace algo más profundo, un reflejo del ...more
Franco  Santos
Sixty Stories es mucho mejor. Pocos relatos de esta antología me gustaron: The Genius, The Palace at Four A.M., Visitors, At the Tolstoy Museum, The Flight of Pingeons from the Palace, The Temptation of St. Anthony, Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby y The Baby.

Barthelme era un genio, un maestro de la literatura, y lo mejor de él, en mi opinión, está en el ya mencionado Sixty Stories.
Antônio Xerxenesky
Resenha do livro para O Globo:
MJ Nicholls
I don't know what happened. There I was, excited to cadge a library copy of a Barthelme book, a rarity on these shores, having stored up eight months of warm feelings for Sixty Stories. But no. It all came crashing down with this insufferable series of self-ironising experiments, non sequiturs, intellectual masturbations and opaque parodies.

What happened? Well, it is entirely possible Sixty Stories exhausted the capabilities of Mr. B, so widely adored among the McSweeney's generation, serving up
Apr 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
tuhaf ve zor öyküler. daha doğrusu, zorlayıcı. okuru ne diline ne içeriğine alıştırıyor barthelme. kitabı sevdiğinizi düşündükten dakikalar sonra bırakma isteği duyabilirsiniz. barthelme'nin özellikle istediği bu: çok keyif verebilirim size, beni çok sevebilirsiniz ama hayır!..devam etmek istiyorsanız zorlanın, yorulun, birlikte arayalım, sorgulayalım. sonunda bir bütüne, bir anlama ulaşmak da yok üstelik. böyle bir katılıma ikna edecek ne var derseniz: görkemli, ışıl ışıl bir zeka, ...more
Doug Campbell
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Donald Barthelme is an experimental and postmodern writer who employs a wide range of strange devices that helped him create emotion and feeling in the reader. In his short story collection, 40 Stories, he constructs an entire story though a question and answer session, he juxtaposes pictures with text to create greater effect, and one story is several letters to an editor. I have chosen to focus on one story in the collection in order to fully explain what is at play in Barthelme’s writing so ...more
Alika Aion
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I was very intrigued with this book. I like how the stories are all short and can be read easily in one sitting. They all are so different, and yet have a similar tone. I like how they take me to a unique place every time, a world which I might have never been exposed to. I don't feel I can honestly say that I understand any of these stories, but there are some of them that definitely strike me as being more meaningful than others and some which I feel just depend on personal preference. ...more
Lalit Kishore
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
My first exposure to the works of Donald Barthelme was from the New Yorker fiction podcast, where famous authors join the show and read their favorite stories from the back volumes of the magazine.

The story that caught my attention was “Concerning the bodyguard” read by Salman Rushdie ( which describes an assassination attempt on a fictional dictator in Central America. The novel aspect is that the entire story is written as a set of questions, in the form of an
Allan MacDonell
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
When I was a child, barely a teen, two of my suburban high school’s advanced-placement word nerds were fond of flashing a shared Donald Barthelme paperback that had a sexually suggestive cover illustration, perhaps featuring a woman’s bare breasts. These guys, the type of guys who could recite swatches of dialogue from 200 Motels, cornered you at lunch while you were trying to get high like a normal person and read concise sections of Barthelme, then lurked in smug silence as if they had just ...more
Peter Landau
Feb 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why has it taken me so long to read Donald Barthelme? I’ve known about him for years and own several of his books. I think it’s because dipping into FORTY STORIES is like going to another country where you don’t known the language or the customs, which are familiar but just askew enough to remain foreign. There’s a sense of adventure in turning these pages, and I guess initially I’m uncomfortable. It takes me a beat to get past the shock of the new. My favorite things were usually the most ...more
Mar 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I am so glad that I came to Donald Barthelme by way of Charles Baxter. And after reading Barthelme's short fiction, I understand more fully why Dave Eggers felt like a thief after reading Barthelme following the publication of his fiction. He's an original, a genre defining giant, and his writing just doesn't give a shit whether or not you get it (admittedly several stories, I didn't) - he's plowing forward without you.

"Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby" (found here for free
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the funniest book I have read in a long time. I can't remember the last book that made me laugh out loud as much as this one. Barthelme has to be one of the most underrated writers of the last century.

The stories in this collection are very short, usually 3-5 pages, and all are fairly fragmented, oblique works of art. I'd recommend Barthelme to any fan of the post-moderns or experimental fiction in general. You know you are in for a good story that opens with lines like:

"Some of us had
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I havn't written any reviews on this thing yet, but this book was really what I've been looking for in fiction for a long time. Ecstatic language that goes on sprawling tangents with wonderful imagery that is woven together into very concise endings. It's also extremely witty and hilarious. All of these qualities make it a very enjoyable read but at the same time it's also intelligent and academic. Barthelme definitely knows exactly what he's doing.
Jennifer Gifford
Feb 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
Where do I start? The stories are one dimensional, with paper thin characters composing uninteresting snippets of lives of the above mentioned characters. I couldn't even finish the whole book because it was just aweful. No real sense of togetherness (which is usually an underlying theme in a collection of work), no real direction, either. The stories are trite, boring, and worse, poorly structured.
Margaret Adams
Read for a writing friend who told me “[Barthelme’s] stories are so funny you can read them aloud at parties,” and then refused to invite me to the kinds of parties where people read Barthelme out loud; he later covered by saying something about how he’d only said you can read them aloud at parties but that didn’t mean he actually went to parties where people read Barthelme out loud. After having read forty of Barthelme’s stories now, I think that willfully fixating on this syntactical ...more
Randy Wilson
Why is fiction a story long or short? Why do stories have to be realistic, have beginnings, middles and ends? These are questions I'm considering as a reader but they are questions that Barthelme could - were he as pretentious as I'm sounding here - be asking us in his work.

In his 'stories,' he uses many forms - interviews, news accounts, Q&As, multimedia elements and folktales. Barthelme creates an internal logic to his work that doesn't necessarily conform to external logic. He doesn't
Justin Evans
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Formally interesting, but the intentional shallowness irritated me after a while. When the pieces actually did something, they were wonderful.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. Postmodern to the core——
Aug 18, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
not so impressed:
the new owner (yes, i know you're published in the new yorker, i know new yorkers have their heads up their own asses, but stop whining, dude, stop whining)
departures (see complaint 1, below)
the wound (can you be 'too surreal'? i don't know the answer to that. but can you be 'surreal without sufficient development and/or meaning', and therefore unsatisfying? to that i say yes. (call this complaint number 3.))
sentence (is one allowed to complain of gimmickry when you
Jesse Cooley
Apr 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing

Donald Barthelme is the first and foremost of a slew of sixties and seventies authors to first bend and shape fiction into what we know of as “metafiction”. Metafiction deals with writing about writing, self-conscious writing, or writing that merely draws attention to the act of written construction. Barthelme does this best (in my humble opinion) with Forty Stories, a lofty collection of stories of various lengths and dimensions. Barthelme here pioneers the micro-story (story which is
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved the Carrollian language in these stories. The language jangled my brain in a good way, the way Shakespeare or jazz might, and whenever I put the book down, there would be a smile, or at the least an evil grin, on my face.

Some of my favorite stories were:

The Genius: because the character of the genius presented a good comic schtick for the D&D wizard. The wizard could have a medal for future accomplishments in the field of transtemporal teleportation.

Sinbad: One of his fun fairy
Dec 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just delightful. Highlights:
Concerning the Bodyguard
The New Owner
Engineer-Private Paul Klee Misplaces an Aircraft between Milbertshoffen and Cambrai, March 1916
The Wound
At the Tolstoy Museum
The Temptation of St. Anthony
Some of Us Have Been Threatening Our Friend Colby

Most of the others have lovely redeeming features too.
Andrey Shchekin
Mar 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Barthelme is one of the authors which defines postmodern and deconstruction for me. Each story is not only a new story, but also a new way of telling stories.

It's probably worth to start with Sixty Stories. I read them a very long time ago, but in memory they are better than this one.

Doesn't mean it isn't worth reading.

“The Secret Police said:
We have secrets. We have many secrets. We desire all secrets. We do not have your secrets and that is what we are after, your secrets.”
Stewart Mitchell
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.75 stars.

Barthelme continues to confound, if not amaze, in this collection. Much like in Sixty Stories, these very short stories are episodic, absurd to the point of incomprehension, hilarious, and extraordinarily well-written. However, Forty Stories seems to be composed mainly of the leftovers from the 5-star feast that the other collection is, and some ideas fall flat. In short, this is a very good companion collection, but I wouldn't recommend it on its own.
Mafalda Afilhado
Este livro trata-se de uma satira à sociedade em vários contos,
Capitulos curtos o que acaba por acelerar a leitura, todos eles diferentes com personagens diferentes.
Os contos retratam temas como o trabalho, a traição, o racismo a religião etc de uma forma assustadora que nos dá que pensar, este livro mostra-nos uma sociedade mecânica sem emoções nem raciocínio próprios, o que é de facto muito interessante.
Nu entanto tive alguns problemas com esta leitura, penso que não percebi muita coisa que
N.J. Ramsden
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was side-swiped by Sixty Stories, by its continual freshness, by its being repeatedly surprising – and I'm surprised too by Forty Stories, but more by its being less surprising. The peices feel familiar, rather than new; they feel steady, rather than subversive; they feel, in the end, less like the Barthelme I read ten years ago when I first discovered him, than I wanted them to. It's not Barthelme's fault. Maybe it's Penguin's. Maybe it's mine. Maybe it's nobody's, and just one of those ...more
Pravin Vemuri
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I had been stalking this book online for weeks, months even - plotting, trying to find a way in, ruminating, procrastinating but mostly delaying gratification. I had read a couple of Don's stories online and they had already made me reevaluate what it must feel like when you have a seemingly natural talent to elevate humor (in all its forms - silly, absurd, dark, biting) into high art without much effort.

When I did get to it it felt like I crashed into the most comforting nothingness - like
Guttersnipe Das
May 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Donald Barthelme, Forty Stories
Penguin, 1989
introduction by Dave Eggers (2005)

Short fiction is capable of drastically more than we use it for. Donald Barthelme is proof of the fact. It’s like that cliche about the brain, that we only use ten percent of it. If you’re new to Barthelme, I suggest starting with Sixty Stories. All of his stories are mad and wildly inventive, but there’s something to be said for proceeding chronologically.

For me, enjoying Barthelme meant using strategies I learned
Justin Labelle
Aug 30, 2016 rated it liked it
I read this in spurts over the course of the last few months. There are a few "fine tales" in here, The palace at four am, at the tolstoy museum, Blubeard, the Educational Experience & The Baby.
It contains a wide range of stories but it is widely inconsistent.
I disliked far more stories than I liked and I just barely finished it. However, the stories' short length makes for great bedtime reading...At least they allow your eyes to decompress from a compute screen.

A quote on the jacket of my
Dec 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
During Barthelme's lifetime, I think many readers thought that his work would permanently alter the short story form. He achieved such powerful effects; his stories (many of which initially appeared in the New Yorker, but which also quickly became staples of college English courses) were so funny, so moving, so original and offbeat, and yet so deceptively simple and effortless-seeming. I certainly expected that other writers would come along and produce similar stories, since he had shown how it ...more
Lukasz Pruski
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since it would be presumptuous of me to try to define postmodern literature, I will borrow the famous phrase from Justice Potter Stewart:"I know it when I see it". Donald Barthelme's "Forty Stories" (1987) is certainly a postmodern work. It is a companion volume to his "Sixty Stories" that I haven't yet read, but definitely will.

Some of the 40 pieces in this volume are proper stories, but many are not; some are literary gimmicks (of high quality, to be sure), for instance, the text of
Adrian Stumpp
Barthelme is the quintessential super-pretentious post-modernist. These stories are all less than four pages long and run the gambit from clever to amazing to barely readable to barely written. Of the forty, quite a few are duds, but the gems make up for it. Barthelme loves wordplay and idea play. A normal Barthelme "trick" is to take an idiomatic figure of speech. I won't quote from the book specifically, but an example would be something like "I wanted to tell Maggy I was having an affair but ...more
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure the stories in /Forty Stories/ are as all-around fantastic as the ones in /Sixty Stories/, but that may just be because I'm a little tired, and because this is my third Barthelme book (sometimes spending a lot of time with a writer enables you to see what you don't care to see, such as, Barthelme's really a breast man. Nothing wrong with that--who isn't?--but TMI), and sometimes it's a little hard to recapture that BLOWS YOUR MIND feeling you get the first time you encounter a ...more
Stephen Haines
I fully accept that, when it comes to this author, I just don’t "get it." Don’t get me wrong, there are some very cool stories in here (I enjoyed "The Genius" & "Lightning" most I think), but overall, I just really do not like the style of Barthelme. I can appreciate that it’s original and interesting, but to me—a lot of the time at least—his stories are all imagery without an immense amount of substance or connection; and, again, I just don’t like it. I’m all for weirdness and a fair bit of ...more
May 07, 2009 rated it liked it
With some of these stories, reading them under a covered porch with a hot cup of tea, I felt like I was sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a good friend, the two of us chuckling endlessly while exchanging absurd non sequiturs whose punchlines could be repeated later as inside jokes that would be funny only to us. I think me and Donald would have been friends back in the day - not the best of friends, but close acquaintances - if I didn't get too exasperated by his snotty art references and ...more
Sara Kuhns
Barthelme's collection of short stories are post/ultra modern and often are not really stories. With this sort of writing I have to focus on the phrasing and turn of words, rather than the story, to enjoy it. I'll say it's not for everyone. It's absurd and, for me, abstruse. That said, and particularly as I am a writer--I think it's important to read experimental/modern literature because language is always changing and the way we use it changes as well.

If given my druthers, I'll go for a solid
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All forty titles are fantastic and would also make really good band names. It's unfathomable that there aren't already forty bands named after the stories in this collection. I would pay to hear Concerning the Bodyguard play live.

Some representative sentences to help you determine if Barthelme is your thing:

I said to my wife, "Well, you've got the baby, do we have to get the damned dog too?" The dog will probably bite somebody or get lost. I can see myself walking all over our subdivision
Dec 23, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-fictions
Reprints selected stories from earlier books by Barthelme including Amateurs, Sadness, City Life, Great Days and Overnight to Many Distant Cities.
Jan 31, 2009 rated it liked it
This book is all across the board. I thought most of these were entertaining though meandering and pointless; a few - thought provoking and almost moving. Thought the variety was refreshing compared to having a single theme threading throughout...but at times I was just like 'what??'. Some of these were a little too outside of my interests to enjoy (ones with psychedelic bits, porcupines, eight page sentences). to me, the traditional narratives are the most solid and worth a read.

Temiz, güzel bir çeviri ile Barthélme öykülerini bize ulaştıran Monokl yayınlarına teşekkürler. ...
Çarpıcı, irkiltici, keyifli, mizahi, ...
Her biri farklı, okunmaya değer öyküler. ..
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Donald Barthelme was born to two students at the University of Pennsylvania. The family moved to Texas two years later, where Barthelme's father would become a professor of architecture at the University of Houston, where Barthelme would later major in journalism. In 1951, still a student, he wrote his first articles for the Houston Post. Barthelme was drafted into the Korean War in 1953, arriving ...more
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“You came and fell upon me, I was sitting in the wicker chair. The wicker exclaimed as your weight fell upon me. You were light, I thought, and I thought how good it was of you to do this. We'd never touched before.” 6 likes
“Pia was chopping up an enormous cabbage, a cabbage big as a basketball. The cabbage was of an extraordinary size. It was a big cabbage. “That’s a big cabbage,” Edward said. “Big,” Pia said.” 3 likes
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