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The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  5,739 ratings  ·  497 reviews
Lydia Davis is one of our most original and influential writers. She has been called “an American virtuoso of the short story form” (Salon) and “one of the quiet giants . . . of American fiction” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, for the first time, Davis’s short stories will be collected in one volume, from the groundbreaking Break It Down (1986) to the 2007 National ...more
Hardcover, 733 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Catherine Quillman Davis is in her own category. however her fiction now falls into the category of short short stories.I'm sure her profession as a translator determine…moreDavis is in her own category. however her fiction now falls into the category of short short stories.I'm sure her profession as a translator determined her understanding of the complexities of word choice. Hate to bring relationships into it but she was married to Paul Austin who has almost a cult status w his magic realism fiction. He also worked as a translator and they often shared ideas about readers interpret ation. (less)
Egbert Starr I think the sweetest place to start would be with her small collection of stories called "Stories and Other Stories." Everything is laid out nicely an…moreI think the sweetest place to start would be with her small collection of stories called "Stories and Other Stories." Everything is laid out nicely and it's a treat for the ear and for the mind.(less)

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Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The imagination
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
Lydia Davis shits out tiny nuggets of pure golden prose and says 'oh, this old thing?' This is 5 stars of brillance, and an extra star for the stories that will manifest in your mind as your imagination takes over to fill in the unmentioned and try to place the greater horizons of these characters circumstances.

Like her stories, I'm keeping this short. However, these stories will leave a long lasting impression. Highly recommended, especially for fans of flash-fiction and authors such as Amelia
Feb 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I almost didn't want to tell anyone I was reading this because it blew my mind so hard that I'd almost prefer it to have been a dream or something. Let's just never mention it. ...more
Interesting and challenging. At times very funny. She writes excellent stories, but some of the early work has an absurdist/minimalist aspect that is wearying. Though the good stories make it worthwhile wading through the rest. Favorite stories include “In a Northern Country,” “Marie Curie, So Admirable Woman,” “Mr. Burdoff’s Visit to Germany,” and “The Furnace.”
Courtney Johnston
Dec 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
People often say they read books for escapism. I certainly read for solace and comfort. This kind of reading is not for escaping, I think, but for enduring - "I will read this until this situation has passed"; "I will read this until this feeling has gone away".

The mood I find hardest to ameliorate with books is that one where you drift restlessly round the house, picking things up and putting them down, starting things and then walking off again - when you're feeling a little fractured, a litt
Sentimental Surrealist
I was all geared up to declare Lydia Davis the best living author, on the strength of these four collections (I haven't yet read Can't and Won't: Stories or The End of the Story, but I'll get there), and while I stopped myself when I remembered the juggernaut that is Pynchon, I'm still not sure I was too far off the mark. She's certainly, with Borges and O'Connor gone, the best living author of short stories, with apologies to Amy Hempel.

So why am I so impressed with Lydia Davis? Part of it is
Oct 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
The only complaint I have with this book has nothing to do with Davis marvellous stories. I really liked that part, her tone, her ideas, she's all over it, and I loved it.
The problem for me was the edition. Short stories are not exactly my favourite form of fiction, since they develop to a certain point, and that is it. Putting so many in one edition seems silly to me, I mean, 700 pages? I know I know, why did I read it then? Well, I am an obsessive who can't just leave the book and read anothe
Dec 19, 2009 rated it liked it
These stories don’t so much bloom and bleed over their blank pages as hold their breath, fill up their lungs and wait for you to tiptoe past. They’re claustrophobic and lonely, a three floor walk-up to an elbow apartment with pale sunlight and the city below under glass.

“Break It Down,” though, gets five stars.
Paul Sánchez Keighley
I made it!

This omnibus consists of four short story collections by Lydia Davis, written between 1986 and 2007. Being famous mostly for her micro-stories, I expected it to be a sort of coffee-table book you could pick up, read a couple of stories at random and put down again. Only it’s not; it’s four books packed back-to-back begging to be judged individually on their own merits. Once I understood that, I decided to read the books and stories in order, from cover to cover.

What I enjoyed most abou
Kathryn Bashaar
Sep 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Some of the stories in this collection are genius. I especially like the ones where she plays with the whole notion of truth/fiction/lies and how slippery those concepts can be. On the other hand, some of the "stories" are not even really stories. I've written better-thought-out stuff in my personal journal on a bad day. Here is the full text of one "story": "Gainesville! It's too bad your cousin is dead!" Aw come on gimme a break. If I, an unknown writer, were to submit this to any literary jou ...more
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
I can't finish this. Someone please tell Lydia Davis that a story is not a quirky ancedote. ...more
Apr 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories, 2011
Lydia Davis is certainly different, and i can't say i'd read anything quite like this (except in terms of brevity) up until this collection. i can't say i adored it though, or even that i really liked most of what was here. four story collections are combined: Break it down (1986), Almost No Memory (1997), Samuel Johnson is Indignant (2001) and Varieties of Disturbance (2007), and i want to say as a new reader of hers, i probably did her a disservice by reading her in this fashion, in a complete ...more
Feb 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How to read a book like this, that's what's interesting me most in the community reviews on Lydia Davis' collected short stories.

I've begun accidentally, by my boyfriend reading me two of the stories--knowing I'm a Russia fan, reading me the mock historical-travel piece, 'Lord Royton's Tour,' in which she perfectly captures the tone of those old travel writings of the eighteenth century, capturing perfect detail--the names of conveyances, the brilliant sense of landscape. Being somewhat famili
Peter Clothier
Oct 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have been reading The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis like drinking a fine wine. There's a taste of Kafka, a hint of Richard Brautigan, definitely a flavor of Borges... Russell Edson lurking in there somewhere, too. And a couple of others I have not yet been able to identify. Not that Davis in any way derivative, that's not what I mean. It's a distinct pleasure to read her and make all these associations. Her stories are a fine blend of the absurd and the lyrical, the emotionally disturbing a ...more

A Man Questions His Future.

Will he ever read this? He doesn't know. And if he does, will it make any difference?

Well, that's my attempt at writing a Lydia Davis story. Of course I'm not the crafter that she is with the sentence and the word.

In the Mar 17 2014 New Yorker, Dana Goodyear writes of Ms. Davis, her stories, her persona, her life, and her translations. (Did anyone in the Proust Group last year read her translation of Swann's Way? She thinks it's better than Moncrieff's, since i
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lydia Davis is a genius. And upon completion of this less-harrowing-than-it-looks collection, she has cemented herself as my favorite short story writer of all time. Words matter to Davis, and the inventive ways in which she uses them connotes her intense love of language and syntax. She is consistently fresh and surprising, shocking and poignant, clever and magical. The thing about Davis is that she never gets bored; her passion seeps through her words like a bleeding wound. She makes eloquence ...more
Kiran Bhat
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I find Lydia Davis a more glib and wry version of Amy Hempel. Or maybe Hempel is her more emotional and piercing counter-part? Regardless, Davis's short shorts are very smart, and well-crafted. Anyone who aspires to be a writer should study her ability to parse the right amount of dialogue with narration, and to put narration where it best moves the story along. At the same time, I find her work too... academic? Too obviously for the writer-in-training?

Still, someone worth reading if you like l
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-bought
A book that took me forever to read, not due to its content (I don't think), but more by design. I tend to read short story collections very slowly, and almost not wanting to finish them. I think I read 80% of "The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis" in the bathtub. So if I take a bath everyday, how many baths is that? Nevertheless it will not have anything to do with Davis' writings, which are precise, focused, and not one wasted word. In other words, they're sort of perfection in practice.

May 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This is the masterful translator of Madame Bovary and Swann's Way, and she just won the Man Booker Prize for her own stories, which some guy who learned how to write from Pitchfork says "fling their lithe arms wide to embrace many a kind," whatever the fuck that's supposed to mean. Would you have described a dude's stories as "lithe," guy?

Anyway, Davis is famous for writing short stories that are very short, and here's an example:
They Take Turns Using a Word They Like
"It's extraordinary," says
Jul 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Soulless stories, lacking heat, heart and blood. As if written by a technical-engineering-report-writing analyst. Or a 1990s version of an AI.

Innumerable times Davis uses the continuous present tense (first person, second and third), but rather than drawing in the reader to the story and character's viewpoint, you soon end up thinking - again and again - that these stories are purely exercises in technique, in the mechanics of storytelling. A clever mind dashing them off over a coffee or cup of
Oct 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I'm halfway through this collection of four collections of short stories and I have to take a breather. Dense, like poetry. Formalistically inspiring, like Amy Hempel's work. Hypnotic, funny, strange, aloof. Lots of words to describe the "stories" of Lydia Davis. Often, there is no real story, just a question, an idea, a notion. Frequently, if there are characters, they are lost in time and space. There is very little conventional dialog and scene-setting. A radical departure. Impacted a story I ...more
Lydia Davis is the master. From almost novella length to a few sentences, or even words, Davis has a command of the form and of quick and devastating characterization. It's a brick but an enjoyable brick. ...more
Nov 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
I don't know what this book is supposed to be: poetry, essays or fiction, or some combination, but the title suggests fiction.

I am far too tired to review this nicely, but I will say this book is a cure for insomnia. 731 pages long, I don't know how many "stories," and I found maybe seventy five pages of any interest.

I don't read to see how authors can use words; I don't read to revel in the perceived cleverness of an author; and I really don't like reading books that suggest fiction but seem,
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars

What a brilliant writer!

Favorites: The Fears of Mrs.Orlando, Break it Down, Mildred and the Oboe, The Mother, French Lesson I: Le Meurtre, The Mice, Wife One in Country, What Was Interesting, This Condition, Trying to Learn, The House Behind, The Race of the Patient Motorcyclists, Our Trip, Blind Date, Old Mother and the Grouch, How Difficult, Letter to a Funeral Parlor, Marie Curie, so Honorable Woman, The Patient, Selfish, The Silence of Mrs. Iln, Money, A Man from Her Past, The Good
Katia N
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
There is a wonderful tradition of slightly neurotic, self-deprecating American female short prose writers like Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel and you can include even Jenny Offill into this group.

Lydia Davies is certainly one of them. She stands out for her brevity even in this group. The stories I liked the most in this collection are in average half page long.

The volume is thick, and not all of the stories in there are of the same quality. With hindsight, I would probably have this book to dig int
Jan 08, 2010 rated it did not like it
I read a handful of stories from this book and decided not to read the whole thing. Based on the reviews I was expecting it to be awesome, and maybe it is, but not for me.
Jan 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
there’s an awful lot of discussion about that one apocryphal shortest story ever written, usually either by hemingway or faulkner or sometimes fitzgerald, depending on who you ask. you know the one. it’s the sentence:

for sale: baby shoes, never worn.

this is all well and good in terms of making you think about meaning and how efficiently a writer can communicate a reasonably complex narrative while using as little space as possible, but there’s not very much to it aside from that sheer implicatio
Professor Weasel
Dec 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Well, that was certainly one of the weirdest books I've ever read in my life. I don't know if I've ever wrinkled my face as much or said "WTF?" out loud as many times while reading a book. This is definitely a must-have book for any aspiring writer to have on their shelves (or any short story aficionado), just to see what kind of crazy shit is out there. Ms. Davis is constantly heralded as someone who is consistently pushing the boundaries of a what a story is or can or can't do, and while that ...more
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Most famously many of Davis’s stories are short—a page or less, in fact, a paragraph or less. Here, for example are four stories in their entirety: “It has been so long since she used a metaphor!” (Away from Home); “Each seal uses many blowholes and each blowhole is used by many seals.” (Information from the North Concerning the Ice:”); “I am happy the leaves are growing large so quickly. Soon they will hide the neighbor and her screaming child.” (Spring Spleen); and “We know we are very special ...more
Linus Bonduelle
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thickest read in a while but so enjoyable
Sep 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Sometime in late 2008 or early 2009 I heard a story on This American Life while working out on the elliptical at work. It wasn't a great work-out story, since it nearly brought me to tears. I didn't know the author and quickly forgot about looking it up. Fast forward to the fall of 2009; I went to see Lydia Davis read from her collection of stories at the Philadelphia Library (actually, I went to see Jonathan Lethem, having no idea who Lydia Davis was). Her reading was so amazing and funny that ...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

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