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4.2 out of 5 stars
Samuel Johnson Is Indignant: Stories
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I've been quoting her story "Spring Spleen" to people (in its two-sentence entirety) because it's so delightfully short and it conveys its meaning perfectly. I appreciate quirky and inventive writers very much and found SJII to be an enjoyable read. She's up there with Russell Edson and Padgett Powell as a master of the short form.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I love this book and also felt the need to counter the 2 star reviewer who quoted a one line story from the book without including the story title or the italics. Both are essential to taking in the story because Lydia Davis does not waste a word, even on the title. Most of the stories leave the reader with something universal, even when the "univeral thing" goes unsaid. Some of the stories were so close to the bone that I feel I could've written them if I could pare off words as well as she does. I found the book thought provoking and highly entertaining.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
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.)*

Page 14: CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE FROM HERODOTUS
These are the facts about the fish in the Nile:

page 44: SAMUEL JOHNSON IS INDIGNANT:
that Scotland has so few trees.

page 71: HONORING THE SUBJUNCTIVE
It invariably precedes, even if it does not altogether supercede, the determination of what is absolutely desirable and just.

page 73: LOSING MEMORY
You ask me about Edith Wharton.
Well, the name is very familiar.

page 167: AWAY FROM HOME
It has been so long since she used a metaphor!

Well, har-de-har-har, Ms Davis. Words are indeed the precious coins of our linguistic currency, and not to be squandered foolishly. But, given the allegedly beleaguered state of literary fiction these days, with readers scampering away in droves, is it really a wise strategy to adopt such a 'pearls before swine' approach in your writing? God forbid that one should apply as coarse a metric as 'words per dollar' to anyone's literary output, but the Swiss cheese nature of this particular collection left me - how shall I put it? - more than a little peckish at the end.

* These are not the only instances: pages 28, 66, 92, 98, 137, 141, 193, 199, and 200 are characterized by a similar paucity of text.

BUT , I cannot remain upset with you, dearest Lydia. How could I be vexed when, upon turning the almost contentless page 73, I find the completely disarming essay "Letter to a Funeral Parlor" with its devastatingly on-point opening sentence -

I am writing to you to object to the word 'cremains', which was used by your representative when he met with my mother and me two days after my father's death.

Oh, Lydia! Why do you tease us so? Next time, give us more of the good stuff, of which you are so obviously capable. More cheese. Fewer holes.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
Half the pieces (most can't really be called "stories") will make you think or laugh. The other half will make you go "meh."

Half the stories are brimming with wit and intelligence. The other half sound like pseudo-literary versions of rejected MadTV jokes.

Oh well. There should be enough good stuff to please anyone. Plus, McSweeneys deserves all the support you can give, as they are putting out the best work and in the best format.
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on February 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
A wide ranging collection of Davis's short (and very short) stories. Wide ranging in length, style, and subject matter. Many appear to be biographical; some are quite introspective; others are clearly fiction. Overall, I'd say this collection rates 3 stars, simply because a healthy number of the pieces are good but not great and a few fall flat. But this is the difficulty in rating a collection like this - there are some wonderful pieces in here as well, and you should read them. In addition, I know some pieces worked for me ("Certain Knowledge...", mentioned below, for example) partly because I read them at the right time. If I read this collection again in a year or two, I expect others may hit home. On the other hand, I'm not sure I've read a more poignent, touching, respectful, purely enjoyable and thorough biography (of any length) than "Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman", and I expect I'd feel the same way 10 years from now.

A few of the 'stories' are basically a title and a one-liner. Some of these are great, some just so-so. One that really hit home for me is "Certain Knowledge from Herodotus" because I just recently read the part of Herodotus's Histories that is referenced in this short-short piece, and it made me laugh out loud. Another is "Happiest Moment" with it's wonderful surprise in the last sentence.

The middle-length stories seemed to have struck the right chord for me. There's "Mown Lawn", a wonderful excercise in word play - just plain fun to read. "Happy Memories", which struck more than a few chords for me, as did "Selfish", though for very different reasons. And "My Husband and I" has one the best opening lines I've read in a long time.

All in all, there's plenty here to recommend this book. I expect any reader will find gems and duds, but, again, that's often the nature of collections, especially from such an unpredictable writer as Davis. And thanks to McSweeneys for making sure things like this get published.
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VINE VOICEon September 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
Lydia Davis writes short fiction...sometimes really short fiction. In this very good to great collection of short work, Davis has delivered a book both interesting in content and interesting in composition of the collection.

The bulk of the stories in this collection are short stories that feed the mind and fulfill the need for a quick literary fix; and these are intermixed with short short fiction - usually a paragraph in length - that work as a brief interlude between the longer pieces. There are a few stories in this collection that really fall short though as they are more gimmick than good fiction; a perfect example is "Oral History (with Hiccups)". This story has been weirdly spaced so that words are broken as if by a hiccup...cute, but so what; really nothing more distracting than a gimmick that doesn't further the story.

Of the notable pieces, you will find great pleasure with stories such as "In a Northern Country" where an elderly gentleman travels to a (seemingly) foreign land in search of a brother recently gone missing and finds an interesting collection of introverted villagers not too concerned with the disappearance of the brother or the villager gone missing with him. An interesting story with a sort-of gimmick that works is "Jury Duty" with its one-sided question and answer session monologue.

Overall, this book is a satisfying collection that leaves me wanting more of Lydia Davis' short fiction.

>>>>>>><<<<<<<

A Guide to my Book Rating System:

1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.
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Format: Paperback
"Samuel Johnson is indignant" - and he is not alone. Any reader should be, at least, indignant with Lydia Davis's third short story collection. She writes like nobody else - and nobody else can write like her. It is indignant how capable she is to convey so much meaning with so short stories - some of them are one-line only, and they represent, add, bring so much more than some novels.

When she goes for shortest stories, she is brilliant. They are funny and meaningful. But when Davis deals with longer ones she reaches another level. "Marie Curie, so honorable woman" unfolds the scientist's life in less than 20 pages and covers everything. Told in present tense, the story has an urgency of a life so replete of events that a second can't be wasted.

Most of the narratives are told in the first person - as happens in Davis's previous collections, "Break it down" and "Almost no memory". They sound like slices of her life, her family and friends - maybe an alternative of them. One of the most beautiful stories in this collection is "Letter to a funeral Parlor", in which, a language question reflects the pain of grieving.

With wit and delicacy, Davis investigates mysteries of love, life, death and relationships. Her strength comes from not being afraid of dive deep in the human soul - and she does so with good humor and sensibility.
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Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A quirky collection, some stories are one sentence or one paragraph; others are longer. The subject matter ranges from personal reminiscences to odd observations of nature, people and events. You will never find a better description of a mother’s remorse than “The Old Dictionary.”

“My son needs many other things besides what he needs for his physical care, and these things multiply or change constantly. They can change right in the middle of a sentence. Though I often know, I do not always know just he needs. Even when I know, I am not always able to give it to him. Many times each day I do not give him what he needs. Some of what I do for the old dictionary, though not all, I could do for my son. For instance, I handle it slowly, deliberately, and gently. I consider its age. I treat it with respect. I stop and think before I use it. I know its limitations. I do not encourage it to go further than it can go (for instance to lie open flat on a table). I leave it alone a good deal of the time.”
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Format: Paperback
It sounds precious, but I like very much the old-fashioned spindly typeface used. Am I making this up? Is it perhaps - and here's the clever part - only the typeface used for the titles, and does it permeate the whole? I think I may have to invest in the original McSweeney's edition in search of a clue

Actually, even more fiendishly clever is that the poems included here from Davis's first, 1976, collection are distinguishable by yet another typeface, presumably that of the original edition. The previous volume, Almost No Memory, which also included poems from that collection, went with a uniform typeface, so good old McSweeney's (never expected to find myself saying that) and don't beat yourself up trudging through the collected stories (which aren't printed in proper chronological order - have to wait for Library of America for that) but take it nice and easy, one book at a time.
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on March 19, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Funny and provokotive - Made one think about the odd things in life - promoted discussion in our book club
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