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Sixty Stories (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 30, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This excellent collection of Donald Barthelme's literary output during the 1960s and 1970s covers the period when the writer came to prominence--producing the stories, satires, parodies, and other formal experiments that altered fiction as we know it--and wrote many of the most beautiful sentences in the English language. Due to the unfortunate discontinuance of many of Barthelme's titles, 60 Stories now stands as one of the broadest overviews of his work, containing selections from eight previously published books, as well as a number of other short works that had been otherwise uncollected. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Barthelme can focus our feeling into a bright point that can raise a blister. These 60 stories show him inventing at a fever pitch." —The Washington Post

"Donald Barthelme may have influenced the short story in his time as much as Hemingway and O' Hara did in theirs." —The New York Times

"The delight he offers to readers is beyond question, his originality is unmatched." —Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142437395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142437391
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In his review of "American Beauty," the New Yorker movie critic David Denby writes, "I can think of no other American movie that sets us tensions with smarty pants social satire and resolves them with a burst of metaphysics." The same can be said for many of the stories in this collection. The first three fourth's of "The School," for example, is narrated with the deadpan cool that predominated in popular eighties minimalism. It is textbook black humor. But "The School" ends with a poetic riff on cultural relativism, exposing everything that came before in the story, and giving us a glimpse of the narrator's frailties. And then with the final two lines, Barthelme throws in an oddball joke, making the story even more uncertain. It's like on The Simpsons, when you get their craziest, surreal joke right before a commercial break. A Barthelme story simultaneously invites interpretation and outguesses the reader.
Another great thing about both Barthelme's stories and "American Beauty" is that when a narrative stradles that border between reality and parody, the characters get away with making the most straightforward thematic statements. In "The Seargent," a story about a middle aged man who somehow finds himself stuck in the army again, the narrator keeps repeating, "This is all a mistake. I'm not supposed to be here," etc. "Of course I deserve this." If the protagonist of a realistic, mid-life crisis story made these statements it would be interpreted as too obvious. Suspension of disbelief might be violated. When the situation is absurd, however, the characters can be beautifully direct.
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Format: Paperback
Donald Barthelme is probably the inimitable writer of the twentieth century and this collection is the best way to introduce yourself to his works. Included are selections from eight volumes he published between the years of 1964 and 1979 as well as a number of previously uncollected stories. What stikes one most about this collection is the sustained brilliance over the course of all 60 inclusions. While not every story is a classic and not every story hits the bullseye one has to admire the ambition packed and effort with which each is attempted, especially when one considers that few exist in a framework of more than six or seven pages. The stories in this collection that do work, and they are in the far majority, are startling in their ability to catch the reader off guard and deliver their short, compact punch. "Game", "A City of Churches" and "The School" are among these highlights, beautiful in their ability to transmit their message with such clarity and intensity, yet with such ease, virtuosity and good humor.
All that said, I feel I should qualify this review by saying that Barthelme is rarely easy reading. His narratives are so remarkably compact and so tightly wound that reading one straight through is something quite akin to venturing through an underwater cave, not coming up for air until the very end. It can be a difficuly experience, requiring intense concentration but the payoff is very worth the effort.
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Format: Paperback
Judgments about Barthelme remind me of how subjective criticism of literature is. Is he a genius or a fraud? One thing is for certain: if you do not have a taste for the absurd you are probably not going to like Barthelme. His stories are filled with absurdist/surrealist elements. But for me, what separates him from other "experimental" writers is his ability to elicit emotion from the reader. For example, when I first read the ending of "The Balloon", I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. And I couldn't say exactly why. Same with "The School." But there is something about his writing that works on the precognitive level. Unlike some reviewers, I don't find anything chilly or removed about his writing. There seems to be a genuine sympathy for his characters, even when placed in the most ludicrous of circumstances. So I line up on the genius side. And by the way, he's flat out the funniest writer I know of. 60 Stories is a good place to start if you're interested but if you like it, also check out 40 Stories, which features simpler writing.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
--Lets get right to the meat. People are busy. Did you like this book? Is it worth reading?

--Yes on both counts. "60 Stories" is a generous sampling of Bartheleme's work. You'll certainly discover whether he's to your liking or not based on what you're offered here. Because it bears saying that these stories are certainly not going to be everyone's cup of blue rooibos, to coin a phrase.

--How so? Why not?

--They aren't what most people would call "traditional" stories. It's somewhat inaccurate to call them "experimental" at this point since so many years have elapsed since they were written and published, so many years since the author died, and Barthelme's influence has been shaping literary experiments ever since, but a stunning number of readers still expect the short story to adhere to conventions established two or three centuries ago. I'd go back even further but the fact is that Barthelme's stories actually employ the conventions of what might be called the "original" short stories--fairy tales, myths, dreams, visions, and the like.

--In other words, they're non-linear, ambiguous, full of fantastic and illogical occurences.

--Yes, to name just a few. What's continually interesting about Barthelme is that every story--well, practically every story--is different in technique from the others. He attempts to find a mode of expression that suits what he wants to say and that changes from story to story. A hammer for a nail, a screwdriver for a screw. But more often, he invents new tools altogether. His stories are invented tools. So you never know quite what to expect when you begin a new story. A collection of Barthelme's stories is not like a box of saltine crackers. It's not even like a box of chocolates.
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