ESSAYS ONE By Lydia Davis


Essays One certainly qualifies as a Big Fat Book, weighing in at 512 pages. Lydia Davis, in her “Preface,” states she wanted to collect her non-fiction articles in one or two volumes. When she saw the amount of material that she had written, Davis decided on two volumes. The second volume of essays is scheduled to be published on November 17, 2020 (probably another 500+ page volume). Lydia Davis is a translator and writer. I have a copy of Davis’s celebrated translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way on my shelf waiting to be read this year. But Davis is also a professor who teaches writing so some of the essays in this volume deal with the writing process.

I enjoyed Davis’s essay, “Revising One Sentence,” where she illustrates the revision process. After reading “Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits” I hope to adopt a couple of Davis’s suggestions myself. “Be sure to read poetry, regularly, whether you are a poet or a writer of prose.” (p. 248) and “Cutting can be effective: it quickens the pace and involves more happening in a shorter space. But this does not mean that everything has to be short. You can write three thousand pages (as Proust did in In Search of Lost Time) and still be economical. In this case, economical simply means not saying more than you need to.” (p. 253)

Lydia Davis recommends books she likes or finds useful. She’s a fan of Flaubert (she also translated Madame Bovary) and Edward Dahlberg. Davis reads a lot of European writers and works I’m not that familiar with, but I’m now motived to track down. If you’re interested in reading intelligent, thought-provoking literary essays, I highly recommend Lydia Davis’s Essays One. I look forward to reading Essays Two. GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Preface ix
THE PRACTICE OF WRITING
A Beloved Duck Gets Cooked: Forms and Influences I 3
Commentary on One Very Short Story (“In a House Besieged”) 28
From Raw Material to Finished Work: Forms and Influences II 31
A Note on the Word Gubernatorial 64
VISUAL ARTISTS: JOAN MITCHELL
Joan Mitchell and Les Bluets, 1973 69
WRITERS
John Ashbery’s Translation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations 77
Young Pynchon 85
The Story Is the Thing: Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women 90
A Close Look at Two Books by Rae Armantrout 104
Small but Perfectly Formed: Five Favorite Short Stories 121
VISUAL ARTISTS: JOSEPH CORNELL
The Impetus Was Delight: A Response by Analogy to the Work of Joseph Cornell 125
THE PRACTICE OF WRITING (2)
Sources, Revision, Order, and Endings: Forms and Influences III 141
Revising One Sentence 169
Found Material, Syntax, Brevity, and the Beauty of Awkward Prose: Forms and Influences IV 177
Fragmentary or Unfinished: Barthes, Joubert, Hölderlin, Mallarmé, Flaubert 204
Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits 226
VISUAL ARTISTS: ALAN COTE
Energy in Color: Alan Cote’s Recent Paintings 265
WRITERS (2)
“Emmy Moore’s Journal” by Jane Bowles 281
Osama Alomar’s Very Short Tales in Fullblood Arabian 285
Haunting the Flea Market: Roger Lewinter’s The Attraction of Things 291
Red Mittens: Anselm Hollo’s Translation from the Cheremiss 296
In Search of Difficult Edward Dahlberg 300
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary 321
VISUAL ARTISTS: EARLY TOURIST PHOTOGRAPHS
Dutch Scenes: A Portfolio of Early Twentieth-Century Tourist Photographs 345
WRITERS (3)
The Problem of Plot Summary in Blanchot’s Fiction 367
Stendhal’s Alter Ego: The Life of Henry Brulard 371
Maurice Blanchot Absent 380
A Farewell to Michel Butor 385
Michel Leiris’s Fibrils, Volume 3 of The Rules of the Game 391
THE BIBLE, MEMORY, AND THE PASSAGE OF TIME
As I Was Reading 405
Meeting Abraham Lincoln 425
“Paring Off the Amphibologisms”: Jesus Recovered by the Jesus Seminar 443
A Reading of the Shepherd’s Psalm 464
Remember the Van Wagenens 475
Acknowledgments and Notes 503

10 thoughts on “ESSAYS ONE By Lydia Davis

  1. Steve Oerkfitz

    This doesn’t sound like something I would read but glad you enjoyed it. Read Swann’s Way for a French lit class in college. Probably my least favorite read ever. Sheer torture.

    Reply
    1. george Post author

      Steve, I’ve tried to read SWANN’S WAY three times over the years and gave up each time. Critics consider Proust’s IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME, actually a 6-volume novel, one of the great literary achievements of the 20th Century. I may try SWANN’S WAY again but with Lydia Davis’s translation.

      Reply
  2. Michael Padgett

    Haven’t read her essays and probably won’t, but I have a couple of her story collections on the shelf. Her stories are strange, or at least unusual. Many are just a page or a paragraph, or even a single sentence, frequently more akin to poetry than fiction.

    Reply
  3. Jeff Meyerson

    Umm, no. Don’t think so. I may have read some of her stories but not in the mood for this. Maybe next big book.

    Reply

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