A selection of essays on writing and reading by the master short-fiction writer Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis is a writer whose originality, influence, and wit are beyond compare. Jonathan Franzen has called her “a magician of self-consciousness,” while Rick Moody hails her as "the best prose stylist in America." And for Claire Messud, “Davis's signal gift is to make us feel alive.”
Best known for her masterful short stories and translations, Davis’s gifts extend equally to her nonfiction. In Essays One, Davis has, for the first time, gathered a selection of essays, commentaries, and lectures composed over the past five decades.
In this first of two volumes, her subjects range from her earliest influences to her favorite short stories, from John Ashbery’s translation of Rimbaud to Alan Cote’s painting, and from the Shepherd’s Psalm to early tourist photographs. On display is the development and range of one of the sharpest, most capacious minds writing today.
The first in a planned two-volume collection of the nonfiction of short story author Davis (Samuel Johnson Is Indignant) proves a cornucopia of illuminating and timeless observations on literature, art, and the craft of writing. A master of short, punchy prose works, Davis discloses her influences, some of which may be surprising even to longtime fans, including Roland Barthes, Franz Kafka, and Grace Paley, among many more. In a few essays, Davis presents first drafts of her own work along with the final versions, annotating and explaining revisions and providing an instructive window into her process. Interwoven throughout are short pieces on some of Davis's favorite artists, or alternatively, those whom she finds pleasingly confounding. In the latter category is expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, whose 1973 work Les Bluets Davis credits with helping her to accept and embrace the inscrutable. Invaluable is the 2013 piece "Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits," which outlines best practices for creative writing, from honing one's observational techniques to crafting believable dialogue. Fans of Davis's unfailingly clever work should add this volume to their collection, and creative writers of every genre should take the opportunity to learn from a legend.