Samuel Johnson is Indignant:

…that Scotland has so few trees.

Such is the oddly inspiring flavor of Lydia Davis‘ quirky…what are they? Fragments? Meditations in some cases. Only a few could be called short stores. (though short they certainly are). But they held a strange fascination for me. Some of the best are the very, very short ones, as the haiku like fragment of the books title. They are by turns humorous and poetic. Many are thought provoking, as in “Losing Memory”

You ask me about Edith Wharton.

Well, the name is very familiar.

Some are plain delicious, like “They Take Turns Using a Word They Like”

“It’s extraordinary,” says one woman.

“It is extraordinary,” says the other.

One of the longest (at a mere 19 pages) is a fascinating panegyric to Marie Curie. We all know the name, and what she discovered, and who she was, but Davis brings her to life. In “Marie Curie, So Honorable Woman“, where, after a lecture at the Sorbonne, a journalist reports that her lecture was

“A great victory for feminism…For if woman is admitted to give higher instruction to students of both sexes, where henceforth will be the so-called superiority of the male man? In truth, I tell you: the times is close when woman will become human beings.”

Well, this was in the early 20th Century, after all. Davis has a twist on what we all feel about New Year’s Resolutions in “New Year’s Resolution”. In “The Old Dictionary”, Davis relates the handling of a 125-year old dictionary with the ‘handling’ of her son. Inventive. She certainly has a creative mind.

She can be acerbic, as when she hears an undertaker refer to the remains of a cremated loved one as the “cremains” (in the epistolic “Letter to a Funeral Parlor”‘

“Thyroid Diary” is a meditation on memory, diet, health, and yes…dentistry.

This book of stories is obviously a very quick read at 201 pages. But there’s a lot here to admire, and even more to savor.


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