*Essays One*, by Lydia Davis

Is there anything more enthralling than a writer of supreme intelligence covering topics she understands deeply?  Here is just one bit from this fantastic collection:

We know we are not being asked to believe in a woman named Oedipa Maas or a man named Stanley Koteks, and our attention is distracted from the story to the artifice and artificer.  What is shared by the two books is a sense of tight control by the author over the characters, the language, the book, and probably the reader.  Sometimes the control is achieved through his mastery of a graceful prose style or an appealing notion (“Creaking, or echoing, or left as dark-ribbed sneaker=prints in a fine layer of damp, the footstep of the Junta carried them into King Krjö’s house, past pier glasses that gave them back their images dark and faded, as if some part were being kept as the price of admission”): here is control by persuasion.  Sometimes, on the other hand, the young author goes beyond eloquence to a kind of hyper-eloquence that becomes a display of power over language itself that perhaps borders on control by coercion.

Or how about this?:

Franz Kafka’s “The Burrow,” because of the confident and convincing narrative voice of its obsessed narrator, who begins: “I have completed the construction of my burrow and it seems to be successful.”  Kafka fully inhabits his characters and presents them with a realism that makes them, though they are impossible, believable.


I have given students in writing classes the assignment to read, analyze, and then imitate stylistically one of [Thomas] Bernhard’s small stories.  Younger writers these days often have trouble constructing long, complex sentences.  They often restrict themselves to short, simple sentences, and when they try a longer, more complex one, they run into trouble.  I see this in otherwise good writers — including good published writers.

Make sure you read her short essay “Thirty Recommendations for Good Writing Habits” (you won’t agree with them all, though I think I do)

This is one of the very best books to read if you wish to think about writing more deeply.  You can pre-order it here.


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