An early highlight of my reading year has been Lydia Davis’s Collected Stories. Many of her stories put a slight and strange and startling twist on consensus reality (or a fresh insight that amounts to the same), sometimes combined with a self-conscious linguistic flourish:
I am reading a sentence by a certain poet as I eat my carrot. Then, although I know I have read it, although I know my eyes have passed along it and I have heard the words in my ears, I am sure I haven’t really read it. I may mean understood it. But I may mean consumed it: I haven’t consumed it because I was already eating the carrot. The carrot was a line, too.
This synaesthesia-adjacent report is one of fifteen self-contained entries in a story titled ‘Examples of Confusion’.
Another entry from that story:
Driving in the rain, I see a crumpled brown thing ahead in the middle of the road. I think it is an animal. I feel sadness for it and for all the animals I have been seeing in the road and by the edge of the road. When I come closer, I find that it is not an animal but a paper bag. Then there is a moment when my sadness from before is still there along with the paper bag, so that I appear to feel sadness for the paper bag.
Her stories can be extremely short, occasionally a paragraph or even just a phrase in length. Here’s one titled ‘They Take Turns Using a Word They Like’:
‘It’s extraordinary,’ says one woman.
‘It is extraordinary,’ says the other.
This Twitter thread features a few more excerpts from the book:
Finally, though I’m generally leery of ‘writing tips’, finding them obvious and hackneyed more often than not, Davis’s recommendations for good writing habits are refreshingly detailed and interesting.