With new books from Dan Brown, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Pat Conroy (plus Kazuo Ishiguro, Lorrie Moore, Phillip Roth, Jonathan Lethem, E.L Doctorow, Michael Chabon, Audrey Niffenegger, Jon Krakauer, Michael Lewis, and Margaret Atwood), publishers and booksellers are gearing up for an “extraordinary,” “ridiculously crowded” fall. There is some speculation that big books like Brown’s The Lost Symbol and Conroy’s South of Broad will bring people into bookstores and raise the tide for “smaller,” more literary authors like Lethem and Atwood. But regardless of whether that theory holds true, marketing departments at the big publishing houses will be fighting like weasels for attention.
All this excitement is good news for an industry that has found itself recently on the ropes. And there are even signs that the big houses are pushing back against Amazon’s Apple-inspired plans for domination of the e-book market. But amidst all the excitement, amidst the Roths and Moores and Chabons, we should not forget about Lydia Davis, whose Collected Stories comes out from FSG in late September.
Lydia Davis is often described as a writers’ writer. It is true that writers love her tightly-packed prose, her slippery and profound meditations on the strangeness of life. Rick Moody called her “the best prose stylist in America.” Jonathan Franzen wrote: “Davis is a magician of self-consciousness. Few writers now working make the words on the page matter more.” Dave Eggers said that she “blows the roof off of so many of our assumptions about what constitutes short fiction.” And Christopher Kennedy neatly sums her work up in two sentences: “Lydia Davis reinvented the wheel. It’s irregular now.” A recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant, a Lannan, a Guggenheim, a Whiting, and an NEA—and let’s not forget the French Insignia of the Order of Arts and Letters she received in recognition of her translation work—Davis could hardly be lauded more by the literary establishment. But to call her a writers’ writer and stop there would be a disservice to Davis and to readers.
The release of her Collected Stories is the perfect chance for Lydia Davis to break out of this reputation, a chance to introduce her to a wider readership, to show them why writers love her work so much. We can only hope that the book’s entrance will not be drowned out by the trumpets heralding the rest of the season.