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Andrew Hungate on Lydia Davis

Upon the publication of Lydia Davis’ first collection of essays, the aptly titled Essays: One, Andrew Hungate finds something lacking in the book, in a review at 3:AM Magazine:

When reading essays such as these, the question arises: under what circumstances do the minutiae of a writer’s practice become significant? What compels the writer to explain her craft in such detail, and what kind of reader is so eager to know? Such things are excused in a pedagogical setting, of course, but Davis’s didactic style pervades many of her critical essays as well. She is an astute close reader, especially of poetry, and the critical essays in this collection do treat their subject material with a wonderfully microscopic level of explication, but the general feeling is that Lydia Davis is teaching us how to read. Despite a personal relationship with many of her subjects, including Lucia Berlin, Joan Mitchell, and Rae Armantrout, Davis keeps to the work and the work alone; even an essay on the paintings of her husband Alan Cote makes no mention of the fact that the author and painter are acquainted. To the extent that this runs counter to the tendency of contemporary essayists to delve constantly and shamelessly into the personal, it is refreshing, but the analysis is left feeling rather bare.