Readings — From the January 2014 issue

Can’t and Won’t

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“How I Read as Quickly as Possible Through My Back Issues of the TLS,” by Lydia Davis, from a collection of stories to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in April. Davis’s “The Two Davises and the Rug” appeared in the September 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

I do not want to read about the life of Jerry Lewis.

I do want to read about mammalian carnivores.

I do not want to read about a portrait of a castrato.

I do not want to read this poem:
(“ . . . and so I stood / at the water’s edge among electrolytes . . . ”)

I do want to read about the history of the Inca khipu.

I do not want to read about:
the history of the panda in China
a dictionary of women in Shakespeare

Do want to read about:
sow bugs
bumblebees

Do not want to read about Ronald Reagan.

Do not want to read this poem:
(“What’s the point of sitting on a bus / and fuming?”)

Do want to read about the creation of the musical South Pacific:
(“This study will contribute greatly to the still under-written history of the Broadway musical”)

Not interested in:
The Oxford Companion to Canadian Military History

Not interested in (at least not today):
Hitler
London theater productions

Interested in:
the psychology of lying
Anne Carson on the death of her brother
French writers admired by Proust
the poems of Catullus
translations from the Serbian

Not interested in:
the creation of the Statue of Liberty

Interested in:
beer
East Prussia after World War II
philosemitism

Not interested in:
the Archbishop of Canterbury

Not interested in this poem:
(“Light dazzles from the grass / over the carnal dune . . . ”)

Not interested in:
the Anglo-Portuguese establishment
heraldic leopards

Interested in:
the lectures of Borges
Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style
dust jackets in the history of bibliography:

(“For the first time, the dust jacket has been given its due status . . .”)

Not interested in:
the friendship of Elgar and Schenker
the work of Alexander Pope
T. S. Eliot’s fountain pen

Not interested in:
the Audit Commission

Interested in:
the social value of altruism
the building of the Pont Neuf
the history of daguerreotypes

Not interested in:
a cultural history of the British Census
(“It is salutary to see, from this learned book, that, mutatis mutandis, such controversies have plagued the census since its inception . . . ”)

Not interested in:
a cultural history of the accordion in America
(“Squeeze This”)

Interested in:
the Southport Lawnmower Museum

Not interested in:
a history of British television criticism
fashion at the Academy Awards:
(“how Oscars dress etiquette has changed since the ceremony’s inception in 1928”)

Not interested in:
Anacaona: The Amazing Adventures of Cuba’s First All-Girl Dance Band

Always (or almost always) interested in:
JC’s NB and the doings of the Basement Labyrinth

Not interested in — or, well, yes, maybe interested in:
the history of diplomacy
Laura Bush’s autobiography

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More from Lydia Davis:

Readings From the April 2013 issue

Not Interested

Readings From the November 2010 issue

The chairs

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