By Lydia Davis, published in the 2013 issue of NOON. Davis’s “Five Stories from Flaubert” appeared in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine.
I’m simply not interested in reading this book. I was not interested in reading the last one I tried, either. I’m less and less interested in reading any of the books I have, though they are reasonably good, I suppose.
Just as, the other day, when I went out to the back yard, planning to gather up some sticks and branches and carry them to the pile in the far corner of the meadow, I suddenly became so deeply bored by the thought of picking up those sticks and carrying them, yet again, to that pile, and then coming back through the high meadow grass for more, that I did not even begin, and simply went inside.
Now I can do it again. It was only on that one day that I was bored. Then the feeling went away, and now I can go out again, pick up the sticks and branches, and take them to the pile. Actually, I pick up the sticks and carry them in my arms, and I drag the larger branches. I don’t do both at once. I can make about three trips back and forth before I get tired and quit.
The books I’m talking about are supposed to be reasonably good, but they simply don’t interest me. In fact, they may be a lot better than certain other books I have, but sometimes the books that aren’t so good interest me more.
The day before that one particular day, and the day after it, I was willing to pick up sticks and take them back to the pile. Actually, for many days before, and many days after. Could I even say: all the days before that day and all the days after? Don’t ask me why I wasn’t bored on other days. I’ve often wondered why, myself.
If I think about it, it may be that there is some satisfaction in seeing the haphazard pile of sticks and branches near the house get smaller each day, as I carry or drag them back. There is some interest, though not much, so little, in fact, that it is right on the edge of boredom, in looking at the meadow passing under my feet: the grasses, the wildflowers, and the occasional wild-animal scat. Then, when I reach the brush pile in the back, there is the best moment: I weigh the bundle of sticks in my arms, or balance the branch in my two hands, and then heave them, or it, as far up to the top of the brush pile as I can. The walk back through the meadow is easy, compared to the walk out to the pile; I look around at the treetops and the sky, as well as at the house, though that never changes and is not interesting.
But on that particular day I did not even begin to feel interested in this chore, and was suddenly more deeply bored than I had ever been before, and just turned around and went back inside. Which made me wonder why I wanted to do this chore at all, on other days, and also which was real: my slight interest on other days, or my profound boredom now. And it made me wonder if I really should be profoundly bored by this chore all the time and never do it again, and if there was something wrong with my mind that I was not bored by it all the time.
I’m not tired of all good books, I’m just tired of novels and stories, even good ones, or ones that are supposed to be good. These days, I prefer books that contain something real, or something the author at least believed to be real. I don’t want to be bored by someone’s imagination. Most people’s imaginations just aren’t very interesting — you can guess where the author got this idea and that idea. You can predict what will come next before you finish reading one sentence. It all seems so arbitrary.
But it’s true that I’m also bored, sometimes, by my own dreams, and by the act of dreaming: Here I go again, this scene does not make sense, I must be falling asleep, this is a dream, I’m about to start dreaming again. And I am sometimes bored even by the act of thinking: Here’s another thought, I’m about to find it interesting or not interesting — not this again! In fact, I am sometimes bored by my friendships: Oh, we will spend the evening together, we will talk, then I will go home — this again!
Actually, I don’t mean I’m bored by old novels and books of stories, if they’re good. Just new ones — good or bad. I feel like saying: Please spare me your imagination, I’m so tired of your vivid imagination, let someone else enjoy it. That’s how I’m feeling these days, anyway. Maybe it will pass.