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Donald Barthelme (1931–1989)

Author of Sixty Stories

71+ Works 7,038 Members 105 Reviews 60 Favorited

About the Author

Donald Barthelme was born on April 7, 1931, and was one of the major U.S. short story writers and novelists of the late twentieth century. Barthelme satirized American life. Born in Philadelphia, Barthelme spent part of his early life in Houston, Texas, and began to write fiction while working as a show more journalist, director of an art museum and university publicist. These occupations became fuel for his creative fire. His arsenal of techniques included parodies of television shows, radio plays and recipes, long and elaborate metaphors, complex dream sequences, and a break-neck narrative pace. After the publication of his first collection, Come Back Dr. Caligari (1964), Barthelme became a full-time writer of short stories and novels. The latter included Snow White (1967), The Dead Father (1975), and Paradise (1986). Barthelme also published three more short story collections, 60 Stories (1981), Overnight to Many Distant Cities (1983), and 40 Stories (1987). Barthelme died of cancer in 1989. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: Photo Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Works by Donald Barthelme

Sixty Stories (1981) 1,626 copies
Forty Stories (1987) 953 copies
Snow White (1965) 816 copies
The Dead Father (1975) 710 copies
The King (1990) 371 copies
Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964) 301 copies
City Life (1970) 264 copies
Paradise (1986) 246 copies
Amateurs (1976) 194 copies
Sadness (1972) 154 copies
Guilty Pleasures (1974) 100 copies
Great Days (1979) 91 copies
Collected Stories (2021) 73 copies
Sam's Bar (1987) 18 copies
41 verhalen (2016) 8 copies
The School [short story] (2014) 7 copies
I Bought a Little City (2014) 6 copies
Game 5 copies
Here in the Village (1978) 4 copies
The Glass Mountain (2014) 4 copies
Presents (1980) 4 copies
A Manual for Sons (2010) 2 copies
Paraguay 2 copies
The Photographs 2 copies
Dilettanti (2015) 2 copies
Der Kopfsprung (1996) 2 copies
[No title] 1 copy
El pare mort (2020) 1 copy
Seixanta contes (2022) 1 copy
Racconti (2022) 1 copy
Amateurs 1 copy
Regele 1 copy
Zombies 1 copy
Emeraude (1992) 1 copy
Voltiges (1990) 1 copy
Padesát povídek (1999) 1 copy
Contact 7 (1961) 1 copy
Swallowing 1 copy
The King 1 copy

Associated Works

The Best American Short Stories of the Century (2000) — Contributor — 1,549 copies
The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction (1983) — Contributor — 1,124 copies
The World of the Short Story: A 20th Century Collection (1986) — Contributor — 459 copies
The Granta Book of the American Short Story (1992) — Contributor — 368 copies
The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales (1993) — Contributor — 366 copies
Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories (1984) — Contributor — 362 copies
Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker (2000) — Contributor — 354 copies
The Portable Sixties Reader (2002) — Contributor — 323 copies
The Best of Modern Humor (1983) — Contributor — 290 copies
100 Years of The Best American Short Stories (2015) — Contributor — 278 copies
Postmodern American Fiction: A Norton Anthology (1997) — Contributor — 276 copies
The Treasury of American Short Stories (1981) — Contributor — 267 copies
Sudden Fiction International: Sixty Short-Short Stories (1989) — Contributor — 212 copies
The New Granta Book of the American Short Story (2007) — Contributor — 211 copies
Russell Baker's Book of American Humor (1993) — Contributor — 206 copies
Nothing But You: Love Stories From The New Yorker (1997) — Contributor — 184 copies
The Best American Short Stories of the 80s (1990) — Contributor — 159 copies
SF12 (1968) — Contributor — 135 copies
11th Annual Edition: The Year's Best S-F (1966) — Contributor — 113 copies
Magical Realist Fiction: An Anthology (1984) — Contributor — 111 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1986 (1986) — Contributor — 97 copies
American Short Stories (1976) — Contributor, some editions — 95 copies
Best SF: 1971 (1972) — Contributor — 86 copies
Science Fiction: The Future (1971) — Contributor — 83 copies
The Literary Ghost: Great Contemporary Ghost Stories (1991) — Contributor — 75 copies
The Best American Essays 1986 (1986) — Contributor — 70 copies
Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists (2003) — Contributor — 51 copies
Granta 1: New American Writing (1979) — Contributor — 44 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1980 (1980) — Contributor — 34 copies
Hot and Cool: Jazz Short Stories (1990) — Contributor — 30 copies
Mortal Echoes: Encounters With the End (2018) — Contributor — 26 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1979 (1979) — Contributor — 25 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1973 (1973) — Contributor — 23 copies
Studies in Fiction (1965) — Contributor — 22 copies
The Best American Short Stories 1975 (1975) — Contributor — 15 copies
Story to Anti-Story (1979) — Contributor — 13 copies
Cutting Edges: Young American Fiction for the 70's (1973) — Contributor — 7 copies
Modern Fiction About Schoolteaching: An Anthology (1995) — Contributor — 4 copies
New World Writing 20 (1962) — Contributor — 3 copies
Enjoying Stories (1987) — Contributor — 2 copies
Fiction, Volume 1, Number 1 — Contributor — 1 copy


1960s (37) 20th century (193) American (283) American fiction (68) American literature (368) anthology (1,153) barthelme (42) collection (153) Donald Barthelme (48) essays (187) experimental (73) experimental fiction (36) fairy tales (81) fantasy (49) fiction (2,205) first edition (35) humor (449) literature (423) McSweeney's (37) metafiction (56) New York (37) New Yorker (86) non-fiction (111) novel (113) own (76) postmodern (160) postmodernism (156) read (133) satire (38) science fiction (89) sf (42) short fiction (126) short stories (2,004) short story (112) stories (192) textbook (39) to-read (754) unread (155) USA (79) writing (94)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Barthelme, Donald
Date of death
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Place of death
Houston, Texas, USA
Places of residence
New York, New York, USA
University of Houston
curator (Houston Museum of Contemporary Art)
Barthelme, Frederick (brother)
Barthelme, Steven (brother)
American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature, 1978)
Short biography
Donald Barthelme was born in 1931 in Philadelphia. He was a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, winner of a National Book Award, a director of PEN and the Author's Guild, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His sixteen books -- including Snow White, The Dead Father, and City Life -- substantially redefined American short fiction for our time. In 1972 he won the National Book Award for children's literature for The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine of the Hithering Thithering Djinn. He died in 1989.



this is another of those books where I feel I'm missing something big. each story consists of like a series of often surreal images, lines of speech or vignettes. for most stories the extent to which each segment fits together is very unclear and they only rarely fit into a coherent whole. Sometimes they do but you're just left going huh and wondering if you're missing something anyway. some of the images and words are good but a lot of them don't bring up any associations or ideas or anything for me. there is also a lot of confusing relatively long descriptions. a few of the stories are good, although not incredibly so. mostly I just feel like I'm reading and understanding the words but nothing more, it's not bringing up any emotions or ideas or anything on a regular basis, it's rarely interesting, just words. it's frustrating because it's not as if I hate it I'm just not feeling anything

and some are good like the new owner which is about how landlords are bad
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tombomp | 11 other reviews | Oct 31, 2023 |
I love Barthelme's shorter works, but I didn't enjoy this one at all, and and abandoned it after about fifty pages. To me, his writing style, so laden with irony, didn't suit the longer form. Such a constant barrage of irony on so many levels just left me alienated and failing to care. Maybe one day I'll come back to this and see what it has to offer.
robfwalter | 6 other reviews | Jul 31, 2023 |
This collection is full of experimentation and humor and probably some deep thoughts that I totally missed, and I'm glad it exists for whoever the receptive audience is.
Kiramke | 5 other reviews | Jun 27, 2023 |
Perhaps one of the most pointless books I've ever read: a short piece of absurdist humour without the humour and with the absurdism being completely inert. Splayed rather than pointed in its motives, Donald Barthelme's The King makes no use of its interesting concept; that of King Arthur and his knights being present in Britain during the Second World War.

It's a struggle to determine what the point was of such a move: we must assume the idea came to Barthelme from the old legend that the Once and Future King will return to aid Britain in its hour of gravest need – and could there be any time of need more appropriate than 1940? However, aside from a few token and desultory name drops of Dunkirk and the Blitz, there's no attempt at all to utilise the World War Two potential, and the Arthurian court are about as relevant and essential to their new wartime setting as Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to the proper functioning of the original Hamlet. Launcelot and Guinevere aren't dead here, however. Just limp.

It's hard to pin down what the writer was trying to do, if indeed he was trying to do anything. At one point I thought perhaps the anachronism of having King Arthur in the modern age was meant to be a commentary on the purported anachronism of monarchy in the modern age, but this idea was dropped in the text the instant it was raised. As too was the idea – perhaps Barthelme's only good one – of the quest for the Holy Grail being replaced by the quest to develop the first atomic bomb.

These were the only two signposts I could find in the author's inoffensive but empty meander of a book – though not so much signposts as broken twigs indicating that something, who knows what, had passed by. The King is just yet another of those books which seems determined to confirm 'post-modern' as a synonym for 'tedious, self-satisfied noodling'. Sometimes taking a risk on a promising book just doesn't pay off. It happens.
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MikeFutcher | 4 other reviews | May 12, 2023 |



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