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How To Write a Sentence and How To Read One by Stanley Fish

February 3, 2013

How-to-write-a-sentence-book-image

From the title, I thought I would love this book. I expected to come away with some very practical, tangible advice on how to make my writing stronger. Unfortunately, I found the book neither practical nor tangible. It isn’t so much a “how-to” as suggested in the title, but more of a collection of Fish’s favorite sentences organized by a peculiar taxonomy that he invented. His types of sentences are: subordinating style (one part of the sentence is dependent on another), additive style (each section independently builds on the others) and the satiric style. He then has a chapter each on first sentences of novels, last sentences of novels, and sentences that are about writing. It’s not that the sentences he uses as examples are poor. I love reading a well-crafted sentence. But I’m not sure what to do with them. The way he has chosen to categorize the sentences seems arbitrary and unhelpful. And while he is very effusive in his appreciation of the sentences, he rarely does a good job in explaining how or why the sentences work. It felt like trying to learn to build a car by going to a car show. Sure, the cars are very beautiful, but I need something a little more practical if it’s going to be useful.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2013 12:28 am

    Agreed! You would think an editor at some point would suggest a different title…

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