- Hardcover: 176 pages
- Publisher: Harper; unknown edition (January 25, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061840548
- ISBN-13: 978-0061840548
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 118 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One unknown Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
A whole book on the lowly sentence? Stanley Fish, America's English Professor, confides that he belongs "to the tribe of sentence watchers," and shares his passion and learning through an array of examples from sentence-making masters, among them Milton, James, Dr. King, Sterne, Swift, Salinger, Elmore Leonard, Conrad, and Gertrude Stein. For Fish, language is logic. He stresses how the sentence, regardless of length-whether declarative or embroidered with qualifiers-is a structure of logical relationships. He discusses the all-important opening sentence and closing sentence, especially as the latter can be isolated from its dramatic context to convey full rhetorical effect. The reader is advised to begin with form; with practice, writers can develop three basics of style (subordinating, additive, satiric) that will allow them to make an emotional impact with their words. In the end, the craft of sentence writing is elevated to the very center of our inner lives. Fish plays the opinion card well, though a piling on of example after example, particularly of long sentences drawn from literature or theology, might leave more experienced sentence-makers to cry, "Enough already!"
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New York Times columnist and college professor Fish appreciates fine sentences the way some people appreciate fine wine. In 10 short chapters, Fish takes readers through a cogent analysis of how to craft a sentence. He talks about form, content, and style, always taking care to illustrate his points with an ample selection of judicously chosen quotations from virtuoso writers, from Milton and Shakepeare to Anton Scalia and Elmore Leonard. He then proceeds to drill down into the quotations, zeroing in on the tense, parts of speech, or precise phrasing that make the sentences sing. He also discusses famous first and last lines, always keeping in the forefront the extraordinary power of language to shape reality. And, befitting his subject matter, he does all this in the most luminous prose. He fluidly conveys the nitty-gritty details of crafting sentences, but, even more impressive, he communicates and instills in readers a deep appreciation for beautiful sentences that “do things the language you use every day would not have seemed capable of doing.” Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing. --Joanne Wilkinson
Top customer reviews
As a native English speaker, I can crank out sentences and analyses like these all day long. Why would I want to read Stanley Fish's thin book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One?
Because he will make me—and you—think about sentences, which are, after all, basic to the writer's trade. For example, what is a sentence? Fish points out that writing guides offer answers: "A sentence is a complete thought." "A sentence contains a subject or a predicate." "Sentences consist of one or more clauses that bear certain relationships to one another." He says that "far from being transparent and inclusive, these declarations come wrapped in a fog; they seem to skate on their own surface and simply don't go deep enough."
Okay, professor, what does go deeper? "Well, my bottom line can be summarized in two statements: (1) a sentence is an organization of items in the world; and (2) a sentence is a structure of logical relationships." A random list of items, for example, is not a sentence. He quotes Anthony Burgess: "And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning." In Fish's formula, "Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation."
He discusses sentence form and how to turn a list of words into a sentence, using the Noam Chomsky example: "furiously sleep ideas green colorless" which can be turned into something meaningful (or more meaningful) as "colorless green ideas sleep furiously," which could be a line of poetry. The question one has to ask oneself when writing a sentence is "What am I trying to do?"
"It is often said," he writes, "that the job of language is to report or reflect or mirror reality, but the power of language is greater and more dangerous than that; it shapes reality, not of course in the literal sense—the world is one thing, words another—but in the sense that the order imposed on a piece of the world by a sentence is only one among innumerable possible orders." And every time you revise a sentence, add a modifier, delete a clause, change a tense you've changed that "reality."
Once Fish has discussed sentences generally, he spends three chapters describing the subordinating style, the additive style, and the satiric style of sentences with examples. Here is a sample of the satiric style. J. L. Austin cautioning readers not to be impatient with the slow unfolding of his argument: "And we must at all costs avoid over-simplification, which one might be tempted to call the occupational disease of philosophers if it were not their occupation."
With practical suggestions of how to form an infinite number of sentences using a relatively few forms, Fish offers chapters on first sentences—"One day Karen DeCilia put a few observations together and realized her husband Frank was sleeping with a real estate woman in Boca" (Elmore Leonard)—and last—"He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance" (Mary Shelley). Wonderful stuff for any writer who is struggling to start a piece or finish one.
The last chapter, "Sentences That Are About Themselves (Aren't They All?)" summarizes and extends the discussion to works like Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier in which the narrator in telling one story is, as the reader comes to realize, unconsciously telling another story entirely.
Every serious writer should keep How to Write a Sentence on the bookshelf to take down every year or so and read once again.
As an instructor of freshman English composition, however, I am reluctant to pooh-pooh Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style". While I understand Fish's complaint about its use (or over-use), I cannot dismiss "The Elements of Style" so quickly. Too many students have found it valuable. I am, however, considering using "How to Write a Sentence..." for my more advanced classes and elective writing courses.
One last note, I got the hardcover, in nearly perfect condition, for under $10. Maybe I should write something called "How to Buy a Book."
The College of New Rochelle
That said, the book's purpose and audience escape me. This cannot be a book for those wishing to write better. For one thing, to even approach this book one must already be rather nimble with language; that is, to understand what it says about sentences one must already know a lot about them. For another, Fish's idea that mastering sentence form by practicing writing clever sentences is just not borne out by research in composition and rhetoric. Study after study has shown that acontextual exercises like these don't help students much at all. So I could never suggest this as a writing text (try Joseph Williams "Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace").
In the end I can only guess that the real audience for the book consists of people who enjoy the wit and insight of Stanley Fish. That would be fans like me.
Most recent customer reviews
Better. Would recommend.