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How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One
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How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  1,495 ratings  ·  285 reviews
Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences. The New York Times columnist and world-class professor has long been an aficionado of language. Like a seasoned sportscaster, Fish marvels at the adeptness of finely crafted sentences and breaks them down into digestible morsels, giving readers an instant play-by-play.

In this e
Hardcover, 176 pages
Published January 25th 2011 by Harper (first published January 6th 2011)
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PB (in rabble-rousing mode) : Gimme a GH as in “enough”!

Crowd of drunken Goodreaders : “GH!”

PB : Gimme an O like in “women”!

Crowd: O!

PB : Gimme a TI like in “station”!

Crowd : TI!!

PB : What’s that spell?

Crowd : GHOTI! GHOTI!!

PB : Yeah, but what does it sound like?


One of the blurbs on the back of this slender volume says :

Whether people like Stanley Fish or not they tend to find him fascinating.


I know several people who deliberately bought clothes shop mannek
If it weren't for goodreads, I could imagine that no one else on earth would find the near fetish-like pleasure I found in this tiny little book. I cherished this thing like a teenage boy oggles over a centerfold, privately, under the covers, with a yellow glow from my bedside lamp, deconstructing sentences like porn deconstructs a woman's body. Fish (oh, I wish that were not your name) illustrates the finite forms of the limitless conveyor of all meaning -- the sentence, in a way that makes all ...more
I don't really read many books on writing. Some who have read my work might say it shows. Touche. I've just found very few books on writing that are actually engaging and interesting. Frankly, they bore me. Besides that, they actually keep me from writing.

So why did I pick this one up, you might ask. Well, like many good things in life, I picked this one up after hearing about it on NPR in this interview with the author, Stanley Fish. I've always appreciated a good sentence, but after listening
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
I dreamed I read this book in my Maidenform bra, and what a nightmare it was.
Although an occasional worthwhile pearl sprang from the author's ponderously pedantic prose, by mid-exposition I found it so tedious to wade through the mire of words, words, words and pseudo-erudite opinions couched as fact, just to seek those few pearls, that I resorted to mere skimming of paragraphs rather than my usual preference of savoring the harmony of words put together to convey both meaning and feeling and whatever message the author intends; in fact, one could easily attain the gist ...more
I don't know anything much about Stanley Fish other than that I have heard and seen his name listed among critics of a certain age. When I first started reading the book I was pretty open to what he had to say since I had no preconceived notions of what to expect. I soon found myself grinding my teeth. Then I found out that besides a literary critic he is also a legal scholar and suddenly he made a bit more sense.

The first part of the book is written like a lawyer wrote it. He has a whole neat
Diane Yannick
Oh good heavens above. This book was unbearable and this is from someone who loves to diagram sentences. Not since college have I forced myself to read such an esoteric, pompous, self righteous, condescending diatribe. I finished it wondering if it wouldn't have been more fun to read an instruction manual from Ikea.

Here's one excerpt, definitely typical of the whole freaking book (here he's talking about ONE sentence from Donne's Reflections):
"But God's literalism--the instantaneous conveyance
What a ramble. In an unlikely plot twist this book even meanders itself into an existential crisis: "If in the end everything we say or do will fade into insignificance in the vast panorama of eternity, why do anything? Why write sentences?"

Don't come here for a clean 'How to... 101'. Do stay because Fish just excitedly found his old shoebox collection of nifty sentences, scribbled on the back of various grocery lists. However, it's late, all his lit buddies are asleep and, damn it, he really wa
This gets 2 stars because I enjoyed the first portion of the book wherein we explore what makes a good sentence and what makes a great one. I found the exercises mentioned to be helpful and a few of the key points he made to be illuminating.

However as a whole it seemed to lack thoroughness. Fish makes a point of criticizing "The Elements of Style" for assuming the reader has a level of previous knowledge, then he proceeds to do so himself.

He even goes so far and to specify that he'll later exp
Ian Heidin-Seek
A Collection of Thoughts Inspired by Paul Bryant's Review

As usual, one of Paul Bryant's reviews acted as a powerful stimulus to think through some issues that have been percolating in the back of my mind for a while.
Paul is my favourite polymath-ematician and literary agent provocateur as well as my avant guardian.
Everything he writes is worth reading, contemplating, enjoying and following.

"A Confederacy of Dunces"

Jonathan Swift might be able to explain F
M.G. Bianco
"Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences."

I never thought I would read a book entitled How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One; even less did I think I would enjoy one. Yet, here I am and I can do no other.

Stanley Fish writes a book in which he introduces the sentence as a work of art. Not only does he succeed in convincing you that it is art, but he then succeeds at teaching you how to be a connoisseur of that art. His stated goal for
Jud Barry
I don't know why I thought I'd like this book. I always think I'm going to like books that tell you how to write. And I never do. I can never finish them. Maybe it's because I quibble too much with the suggestions and deny the marvelousness of the selections.

For the record, when Strunk & White said to avoid Latinisms, I stopped reading. Stupid. On the other hand, I am religious in following their advice on forming possessives.

When this book trotted out a sentence by Gertrude Stein, I stopped
Laura Leaney
I saw this book at the dollar bookstore, and despite loathing Stanley Fish for creating Reader-Response theory, I thought, well.......I would indeed love to write a sentence. Not that I can't, obviously, but that I wanted to learn how to do it all over again. I'm reading a book on sentence diagramming, so I thought it would be a perfect side fish, I mean dish. It was not to be. Mr. Fish does not teach the reader how to write a good sentence (although he provides plenty of examples). The problem, ...more
In How to Write a Sentence, content “takes a back seat” to form as we peek inside many famous sentences from literature and see what makes them tick. Once we’ve figured out what the sentence is doing, we can imitate it, plugging our own words into the slots. After all, “It’s not the thought that counts,” Fish says. We need to figure out how to grow a sturdy sentence before we can hang meaningful content on its branches.

So let’s see how he does it. First, we take a sentence from a great American
Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya


"I belong to the tribe of sentence watchers," says Stanley Fish and I all but jump with joy for digging deeper into my love of reading. Where I was reading for story, where I was reading for characters, where I was reading to escape my world and find a new one: I am now to be trained to read for subtle joy of a string of words said smoothly or roughly: said in a way for me to stop reading and marvel at the music of sentence that I encountered in my journey thro
Sep 13, 2012 Paul rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2012
It's unclear who this book was written for. It's certainly not an introduction to sentence writing, nor is it, judging by its relatively advanced (well, "inchoate" is in there) diction, for kids. It's hardly meant for an academic audience, though, as it routinely spurns "prescriptive" guides like Strunk and White (which certainly takes a beating). Fish also spurns the use of much established terminology and definitions contained in "the literature," opting instead to use his own terms, which for ...more
Jen Hirt
I taught this book in a course called Intro to Writing Studies, intended for English majors and writing minors. Fish has ten chapters in this brief book, and each chapter asks you to study (or think about) some element of sentence construction and sentence interpretation, but in a friendly, conversational way, not in a grammar textbook way. Fish provides plenty of examples from literary classics. My students seemed to gain the most from the chapters about first sentences and last sentences -- wh ...more
Joanne in Canada
Dec 13, 2014 Joanne in Canada rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joanne by: Globe & Mail
I skimmed most of this book, only reading a few chapters in depth: The Subordinating Style, The Additive Style, The Satiric Style, First Sentences and Last Sentences. In these chapters, Fish gives numerous examples of well written sentences and discusses them, although his analyses are sometimes so detailed as to be tedious. The best part was the wide variety of styles and sources, most of them classics. (More current examples would have been welcome.)

However, Fish weakens his examples by then t
I must preface this review by explaining I don't claim to have a good idea of what good writing is. My father, who is a much better judge than I am, will comment on the quality of writing in this book or that, and I have little idea why the writing in one is good and isn't in the other. As you may see in my reviews, I enjoy the writing if it gets out of the way of what the author is trying to say. "Readable" is a positive comment to me. I enjoy the well-phrased expression of an idea, but I shoul ...more
Fish is a brilliant writer, so the book was enjoyable to at a lot of levels. His purpose is to cause his readers to fall in love with sentences. He prevails. If we want to become a great writer, argues Fish, we must love sentences.

The rest of the book is to show exactly what a great sentence is and what the forms in which these great sentences arise out of. While Fish guards from turning formulaic, he put forward to forms - the subordinate and the additive - that create great sentences. His met
Robert Brown
Fish is, as always, a crisp (and sometimes pretentious) writer.

Fish gives excellent writing advice and builds a compelling paradigm for sentence construction--one in which a keen reader can imitate effective sentence styles and later learn how to organize and build on words and phrases to achieve similar effects. He offers the book as a sort of supplement to the Strunk and White model of understanding grammar and usage, and describes numerous exercises one might repeat in order to beef up the w
Jul 29, 2011 Margie rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Teachers of writing and English, word nerds
Shelves: words
Three and a half stars.
Fish addresses three aspects of sentences; form, style, and content. He also sort of divides the book into writing sentences and reading sentences.
I really enjoyed the early part, the focus on writing and form. He offers several simple yet useful writing exercises. He argues that it doesn't make sense to focus on the diagramming sentences until we understand, deeply, how sentences work. I found his suggestion pretty reasonable and well-presented.
The section on reading s
If this book were only a look at the smattering of sentence structures presented it would hardly be worth a perusal, but Fish delights in his examples. The presented structures are easily understood, although without any detailed discussion of punctuation and mechanics I'm not entirely sure of the instructive nature of this manual. The examples, however, are excellent. Don't you want to read a professor-type's selections of the best sentences of all time and what makes them great?

If the answer i
Jeremiah Tillman
I didn't like Fish's account of subordinating and coordinating sentences, I didn't like Fish's arguments regarding content and form, I didn't like Fish's definition of a sentence, I didn't like this book.
I've been stuck on the first chapter for nearly two years, but managed to push past it in my search for tools to use with students. I did find some here; I like Fish's approach to how to describe what a sentence is, and I love the exercises he gives readers, akin to sentence stems. But the book quickly veered back into literary criticism, which is an area that I love and is also the area in which I first encountered Fish (Herbert and Milton: _Surprised by Sin_ -- I still remember the table at wh ...more
Full Stop
Jun 13, 2014 Full Stop added it
Shelves: spring-2011

Review by Eric Jett

Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One opens with a criticism of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, which promotes moderate, orderly paragraphs and cautions against dialect, jargon, and the word thrust. “Omit needless words,” Strunk commanded in 1919, and generations of Americans would proceed to edit by subtraction. Meanwhile, the models from Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics, published three years bef
Like most books on the writing craft, this book has elevated my writing. The book is academic in nature and requires a lot of focus to get though, but when you do, you will be glad you did. This isn't a book about grammar but on the theory of how sentences can be structured. It feels a bit like walking through a museum of sentences while the author holds your hand, points out what is beautiful about each sentence and why, and then gives you a writing exercise so you can try it yourself.
Barbara Gregorich
I have no idea how I came upon this book, whether I read about it or whether somebody recommended it. What matters is that I learned about it and read it, all in one day. And then I read it a second time. I love how Fish makes us look at what a good sentence is; how he examines good first sentences in fiction and nonfiction; how he examines good last sentences in the same.

Most of all, I love the heart of this book: chapters five and six, which deal with the Subordinating Style and the Additive S
I have to be honest, I can't stand "How to" books. It is mostly because "How to" books almost always purport to teach you something that cannot be written down in a single book. However, sometimes they do get the job done. In my experience the best books of this genre are the ones that mix of practical advice with a general overview of a number of abstract concepts that will be helpful in digging deeper into the subject. I'm not sure this book accomplishes that. Based on the title I was expectin ...more
The author provides examples of well-written sentences, breaks them down, and suggests ways of using the format as a practice method. He seems to be far more fond than I am of really long sentences; at several points in the book it crossed my mind that a sentence that requires three pages to deconstruct is perhaps not that effective after all. But much of it was useful, and will make me more analytical about which descriptive phrases strike a chord with me and why.
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Stanley Eugene Fish is an American literary theorist and legal scholar. He was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. He is often associated with postmodernism, at times to his irritation, as he describes himself as an anti-foundationalist.

He is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and a Professor of Law at Florida International University, in Miami, as well as
More about Stanley Fish...
Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost Save the World on Your Own Time There's No Such Thing as Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too How Milton Works

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“This is what language does: organize the world into manageable, and in some sense artificial, units that can then be inhabited and manipulated.” 10 likes
“Verbal fluency is the product of hours spent writing about nothing, just as musical fluency is hte product of hours spent repeating scales.” p. 26” 4 likes
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