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

3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  1,177 ratings  ·  252 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...more
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...more
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...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...more
Jeanette (Most of My Favorite Authors Are Dead)
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
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...more
Ian [Paganus de] Graye
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...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...more
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...more
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
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...more
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
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...more
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...more
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...more
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.
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.
Great book for those interested in understanding great writing (and reading great writing) without being bogged down and overly addled by longwinded diatribes about the intricacies of obtuse parts of speech, grammar, etc. Recommended for the serious writer and reader, but probably not for someone who enjoys pulp fiction (novels, not the movie, I loved the movie...).
For me, fellow goodreaders, though I cannot claim that I am expert in the skills that great writers possess, or talented as those who readers of great works of literature have admired throughout the ages, yet real greatness I believe can be found in the simple and passionate love of words, and that anyone who is truly committed to the worthy goal of understanding good writing and the honest pursuit of creating great sentences, when he would write, his words (in my opinion), like so many deft and...more
Eric Anest
I wanted to like this book but could not bring myself to do so. Perhaps it's pompous of me to say so, but Fish seems to be trying too hard to be clever and not hard enough to write simply, plainly, directly.
Edward Sullivan
Fish is the same obnoxious, pompous ass intellectual he's always been but he does have some interesting and entertaining things to say about the appreciation and craft of writing in this book.
Kim Horner McCoy
Fish slips a bit, in the last two chapters, into moralizing and philosophizing, a fault for which the reader is convinced, by the brilliance and inspiration in the first eight, to forgive him.
Jan 02, 2013 Diane rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to Diane by: Ryan
Shelves: writing
If you love words and grammar, you may enjoy this book. I found it uneven, at times I couldn’t stop reading and other times, I found myself skipping whole paragraphs.
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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
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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.” 9 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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