Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya's Reviews > How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish
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Apr 12, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: in-english, kindle, on-books, read-again, take-notes, use-in-work, on-writing
Recommended for: all readers
Read from April 12 to 17, 2011 — I own a copy


"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 through a book.

"the practice of analyzing and imitating sentences is also the practice of learning how to read them with an informed appreciation. Here’s the formula: Sentence craft equals sentence comprehension equals sentence appreciation." In this finely crafted book, the author closely looks at three styles of sentences: the subordinating, the additive, the satiric, providing a way to break a sentence into a formula, following which one can easily create her own little masterpieces.

The content is not to be overlooked! Thus several chapters deal with taking a close look at many fine sentences, rolling them over and over in readers' mind for the best appreciation and understanding. The first and last sentences and the weight they carry got their own chapters, too, and made wish I noted first and last sentences of the many hundreds books I have read in my life as of today.

But of course, it is never too late to start! "I appreciate fine sentences. I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, “Isn’t that something?” or “What a sentence!” Some of my fellow sentence appreciators have websites: Best Sentences Ever, Sentences We Love, Best First Sentences, Best Last Sentences." I have to say that Mr. Fish enjoys his sentences, indeed: I have swallowed this slim volume as if it was a ziplock full of homemade brownies: how lovely that a book that teaches to pay attention to the small but CORE units of speech and writing is excellent in every breath it takes!!!

Note that even though it is partly a "how-to" book, it reads more like a literary analysis, and a very refreshing, entertaining one: no need to really pause for exercises: you WANT to do them on the go; the principles stay in your head and you continue pay attention to sentences afterwords. "How to Read a Sentence" sharpened my interest in a book that I started, but dropped after first 20 pages or so: "The Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller. You see, I was reading for the story (none) and characters (highly disgusting to me) but the day I finished Mr. Fish's book, I picked up "The Tropic of Cancer" and breezed through 100+ pages in one sitting. The writing IS beautiful, and through it, even the characters became more tolerable...

Of course, all these wise sentences in the "How to Write a Sentence..." indulge thinking about life in general... as all the great writing and stories do... For example, this is one of my favorite quotes (and I took MANY from this book!):

"A famous sonnet by William Wordsworth begins, “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room; / And hermits are contented with their cells; / and students with their pensive citadels.” Wordsworth’s point is that what nuns, hermits, and students do is facilitated rather than hindered by the confines of the formal structures they inhabit; because those structures constrain freedom (they remove, says Wordsworth, “the weight of too much liberty”), they enable movements in a defined space. If the moves you can perform are prescribed and limited—if, for example, every line in your poem must have ten syllables and rhyme according to a predetermined pattern—each move can carry a precise significance. If, on the other hand, there are an infinite number of moves to perform, the significance of any one of them may be difficult to discern. (This is one of the insights of information theory.) That is why Wordsworth reports himself happy “to be bound / Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.” It is a scanty plot because it is bounded, and because it is bounded, it can be the generator of boundless meanings."

Think about it... "if there are an infinite number of moves to perform, the significance of any one of them may be difficult to discern" Doesn't it make you wish to create a sort of a PLAN for the next 20 years, as they wise personal development people recommend to?...

I am absolutely thrilled to be "introduced" to Gertrude Stein, quoted abundantly through the book. She sounds like a very fine kind of writer, and a lady who appreciated sentences and had the most joy from "diagramming sentences" ever since she was a little girl: "The great modern theorist of the additive, or coordinating, style is Gertrude Stein, who explains in an amazing sentence why she doesn’t employ punctuation that carves reality into manageable units of completed and organized thought: When I first began writing I felt that writing should go on I still do feel that it should go on but when I first began writing I was completely possessed by the necessity that writing should go on and if writing should go on what had colons and semi-colons to do with it, what had commas to do with it what had periods to do with it what had small letters and capitals to do with it to do with writing going on which was at the time the most profound need I had in connection with writing. (Lectures in America, 1935)"

Needless to say that this book added a good many titles on my "to read" list, and I am only happy for it: I love reading, and the only thing I love more is reading really good literature. Books like this are like compass in the vast sea of information: not only they point you in the most picturesque direction of travel but teach you to navigate on the stars in the sky and pebbles by the beaches you are to pass.

"The skill it takes to produce a sentence—the skill of linking events, actions, and objects in a strict logic—is also the skill of creating a world."

And proud I am to be one of the aspiring creators of the new worlds!

Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya
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Reading Progress

04/12/2011 page 16
10.0% "lovely writing, I am eating up every sentence before my eyes even reach it on the page!"
04/16/2011 page 100
63.0% "LOVE this book, I am drinking in every sentence of it! How lovely that a book that teaches to pay attention to the small but CORE units of speech and writing is excellent in every breath it takes!!!"
04/10/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Inspirational review!

Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya :) Thank You!

message 3: by Anna (new)

Anna Burroughs Wow!! Sounds like something no writers should be without!!
Thank-You Vika!!!

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