Friday, February 25, 2011

Sentence Structure

'How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One'
Author: Stanley Fish


Format: ARC
Published: Harper; Jan. 2011
Pages: 176
Genre: Non-fiction; Reference; Writing
Rating: C
Source: Publisher


Synopsis: 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!" 


My Take: I am taking an editing class for work so when I saw this book I thought: Perfect! I should read this! It will add to my abilities! Eh. It made me a little bored. Maybe my feelings are colored by the fact that I am already reading 5 other editing books for my homework each week when I am doing my assignments that to add another one into the mix is just too much already. Or maybe it's the fact that, taken out of the classroom, the over analysis of the sentence is too specific of a subject to really hold my interest, even fora short book.


However, this book is not without it's merit. I enjoyed many aspects of this book. If I was to read it over again, I'd read a chapter here and there, pouring over the sentences Fish loves with him, because yes this man loves sentences! And yes I agree with him, sentences are worthy of love. In college I was always taught when you started a story, a presentation, anything really, you needed to have a hook! That's the lure of the first sentence. So Stanley's chapter on analysing first sentences I really appreciated. I know many book bloggers even put the first sentence of a book in their reviews. I thought about doing that too. It's sad how many books actually don't have first sentences that grab you right away, even books that end up being great. Fish found some great first sentences.


I also loved his chapter on the closing sentence, because yes, when you finish a powerful novel, speech, etc., that closing sentence can convey so much. I also appreciated his analysis of the famed Strunk and White handbook. He was correct in noting that if you don't know the basics of grammar, this short tome isn't going to make any sense, so average student of grammar needs to have some knowledge first. That's where Fish's book begins and that's where Fish's book made my mind wander a little. I appreciated another angle from which to study grammar. A new trick, or suggestion, is always appreciated, but something about this title didn't make me think we would go into the basics of writing a sentence first. Oh well, silly me! However, if that is what you are looking for, Fish's writing style is easy to read and certainly better than a textbook so it might be just what you need.


Cover Lust: I love this cover. It's simple and puts the emphasis exactly on what they are trying to convey!

5 comments:

  1. Oh I hadn't heard of this one, but it could well be my next purchase now - thanks! It does sound interesting but very much a reference book to have on the shelf and pick up and put down. I do the same with "Eats Shoots and Leaves". Hope your editing course is going well!

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  2. I am sorry but thinking about this book makes me fall asleep. I am reaidng way too many boring uni books as it is

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  3. I need to try this one, especially since I have a copy LOL.....sorry it wasn't better for you.

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  4. I'm not sure if i would read this for fun, but it might just come up in a class I'm about to take. I too am interested in sentences. As an aspiring writer, I know that sentences matter. And I truly believe that the best way to learn how to write good sentences it to read them. For that reason alone I feel like there is definitely some value in this book - just getting familiar with great writers and how they structure their sentences is incredibly valuable.

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  5. This one is probably not my cup of tea but I could probably get a lot out of it if I did read it.

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