Sentence Fandom

I read Stanley Fish’s “guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language,” titled How to Write a Sentence. He collects barbs:

Interior decorating is a rock-hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs. — Justice Antonin Scalia, Lee v. Weisman

intelligible nonsense:

Twas brillig and the slithy tovesDid gyre and gimble in the wabeAll mimsy were the borogroves,And the mome raths outgrabe. — Lewis Carroll, “Jabberwocky”


Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse. — Jonathan Swift, A Table of a Tub


The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses. — Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus

and endings:

He was soon borne away by the waves and lost in darkness and distance.— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

The book saturated this physicist’s interest in literary analysis, but I did like his approach. He studies the pacing of a sentence, how information is revealed, repeated, or undercut. He takes a high-level view of what makes sentences tick, well above the jargon-clogged particulars of grammar. Then he experiments with great sentences by plugging totally different contents into the same form.