Tag Archives: sentences

Star-spangled syntax

I only just realized that the entire first half of the National Anthem, from the beginning to “gallantly streaming,” is a single sentence.

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Admired sentences

Somebody out there liked my book.

In fact, she singles out for praise a single sentence.  And the sad truth is:  I have no memory of having written this sentence. I guess I’d imagined her favorite sentence would be something I, too, would have singled out in my mind.  But no.

Anyway, here it is:

My father, a mild man, dedicated to prudent consistency, demurred.

I’ll stand by this sentence.  I think the long part (“dedicated to prudent consistency”) is a bit too chunky in the mouth — too many palatal consonants.  I like the faintly comic tang you get from delaying the verb to the end — I stole this trick from somewhere, I don’t remember where.  (It might have just been the German language in general.)

Anyway, I have a favorite sentence in the book, but I don’t care to reveal it.  Instead, here are a couple of my very favorites from other people’s books.

One from Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, I have quoted here before:

…the library, the dead core of my education, the white, silent kernel of every empty Sunday I had spent trying to ravish the faint charms of economics, my sad and cynical major.

And, in another register, from Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America:

The sun was like a huge fifty-cent piece that someone had poured kerosene on and then lit with a match and said ‘Here, hold this while I go get a newspaper,’ and put the coin in my hand but never came back.

I like the way this sentence is not a sentence, but reads as one.

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The Ask, “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” fudge

I have an ideological commitment to a somewhat unpopular theory of prose fiction: that features like “character”, “plot,” and “setting” are epiphenomena that arise after the fact, more or less by accident; that writers write sentences, then go back and see what characters, plot, and setting the sentences add up to, then revise the sentences to avoid any obvious incongruities.

But when someone states the claim as starkly, and argues for it as forcefully, as Gary Lutz does in “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” I start to doubt my own belief in it.  Hard to get the sense of Lutz’s approach from a short excerpt, so here’s a long one:

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Reader survey: do you double-space after a period?

I do, just like they taught me in 10th grade typing class.  But a quick sample of my incoming e-mail suggests I’m the only one, apart from Mrs. Q and my mom.  Mrs. Q informs me the APA styleguide demands one space after a period: she uses the double space in e-mail but not in papers.  LaTeX splits the difference, using an intersentence space about half again as large as the space between words.  The iPhone automatically drops in a period when you double-space after a word, which seems designed to suit habitual double-spacers like me; on the other hand, the text it actually produces has just one post-period space.

So I’m confused — has this tradition really fallen out of use and no one told me?  Or was it never a tradition at all, outside my high-school typing class?

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