The Art of the Sentence

I have a little notebook in which I write down the best lines from things I read. I don’t necessarily write down the most moving, or the most meaningful, but the ones that are so complex, or beautiful, or just surprising in their formation, that I can’t bear to forget them. I like a good story, I really do, but a writer who clearly adores the act of forming sentences, the art of delicately stacking clauses, now that’s a real treat.

It’s no surprise that Mary Karr is one of those. She’s a poet, first and foremost, but her memoir Lit is what currently has me under its spell. I want to copy out every single sentence, and hope that in the act of repetition, some osmosis will occur. The last time I felt this way was about No One Belongs Here More Than You (Miranda July), and before that, it was The Collected Works of Amy Hempel, and before that, it was Song of Solomon. Given the quantity of written words I consume, stumbling onto this sort of devotion to words still feels like a rare and delightful gift.

“You enter that place and live suspended in amber like characters in a Victorian novel. How’re your parents, Mary, I’m asked. How’s your father? And I say the same and that it’s sad, and everyone agrees, and then the character of my pretzled daddy is dismissed like a servant whose health has been respectfully inquired after.”

“The bathtub I’m lying in feels like a stone island I’ve shipwrecked myself on.”

“On the dawn plane flying to Texas, I feel furious relief that he’s finally gone curling over me like a cold green wave, and in the backwash of that, icy shame. Wave after wave, I’m drenched and shamed that way till touch down on the tarmac between palms and razor grass.”

I could go on. Read the book, and do it slowly.

Related Post: I once chose a book because of a magical title, A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That.

Related Post: I know exactly how many books I’ve read, and I really like knowing.

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6 Comments

Filed under Art, Books, Really Good Writing by Other People

6 responses to “The Art of the Sentence

  1. I sometimes write down beautiful sentences I read. But, I tend to lose them. This reminds me how cool those little sentences are. Maybe I need to start some sort of sentence journal.

  2. Almost Coherent

    I’m reading _Skippy Dies_ by Paul Murray, which is excellent. Well worth reading if you are interested in great sentences. And one of the all-time best novels for that is _Oscar and Lucinda_ by Peter Carey.

  3. I love the idea of a notebook for beautiful sentences. I underline them, but what a good idea to keep them all in one place!

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