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The Art of the Sentence: Jane Smiley

“I remember feeling a desire for Dana when she first appeared, when she paused in the doorway that second day of class and cast her eyes about the room, that was hard and pure, that contained me and could not be contained, and I remember making that bargain that people always make—anything for this thing.” […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Alistair MacLeod

Alix Ohlin on a sentence from Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief

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The Art of the Sentence: Denis Johnson

“Usually we felt guilty and frightened, because there was something wrong with us, and we didn’t know what it was; but today we had the feeling of men who had worked.” —Denis Johnson, “Work” Jesus’ Son is the one indispensable story collection I own, the slender book I would slide into a coat pocket before […]

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Art of the Sentence: Jamaica Kincaid

“I milked the cows, I churned the butter, I stored the cheese, I baked the bread, I brewed the tea, I washed the clothes, I dressed the children; the cat meowed, the dog barked, the horse neighed, the mouse squeaked, the fly buzzed, the goldfish living in a bowl stretched its jaws; the door banged […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Anthony Hecht

To spare his brother from having to endure Another agonizing bedside vigil With sterile pads, syringes but no hope, He settled all his accounts, distributed Among a few friends his most valued books, Weighed all in mind and heart and then performed The final, generous, extraordinary act Available to a solitary man, Abandoning his translation […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Edward Hirsch

“These were the strokes we praised, weren’t they,/ the butterfly and the crawl, the lullabies/ we crooned on the first warm day of summer/ in honor of the non-swimmers Crane and Berryman,/ in honor of Orpheus, whose butchered head/ is forever singing above the choppy waves.” —Edward Hirsch, “The Swimmers”

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The Art of the Sentence: Alice McDermott

“Pauline had a large face, a strong jaw, and blue eyes forever darting, gesturing, scanning the room, scanning the faces and the backs of passersby –  salesmen, bosses, other girls from the secretarial pool –  taking everything in with one set of eyes, avid and hungry, and then turning another set, triumphant, well satisfied, to […]

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An Open Bar Round Up: A Few Good Sentences

For two years now, some of our favorite authors have been talking about some of their favorite sentences. Sentences that stirred in them something primal and real, and urged them to dance. As there is no greater day to dance than Monday, we thought it fitting to look back at some of the captivating sentences […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Christopher Isherwood

“You can feel them all around you, to-night, creeping in upon the city, like an immense waste of unhomely ocean—sprinkled with leafless copses and ice-lakes and tiny villages which are remembered only as the outlandish names of battlefields in half-forgotten wars.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Lorrie Moore

“The Radiologist stops, freezes one of the many swirls of oceanic gray, and clicks repeatedly, a single moment within the long, cavernous weather map that is the Baby’s insides.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Thomas Jefferson

I was still a teenager when Thomas Jefferson broke my heart. It happened in a single sentence; a permanent break. The moment came while I was reading Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson’s famous 1781 treatise. In it, the titian-haired founding father holds forth on everything from the varieties of apples cultivated in Virginia […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Robert Walser

“He magicked flowers onto paper, so that upon it they quivered, rejoiced, and smiled, swaying in their plantlike ways; his concern was the flesh of flowers, the spirit of the secret which dwells in the resistance a thing with special properties offers to understanding. “ — “Thoughts on Cezanne” by Robert Walser (translated into English […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Joseph Mitchell

“At any hour of the day or night, I can shut my eyes and visualize in a swarm of detail what is happening on scores of streets, some well known and some obscure, from one end of the city to the other—on the upper part of Webster Avenue, up in the upper Bronx, for example, […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Saul Bellow

“And who could blame me, after that trip across the mountain floor on which there was no footprint, the stars flaming like oranges, those multimillion tons of exploding gas looking so mild and fresh in the dark of the sky; and altogether, that freshness, you know, that is like autumn freshness when you go out […]

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The Art of the Sentence: George Saunders

“He ogled old women and pregnant women and women whose photographs were passing on the sides of buses and, this morning, a woman with close-cropped black hair and tear-stained cheeks, who wouldn’t be half bad if she’d just make an effort, clean up a little and invest in some decent clothes, some white tights and […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Stanley Crawford

“Sometimes when I am weary of seeing things in that flat, three-dimensional manner once so much boasted of, two plus two, and all the rest, there seems to be no longer any precise moment when old Unguentine vanished from my life, it seems rather an almost gradual process that went on over many years and […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Charles McCarry

“The sun shone feebly through the overcast, like a lamp covered by a woman’s scarf in a shabby hotel room.” Charles McCarry, The Secret Lovers Two pages into Charles McCarry’s 1977 novel The Secret Lovers, the reader comes across this sentence buried in the middle of a paragraph. A throwaway line, a felicitous toss-off. The simile made […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Raymond Chandler

On Raymond Chandler

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The Art of the Sentence: Daphne du Maurie

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
-Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

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The Art of the Sentence: Zora Neale Hurston

“Ah bet he’s wore out half a dozen Adam’s apples since Spunk’s been on the job with Lena.”

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The Art of the Sentence: William Faulkner

“Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks.”

– William Faulkner, “As I Lay Dying”

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The Art of the Sentence: Alice Munro

“At first Juliet did not understand what was meant.” — Alice Munro, “Soon“ This sentence is a daughter’s reaction to her mother’s greeting after a long separation. Juliet’s mother, Sara, has just said excitedly, “We’re long and short, but still we match.” Her first words. No hello, no hug. No there you are, I’ve missed […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Vladimir Nabokov

“I think that here lies the sense of literary creation: to portray ordinary objects as they will be reflected in the kindly mirrors of future times to find in the objects around us the fragrant tenderness that only posterity will discern and appreciate in the far-off times when every trifle of our plain everyday life […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Edward Lear

On Edward Lear

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The Art of the Sentence: Flannery O’Connor

On Flannery O’Connor

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