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The Art of the Sentence: John McPhee

A really long sentence in a paragraph of short-to-average-length sentences has an effect on the reader similar to that of a topspin lob in tennis: it changes the pace and adjusts the eye. Like a tennis player retreating to see if the lob will land inside the baseline, the reader waits with escalating anxiety for the sentence-ending period to arrive.

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The Art of the Sentence: Amy Hempell

“My throat closes every time I read this last line”

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The Art of the Sentence: Angela Carter

“He sees that she knows, and he is filled with despair, and to articulate the “stench” of his despair, Carter goes to these images. The first half of the sentence sets up what’s happening, and in the second half her wizardry occurs.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Shirley Jackson

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Franz Kafka

” Most readers seem to expect fiction to have a single, stable truth. If it is a realist story, it must of course be “realistic” and have a certain objective truth. If it is a fantasy or science fiction story, readers expect a coherent world and consistent rules. Part of the genius of Kafka is his willingness to ignore those concerns. “

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The Art of the Sentence: Robert Walser

‘Of all the beautiful sentences out there, I choose Walser’s for one reason and one reason only: that glorious, oh so subversive adverb.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Virgina Woolf

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself…” —Virgina Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway It’s not much in terms of complication. It’s a simple voice; the prose is clean and orderly. But the richness of the novel is concealed in the sentence. Woolf will move fluidly through time, within time, around time — move between the […]

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The Art of the Sentence: William Butler Yeats

“Nearly one hundred years after it was written, it describes America’s current political climate.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Norman Douglas

“It’s 1921 (or thereabouts) and he’s in Rome again. There are no mosquitoes in his room, he tells us, and few flies, and no incident involving either insect follows. Why even speak of them? Well, because it’s Norman Douglas, that’s why.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Gerald Murnane

“Of course, for me, the real wonder of this sentence is that it attempts to describe how one represents being as the moment (if one reads record as photographs) when someone takes a picture of someone taking a picture — which as it happens, is a sentence I’ve never read.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Shunryu Suzuki

“It is the sentence that in a stroke convinces me that it inhabits an alternate, and beautiful, universe, and that our own world is nothing but a sustained fraud.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Gina Berriault

“This one bit of dialog has stayed with me since I first read the story in 1996….”

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The Art of the Sentence: Salman Rushdie

“It’s the most efficiently, the most brutally, that a character has ever been killed off.”

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The Art of the Sentence: James Salter

“Have ever shoes been more eloquent since Hemingway’s unworn baby pair?”

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The Art of the Sentence: William James

“There! that sentence is worthy of one of your novels at its best!”

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The Art of the Sentence: Mary Jo Bang

“It was, as Dickinson reminds us it should be, as if the top of my head had blown right off.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Vladimir Mayakovsky

“Not a fortress, but a forest”

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The Art of the Sentence: Virginia Woolf

“Putting words on the backs of rhythms.”

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The Art of the Sentence: Nikolai Gogol

“the misconception that human brains are located in the head.”

Posted in Art of the Sentence, Tin House Books

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The Art of the Sentence: Edgar Allen Poe

“So what is truth and what is fiction?”

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The Art of the Sentence: John Cheever

I reached the final sentence and it knocked the breath out of me.

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The Art of the Sentence: Diane Williams

“I believe that the purpose of storytelling is to convey emotion…”

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The Art of the Sentence: E.M. Forster

“Gerald died that afternoon.” —E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey So begins Chapter 5 of E. M. Forster’s novel The Longest Journey. For the first four chapters of the novel, Gerald has been gloriously alive. He has been hale and hearty. He has been vigorous and stupid. He has been nothing less than the embodiment of […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Thomas Hardy

“But nobody did come, because nobody does; and under the crushing recognition of his gigantic error Jude continued to wish himself out of the world.” Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure Victorian novelists almost always kept the hem of a coattail or tip of a walking-stick visible in the shadowy wings of their narratives. Often they […]

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The Art of the Sentence: Denis Johnson

We here at Tin House love sentences. They’re why we do what we do. We often come across sentences so good we read them over and over again; and there are the ones that demand to be read aloud to everyone in the office; and then there are the ones we have to take a […]

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