How To Write A Sentence by Stanley Fish

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The first chapter lumbers down the runway, then it takes off in chapter two and soars until chapter seven, when it descends for three chapters, sometimes turbulently, before landing and taxiing again in chapter ten, this time more gracefully and scenically.

The author’s premise is a variation on the idea that form follows function, in this case content emerges from form, or, to put it another way, the structure of a sentence is its DNA. He illustrates his thesis with a survey of sentences he loves, most of which I found wonderful. There’s very little practical instruction, but what there was I, as a novice craftsman, found useful. For instance, he suggests that there are sentences formed of certain patterns whose effects serve particular situations, so if you practice those patterns they’ll come readily to hand when the occasion arises. He provides only a few examples of such sentence types but suggests that fuller taxonomies are available in other reference works.

His main occupation in the book is exultation, which he does with wit and erudition, and in the best sections, chapters 2-6, he is captivating. I think I’ll read that section again.


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