It was the best of sentences …

On NPR on the 26th, a piece about memorable sentences, from The American Scholar:

Have you ever had a sentence stop you in your tracks? Editors at The American Scholar magazine have put out their list of the “Ten Best Sentences” in fiction and nonfiction. Associate editor Margaret Foster says the inspiration came from water cooler talk around the office.

Examples from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joan Didion, James Joyce, Jane Austen, and Truman Capote, plus an interesting collection of suggestions by commenters.

One Response to “It was the best of sentences …”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Many comments on this posting, but for some reason all on Facebook rather than here. I will try to reproduce the discussion here:

    Livia Polanyi I detest, loath, find almost inexpressibly overwrought the sentences selected.

    Arnold Zwicky I’ll agree with the “overwrought:”. The American Scholar folks seem to have gone for “fancy writing”; my own taste is for much plainer writing — but people seem to find that unmemorable and uninteresting.

    Chris Ambidge I would not call the Jane Austen sentence “overwrought” in any fashion:
    “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”
    — as the American Scholar people point out, nineteen words, and only one of them more than one syllable.

    Arnold Zwicky The Austen isn’t overwrought, but it *is* written in style that’s no longer vernacular. So it no doubt seems “literary” to some readers.

    Chris F Waigl Best sentences is an extremely wide field, and if they go for literature, I’m not surprised they’re going for literary or elevated register. When I’m asked for my favourite *first* sentences of a work, I usually pull out “But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction–what, has that got to do with a room of one’s own?” which always makes me smile. In French collections, you’ll find “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure”, which despite being from a highly literary work is quite plain as sentences go.

    Arnold Zwicky “Where are you going with that axe?” is a great first sentence.

    Robert Coren Arnold: Especially for a “children’s” book.

    Robert Coren Scanning these, I was waiting for one from _Lolita_, but not the one they included: “A trip of the tongue of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.” Well, technically, it’s not a sentence, but I think it can be granted a little leeway. A little too precious, maybe?

    Frank McQuarry There is a sentence from Willa Cather’s “O Pioneers!” that left me awestruck: “It wasn’t a country at all, but the stuff from which countries are made”.

    Terry Castle I liked these too

    Chris Ambidge a lot of this is personal taste, of course, but Robert, my verdict on that would be “a LOT too precious.”

    Robert Coren Actually, now I think of it, isn’t it “Where’s papa going with that axe?”?
    13 hours ago · Like

    Jerry R. Hobbs And my favorite (part of a) sentence from Finnegans Wake: “Thus the unfacts, did we possess them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.”

    Livia Polanyi Kinda like “the food was so bad and so little of it”. (Come to think of it, I like that sentence.)

    Livia Polanyi What’s great about (some of) the writers cited (at least) is not that they could overwrite such pretentious verbiage but that one didn’t notice it when reading because other factors were also at work.

    Ann Burlingham “She was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went.”
    I tend toward the humorous.

    Arnold Zwicky To Robert Coren: Yes, “Where is Papa going…” I should never trust my memory.

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