How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

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Overview

Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences. The New York Times columnist and world-class professor has long been an aficionado of language: "I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, 'Isn't that something?' or 'What a sentence!'" Like a seasoned sportscaster, Fish marvels at the adeptness of finely crafted sentences and breaks them down into digestible morsels, giving...

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How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One

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Overview

Some appreciate fine art; others appreciate fine wines. Stanley Fish appreciates fine sentences. The New York Times columnist and world-class professor has long been an aficionado of language: "I am always on the lookout for sentences that take your breath away, for sentences that make you say, 'Isn't that something?' or 'What a sentence!'" Like a seasoned sportscaster, Fish marvels at the adeptness of finely crafted sentences and breaks them down into digestible morsels, giving readers an instant play-by-play.

In this entertaining and erudite gem, Fish offers both sentence craft and sentence pleasure, skills invaluable to any writer (or reader). His vibrant analysis takes us on a literary tour of great writers throughout history—from William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Henry James to Martin Luther King Jr., Antonin Scalia, and Elmore Leonard. Indeed, How to Write a Sentence is both a spirited love letter to the written word and a key to understanding how great writing works; it is a book that will stand the test of time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A whole book on the lowly sentence? Stanley Fish, America's English Professor, confides that he belongs "to the tribe of sentence watchers," and shares his passion and learning through an array of examples from sentence-making masters, among them Milton, James, Dr. King, Sterne, Swift, Salinger, Elmore Leonard, Conrad, and Gertrude Stein. For Fish, language is logic. He stresses how the sentence, regardless of length—whether declarative or embroidered with qualifiers—is a structure of logical relationships. He discusses the all-important opening sentence and closing sentence, especially as the latter can be isolated from its dramatic context to convey full rhetorical effect. The reader is advised to begin with form; with practice, writers can develop three basics of style (subordinating, additive, satiric) that will allow them to make an emotional impact with their words. In the end, the craft of sentence writing is elevated to the very center of our inner lives. Fish plays the opinion card well, though a piling on of example after example, particularly of long sentences drawn from literature or theology, might leave more experienced sentence-makers to cry, "Enough already!" (Jan. 25)
New York Magazine
"How to Write a Sentence is a compendium of syntactic gems—light reading for geeks."
People Magazine
"A sentence is, in John Donne’s words, ‘a little world made cunningly,’ writes Fish. He’ll teach you the art."
Washington Post
“The fun comes from the examples cited throughout: John Updike, Jane Austen…all are cited throughout.”
People
“A sentence is, in John Donne’s words, ‘a little world made cunningly,’ writes Fish. He’ll teach you the art.”
Booklist
“Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing.”
The New Yorker
“Coming up with all-or-nothing arguments is simply what Fish does; and, in a sense, one of his most important contributions to the study of literature is that temperament…Whether people like Fish or not, though, they tend to find him fascinating.”
New Republic
“In this small feast of a book Stanley Fish displays his love of the English sentence. His connoisseurship is broad and deep, his examples are often breathtaking, and his analyses of how the masterpieces achieve their effects are acute and compelling.”
Boston Globe
“This splendid little volume describes how the shape of a sentence controls its meaning.”
Financial Times
“Both deeper and more democratic than The Elements of Style.”
BookPage
“Stanley Fish just might be America’s most famous professor.”
Washington Times
“You’d get your money’s worth from the quotations alone…if you give this book the attention it so clearly deserves, you will be well rewarded.”
New York Observer
“[Fish’s] approach is genially experiential—a lifelong reader’s engagement whose amatory enthusiasm is an attempt to overthrow Strunk & White’s infamous insistences on grammar by rote.”
The Globe and Mail
“[A] slender but potent volume. Fish, a distinguished law professor and literary theorist, is the anti-Strunk & White.”
Slate
“A guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language.”
National Post
“Fish is a personable and insightful guide with wide-ranging erudition and a lack of pretension.”
New York magazine
“How to Write a Sentence is a compendium of syntactic gems—light reading for geeks.”
The Huffington Post
“For both aspiring writer and eager reader, Fish’s insights into sentence construction and care are instructional, even inspirational.”
Saudi Gazette
“How to Write a Sentence is the first step on the journey to the Promised Land of good writing.”
CBSNews.com
“If you love language you’ll find something interesting, if not fascinating, in [How to Write a Sentence].”
Yvonne Zipp
…for those who "belong to the tribe of sentence watchers," the fun comes from the examples cited throughout. John Updike, Jane Austen, Elmore Leonard, Herman Melville and Ernest Hemingway are among the greats quoted…
—The Washington Post
Boston Globe
“This splendid little volume describes how the shape of a sentence controls its meaning.”
Washington Post
“The fun comes from the examples cited throughout: John Updike, Jane Austen…all are cited throughout.”
The Globe and Mail
“[A] slender but potent volume. Fish, a distinguished law professor and literary theorist, is the anti-Strunk & White.”
National Post
“Fish is a personable and insightful guide with wide-ranging erudition and a lack of pretension.”
New Republic
“In this small feast of a book Stanley Fish displays his love of the English sentence. His connoisseurship is broad and deep, his examples are often breathtaking, and his analyses of how the masterpieces achieve their effects are acute and compelling.”
Booklist
“Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing.”
CBSNews.com
“If you love language you’ll find something interesting, if not fascinating, in [How to Write a Sentence].”
New York magazine
“How to Write a Sentence is a compendium of syntactic gems—light reading for geeks.”
Financial Times
“Both deeper and more democratic than The Elements of Style.”
The New Yorker
“Coming up with all-or-nothing arguments is simply what Fish does; and, in a sense, one of his most important contributions to the study of literature is that temperament…Whether people like Fish or not, though, they tend to find him fascinating.”
New York Observer
“[Fish’s] approach is genially experiential—a lifelong reader’s engagement whose amatory enthusiasm is an attempt to overthrow Strunk & White’s infamous insistences on grammar by rote.”
Slate
“A guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language.”
Saudi Gazette
“How to Write a Sentence is the first step on the journey to the Promised Land of good writing.”
People
“A sentence is, in John Donne’s words, ‘a little world made cunningly,’ writes Fish. He’ll teach you the art.”
Washington Times
“You’d get your money’s worth from the quotations alone…if you give this book the attention it so clearly deserves, you will be well rewarded.”
The Huffington Post
“For both aspiring writer and eager reader, Fish’s insights into sentence construction and care are instructional, even inspirational.”
BookPage
“Stanley Fish just might be America’s most famous professor.”
Roy Blount Jr.
“Like a long periodic sentence, this book rumbles along, gathers steam, shifts gears, and packs a wallop.”
Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
“How to Write a Sentence is a must read for aspiring writers and anyone who wants to deepen their appreciation of literature. If extraordinary sentences are like sports plays, Fish is the Vin Scully of great writing.”
Maria Popova
“How to Write a Sentence isn’t merely a prescriptive guide to the craft of writing but a rich and layered exploration of language as an evolving cultural organism. It belongs not on the shelf of your home library but in your brain’s most deep-seated amphibian sensemaking underbelly.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061840548
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/25/2011
  • Pages: 165
  • Sales rank: 985,030
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University. He has previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He has received many honors and awards, including being named the Chicagoan of the Year for Culture. He is the author of twelve books and is now a weekly columnist for the New York Times. He resides in Andes, New York; New York City; and Delray Beach, Florida; with his wife, Jane Tompkins.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 32 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

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3 Star

(10)

2 Star

(9)

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(6)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 25, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Fish swings for the fences, but picks up a long single.

    The title and first chapter piqued my interest, so I bought the book and spent a weekend studying it from cover to cover. It is an easy read, well written, and full of great sentences. I liked Fish's emphasis on the mastery of a sentence to improve overall writing. First, you master form; then, content. I enjoyed the following chapters: The Subordinating Style, The Additive Style, First Sentences, and Last Sentences. However, the book promises more than it delivers. I felt unsatisfied at the end. Fish's "How to Write a Sentence" is nothing more than a collection of sentences that he likes. He has an affinity for sentence geekery, and this is part of his collection. Overall, there is value in reading the book. I would, however, wait until it goes in the bargain bin before you make the investment, since there are numerous other grammar and style books that will serve you better, including one that Fish critiques: The Elements of Style by Strunk and White.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2011

    WORTHLESS !!

    The title belies the content. He should have titled it "I love sentences" or something similar.

    First, he criticizes traditional teachings of punctuation and grammar, not without some merit. Then he wanders off into LALA land without offering a comprehensible alternative.

    This is not a book of instruction; it seems to be more musings than anything. I got so bored with it I couldn't finish.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Preaches to the choir

    Fish writes at length about the joys of sentences that are written at length. He celebrates the writers of times past who would write sentences with word counts in the triple digits, composed of numerous clauses and phrases, sometimes with myriad commas and sometimes with none (Gertrude Stein being a paragon of the latter), and revels in how each clause and phrase and word contributes to the aesthetics and timing and effect of the entirety of the sentence; perhaps you have noticed that this very sentence is an attempt -- if not necessarily a great attempt, as this kind of writing is something I rarely do (or, truth be told, never do) -- at an example of the type of writing which, clearly, Fish adores.

    I'm from the Strunk & White generation. I like my sentences to be simple and clear. Fish's treatise didn't convince me otherwise, and I don't think it even tried. Those who prefer the prolix style of Henry James will find Fish a kindred spirit, but I'm not sure that they'll really learn much.

    By the way, this is a fairly short book: 125 pages in NOOKbook form, almost 15 of which are front and back matter.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2013

    I found this the best single book on writing I've read. That may

    I found this the best single book on writing I've read. That may be because I didn't treat it as a how-to but used his key sentences as models for myself and wrote pages of sentences for each model. Even made up models of my own to continue. Oddly, my writing improved.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 13, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Really, not much of a book.

    Having written a few pieces, I'm often on the lookout for ways to improve. So this seemed to be a natural. I was disappointed. Rather than "How to write a sentence" a better title would be "Sentences I have liked." I found it a bit pompous. The initial promise wasn't borne out in later chapters. After reading the book, I've stopped reading his columns in the New York Times. I think I'll stick with Strunk and White for instruction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 6, 2013

    Disappointing

    I expected information on how to write a sentence. All I got was what other people wrote a long-long time ago.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2012

    It was interesting...

    For about 40-50 pages and then you realize how pretentious and tedious this book is. I am glad i read it, but you will be ok if you decide to skip this one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2011

    FISHER???

    WHY DOES THE AUTHOR HEADING READ STANLEY FISHER????

    Typos such as this make ebooks seem less satisfying.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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