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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The key to Good Sentences
This impressive critical study is not offering instruction on grammar, syntax, punctuation, or plain technicalities. Fish writes as a CRITIC, discussing the subtleties of prose style, and the enjoyment of cleverly crafted sentences. His book is in the same vein as Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write...
Published on 26 May 2012 by Christopher H

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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For the wordier gentleman
Now here is a review I'll have to edit carefully.

Like a well composed sentence of which he would approve, Stanley Fish's "How to Write a Sentence and How to Read one" has a clear formal structure, and cleaves closely to it. But, also like one of Fish's preferred sentences, it nevertheless rambles on in an unchaperoned fashion: for a short book, it is easy to...
Published on 7 Jun 2011 by Olly Buxton


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The key to Good Sentences, 26 May 2012
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Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
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This impressive critical study is not offering instruction on grammar, syntax, punctuation, or plain technicalities. Fish writes as a CRITIC, discussing the subtleties of prose style, and the enjoyment of cleverly crafted sentences. His book is in the same vein as Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them and James Wood's How Fiction Works, although he tightly focuses his discussion on the individual sentence.

Fish classifies sentences according to how they are structured/assembled, and where they fall in a text (for example, he points out that first sentences and last sentences in novels have certain duties to fulfill). His discussion of opening sentences is superb, and should be mandatory reading for all English Literature students.

The selection of examples, and discussion of how they operate in literary terms, is very good. It is a joy to follow Fish as he shows how the choice and order of words can convey meaning so strongly. Would that he picked and analysed many more.

The only drawback to this work is that it is VERY short - it is more a long essay that has been spread out visually by the designer in order to fill a book.

(Prose and Wood have been mentioned as covering related territory, although from the standpoint of writing good sentences Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences about Writing is a book that readers may also find useful and extremely illuminating.)
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For the wordier gentleman, 7 Jun 2011
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Now here is a review I'll have to edit carefully.

Like a well composed sentence of which he would approve, Stanley Fish's "How to Write a Sentence and How to Read one" has a clear formal structure, and cleaves closely to it. But, also like one of Fish's preferred sentences, it nevertheless rambles on in an unchaperoned fashion: for a short book, it is easy to put down. For all its tight formal structure, it is not clear what Fish wants to achieve, if not simply to put the world to rights.

Early on, Fish dismisses Strunk & White's classic The Elements of Style and of the sort of economical writing that volume encourages. He claims Strunk & White is only of any use to those who already know not just how to write, but what devilishly complicated things like adjectives and independent clauses are. But hold on: Are the parts of speech really that intimidating?

Certainly no more intimidating than Fish's own vocabulary: to avoid them, Fish suggests the reader practice identifying the logiical relationships that constitute (or are constituted by) sentences by picking four or five items from around the room and joining them with "a verb or a modal auxiliary"! The irony runs on: The back half of the book extols sentences, itself in sentences, that no-one without a passion for a well-placed subjunctive would have a hope of comprehending.

All the same this is no technical manual. In his first half Fish airily proposes some formal sentence structures types and counsels the reader to practise them. There are just three, and they seem arbitrary: the "subordinating style", where descriptive clauses refine and further describe an initial proposition (often sentences with "which" or "that" in them - "the bed that you make is the one you have to lie in"); the "additive style", where each additional clause augments the content to preceding ones (so, "the fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, the furrow followed free"); and the "satyric" style, which doesn't seem to be a formal sentence structure at all, but Fish's own prescription for being witty.

I'm not sure why these would be the fundaments of any linguistic structure, other than because Fish says so, nor what to do about sentences, like this one, that attempt to do all three. Nor that there aren't perfectly well sentences that do none. (Most of James Ellroy's never get that far, for example).

Talk of James Ellroy reminds me: what Fish's prescription, contra Strunk, White and Ellroy's (now There would be a fine book on style!) encourages verbosity. Fish loves long, wordy, flowery writing: he's a lawyer, after all. He devotes he second half of his book to a canter through his favourite sentences from literature. Most, to my eyes, could have been improved with a full stop or two and hearty use of a red pen, and all seemed selected as much to burnish the author's own intellectual credentials as anything else.

Fish believes that Strunk & White's preference for concision is a modern error that robs the language of richness and diversity. Now, granted, I don't always practice what I preach, but I profoundly disagree: It is easy (as Fish demonstrates, using his subordinate and additive templates) to write infinitely long sentences. All you need is to be bothered enough to do so. It is harder to write short ones. It is much harder to write good short ones.

Elongating a sentence for the sake of it is a charlatan's ruse. It appeals only to the pretentious and those who charge by the hour, as lawyers do. The real challenge, as far as I can see, is importing all that richness and complexity as economically as possible.

Thus I can't recommend this book based on its billing. If you do want to learn, simply, how to write and read a sentence, then - well, try Strunk & White.

If you like the idiosyncratic peregrinations of a bon vivant law and literature professor, perhaps this is your book.

Olly Buxton
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3.0 out of 5 stars It's OK, but..., 7 April 2014
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I have to admit to finding this small book hard going. Stanley Fish doesn't worry too much about the rules of grammar and many of the sentences he chooses to analyse would be entire paragraphs if only their authors had punctuated correctly. He likes the verbose, and admires too much the arcane and archaic.

He begins with the credible proposition that good sentence structure is independent of content, but goes on to revel in examples that, to my puny intellect, lack much discernible structure and seem meagre exemplars of the craft. Writing is communication, and if a sentence needs analysis to be appreciated, maybe it's not that good—a bit a like a flat joke that needs explaining.

Perhaps I'm too stupid to appreciate the finesse of this book. Or, maybe I'm just too grounded to be wafted away on the breeze of highbrow self-indulgence. I read it, but I didn't especially enjoy it and I didn't feel I learned much. Sorry, but it's Strunk and White for me.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for native english speakers, 29 Jan 2013
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Minh Tran (Milton Keynes, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a good book if you are already good at english. It will teach you about the finer points of writing good sentences. It's definitely helped me look at sentences differently and I think I should be able to write better now. That said, it does get a bit rambly and the later chapters seemed to be tacked on just to fill out the book.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult read but some useful tips, 18 Nov 2011
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Abdul Mohammed (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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Very scattered, the author finds it hard to not tell all the stories he knows. Some examples are useful, and they should be kept precise! There is a whole chapter to criticise The Elements of Style, and the irony is: The Elements of Style is one heck of a precise and valuable book!!!
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3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars POOR WRITING, 26 Feb 2012
I found this book tedious, pompous, rambling and inconsequential. And lacking in style.

I agree entirely with a previous reviewer: concision in writing is a virtue. As George Bernard Shaw once wrote: "I apologise for sending you a long letter. I did not have time to write a short one." Concision requires more effort, but the result for the reader is much better.

Not helpful towards good writing.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish, 6 Jan 2013
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This book is excellent and had been recommended- and lives up to expectations.

It was a very well received Xmas present.
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