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How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One Hardcover – 1 Feb 2011

3.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (1 Feb. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061840548
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061840548
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 483,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“Both deeper and more democratic than The Elements of Style.” (Financial Times)

“A guided tour through some of the most beautiful, arresting sentences in the English language.” (Slate)

“[Fish] shares his connoisseurship of the elegant sentence.” (The New Yorker)

“Stanley Fish just might be America’s most famous professor.” (BookPage)

“How to Write a Sentence is a compendium of syntactic gems—light reading for geeks.” (New York magazine)

“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.” (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings)

“[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.” (New York Observer)

“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.” (New Republic)

“A sentence is, in John Donne’s words, ‘a little world made cunningly,’ writes Fish. He’ll teach you the art.” (People)

“This splendid little volume describes how the shape of a sentence controls its meaning.” (Boston Globe)

“Like a long periodic sentence, this book rumbles along, gathers steam, shifts gears, and packs a wallop.” (Roy Blount Jr.)

“Language lovers will flock to this homage to great writing.” (Booklist)

“Fish is a personable and insightful guide with wide-ranging erudition and a lack of pretension.” (National Post)

“For both aspiring writer and eager reader, Fish’s insights into sentence construction and care are instructional, even inspirational.” (The Huffington Post)

“If you love language you’ll find something interesting, if not fascinating, in [How to Write a Sentence].” (CBSNews.com)

“[A] slender but potent volume. Fish, a distinguished law professor and literary theorist, is the anti-Strunk & White.” (The Globe and Mail)

“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.” (Washington Times)

“The fun comes from the examples cited throughout: John Updike, Jane Austen…all are cited throughout.” (Washington Post)

“How to Write a Sentence is the first step on the journey to the Promised Land of good writing.” (Saudi Gazette)

“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.” (Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein, authors of "They Say/I Say")

“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.” (The New Yorker)

From the Back Cover

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. 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). 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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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 logical 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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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