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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good sentences

A question I'm asked a lot is, why did you become a writer?

My answer depends on my mood. Sometimes I say it's because I never really learned to play my saxophone and anyway Clarence Clemmons got my spot with the E-Street Band while I was busy doing Elementary School. Sometimes I say it's because I really hate keeping my shoes on so I had to find a job I could do in socks. Or else I say what I wanted to do was read all day so I got as close as I could, or that I meant to write and direct plays but got sidetracked.

All these answers are true.

Maybe more to the point is that my ideas tend to be story ideas, specifically characters-in-subtle-conflict ideas. I was talking with my son last night about waffles and how different people eat them -- some pick them up and dip them bit by bit into syrup, while others cut them into bite-sized pieces, some along the ridges but others diagonally or haphazardly. He gave a shudder at the thought of waffles cross-cut. So I described a scene where a couple, having brunch, were trying to avoid a fight -- she felt that he was too controlling and perfectionistic; he disagreed; neither wanted to argue. But during the discussion they were trying to have instead of the fight, she would be cutting her waffle randomly, which would be driving him utterly NUTS until he finally explodes: You have to cut along the RIDGES! And there it is; nothing more needs to or can be said as the two of them stare astonished but not fully, her jagged waffle-bit dripping syrup maddeningly onto the counter between them...

If I didn't write books, I would have no place to put my ideas.

But maybe the ultimate reason I had to become a writer is that I love sentences.

In a column on Slate.com, Stanley Fish writes about best sentences. There are some great ones there:


Check them out... but here is one (and a half) of my all time favorite sentences. It's from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck:

…well, Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among the ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.

I think I shared it one time a few years back, and people posted their own. Let's do it again. Post your own favorite sentences here, to brighten and warm this lovely (urgh) patch of winter for us all.

Rachel Vail

PS: Welcome home to Liz Levy and Bruce Coville, who got out of Egypt just in time, seems like. Glad you are heading home and safe -- and here's hoping for progress and safety for all over there.


  1. "And by and by Christopher Robin came to an end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn't stop."
    Winnie the Pooh
    The House at Pooh Corner

  2. ^ that's another of my all-time favorites!