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It Was The Best Of Sentences ...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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.

"We're sometimes struck by a beautiful sentence or maybe a lousy sentence, and we'll just say, 'Hey, listen to this,' " she says.

Her choice was the last line of Toni Morrison's novel Sula:

"It was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow."

Foster has thought a lot about what makes a sentence powerful — parallel sentence structures and the use of repetition.

"But it is, in the end, very subjective," she says. "I mean, who are we to say what the best sentence in The Great Gatsby is?"

That book, by the way, made the list with this sentence:

"Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."

Other writers who made the list include Joan Didion, James Joyce, Jane Austen and Truman Capote. The sentence they chose from Capote's book In Cold Blood:

"Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there."

Foster says that while brainstorming sentences, editors at the magazine tried to remember what stuck with them over the years.

"What do you remember reading when you were younger that just blew you away, stopped you in your tracks and grabbed you by the lapels?" she says.

You can read the rest of the sentences from The American Scholar list here. Contribute your own favorites in the comment section below.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Source: NPR

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Comments [1]

jolim2 from New Jersey

The best sentence I ever heard was spoken by my daughter, who was around three years old at the time. We always encouraged our kids to explore books,helping them develop an early love for reading as well as an appreciation for the rhythm and structure of good writing. As part of this, we would have our pre-readers "read" to us, picking up a word or two that they already could decipher, but also filling out the story with their own words. Katie was reading to my mother and myself from "Snow White" when she got to the section where the Evil Queen sends the huntsman into the forest to kill the princess. Katie said, with all the drama a preschooler can muster, "Take her into the woods and surprise her with death!" So perfect in its simplicity, yet so threatening and sinister. After seventeen years it remains my favorite sentence.

Mar. 27 2014 11:13 AM

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