Tag s | Reading

In Praise of Memorable Sentences

In her book, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells the story of a well-known writer who was collared by a university student, who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know…. Do you like sentences?”

Dillard continues:

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life).

Something there is that loves a sentence (a Robert Frost allusion that is itself a reference to a memorable sentence; see what I did there?). One of the most memorable for me occurred late in the Wendell Berry novel, Jayber Crow, after several scenes in which the men of the town would include the title character in their moonshine-drinking sessions in the woods in which one drinker’s swig would sound to Jayber’s ears like, “good-good,” and another’s like “good-good-good-good,” and so on. I was mowing the lawn, listening to the audiobook on headphones when the following sentence stopped me and I stood, stunned, by the sentence’s beauty and resonance with me:

I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, “Good-good-good-good-good!” like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit (Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow).

Wow. What a sentence. Good writers admire a good sentence. So I asked some of my social media friends what sentence from a book rocked their world. Here are some of those sentences, followed by the author, title, and (in parentheses) the friend who answered my question:

“There are many kinds of joy, but they all lead to one: the joy to be loved.” Michael Ende, The Neverending Story (Andrew Ronzino).

“Releasing her wrists, he touched her face tenderly, tracing the mark of the lion.” Francine Rivers, An Echo in the Darkness (Rachel McDaniel).

“Those who do evil are not our enemies. They are victims of the enemy.” David Roper, Seeing Through: Reflecting God’s Light in a Dark World (Rhonda Stark Krill).

“You cannot help being a female, and I should be something of a fool were I to discount your talents merely because of their housing.” Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Rebecca Rodden).

“People do not resist change, per se. People resist loss.” Martin Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading (Edie Sodowsky).

“Never make a principle out of your experience; let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Edie Sodowsky).

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment (Janine Rosche).

“In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister.” Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper (Shellie Arnold).

“Live for the applause of nail scarred hands.” Mark Batterson, Chase the Lion (Danya Barrows).

“Fair is whatever God wants to do.” Leif Enger, Peace Like a River (Paula Geister).

“Sometimes, even if you know the answer, you’ve got to let the other person take a shot.” Karin Slaughter, The Good Daughter (A.E. Schwartz).

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook (Shannon Morgan Cook).

“It’s not about you.” Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Alice Hale Murray).

“If his destiny be strange, it is also sublime.” Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Raelyn Pracht).

“Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart (Nancy Lohr).

“I like good, strong words that mean something.” Louisa May Alcott, Little Women  (Molly Jo Realy).

“The heart has two chambers; one for John, and one for Judas.” Ted Decker, Tosca Lee, Burn (Kari Grace).

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (Leslie DeVooght).

There were too many responses to include them all, so I will write another post of memorable sentences in a few weeks. Feel free to comment with yours, for the enjoyment of all.

Leave a Comment

Test Your Writing Out Loud

Once you write something, try reading it out loud. It might change the way you write. I worked with audiobooks for a number of years and few things were more interesting than how something sounded when read aloud by the audiobook performer, whether it was the author or a professional …

Read More

Fakespot

As a reader, I enjoy perusing book reviews. I usually start my assessment of a book by reading one-star reviews to see the worst the reviewers think. One-star reviews will tell me the book’s pitfalls and problems, and are less predictable than glowing reviews. I do read across the star …

Read More

Why I Read to the End

I am the world’s worst about abandoning novels I read for leisure. I’ll give a book a fair chance, but as soon as I find I don’t like it, I have no compunction about tossing it aside to pursue a different story. And believe me, as a literary agent, I …

Read More

What’s on Your Shelf?

A series of interview questions that dig into my reading life. What’s on your nightstand right now? I am an extremely eclectic reader and have dozens of books waiting for attention. In fiction I’m currently reading Run Program by Scott Meyer a science-fiction story of a newly developed artificial intelligence …

Read More

Read It Twice!

I read Gone with the Wind for the first time in the seventh grade. Then I reread it in the eighth grade. Daddy fussed at me for this. “Why are you reading the same book again? You should read something else.” I know he had a point, but I consumed …

Read More