Books

In Which I Read A Book About Writing

I recently read Stanley Fish’s, “How To Write A Sentence, And How To Read One.”  I know, I  know, spare the humor—I am literate.  My hopes were high for this monograph.  I wanted a book that soared to great heights, equal parts poetic analysis and pragmatism.  Instead, I read the literary equivalent of a stocking stuffed with coal.  Flashback: It was early Christmas morning; I was six; I tiptoed down the stairwell in anticipation.  Santa had come!  I raced towards my stocking, reached in, and pulled out a chalky black hand.  WTF, Santa?  Forgetting the moral justice behind coal in ones stocking, it’s just a letdown.  What was supposed to be pure six-year old awesomeness turned into shear gut-wrenching confusion.  Kind of like, “How To Write A Sentence.”  Look, I’m no genius (maybe that’s why I didn’t understand it), but read this sentence with me: “The sentence doesn’t tell us, and we leave it not quite knowing of what kind of moonshine it itself is made or what meaning really is.”  What?  Seriously?  Are you trying to say, “The sentence doesn’t tell us—we know nothing certain of either moonshine or reality.”  It’s not perfect, but at least it’s clear.  In fairness, Fish does have flashes of lucidity, and he does use great examples, but if what you are looking for is a book that will delve into the secrets behind crafting good sentences, then look elsewhere.  I’ll boil it down for you, according to Fish: read, mimic; read, mimic.  That’s it.  Side note: If you are looking for a study in how to analyze the meaning of sentences, in convoluted prose, then this is the book for you.  Good reading and good luck.  What did I want?  I wanted a book that added to my writer’s arsenal.  Sadly, there were no additions made.  Maybe my disappointment with the book has more to do with my unmet expectations, however, than Fish’s failure to deliver.  I can admit that.  I wanted something that I didn’t receive.  Is that Fish’s fault?  Well, let me finish with Fish’s penultimate sentence: “The reward for the effacing of ourselves before the alter of sentences will be that ‘incidentally’ (what a great word!)—without looking for it—we will possess a better self than the self we would have possessed had we not put ourselves in service.”  Nope, I was right.        

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