How to Write a Sentence: a book review

Monday, February 23, 2015 0 No tags

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My brother and sister-in-law gave me this book for Christmas called, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, by Stanley Fish. Have you heard of it? For a book on writing–oh but it’s much more than that–I sure read it like a thriller page turner.

How is this different from other books about writing? For starters, this book is not about writing in general, but only about writing sentences. Just as the title suggests. Consider the provocative title of the second chapter: Why You Won’t Find the Answer in Strunk and White.

I know. It’s blasphemous.

I, for one, always have my copy of The Elements of Style nearby, how is he is so bold to make such a claim?! Fish says this:

“In short, Strunk and White’s advice assumes a level of knowledge and understanding only some of their readers will have attained; the vocabulary they confidently offer is itself in need of an analysis and explanation they do not provide.”

According to Fish, the style guide’s answer to the question, “what is a sentence?” does not go deep enough. Okay, fine. So, instead of talking about the technical elements of a sentence, Fish spends the rest of the book delving into his love of good sentences, and deconstructing them in a new way. And it didn’t take me long to get sucked into the game.

He spends entire chapters on the types of sentences we can create, using them as structures on which to create new sentences with our own words. His dissection style is nothing like a grammar book. His way is much more inspiring, and even practical. While Fish isn’t changing any rules, he is simply going past them, and proving along the way that that is where all the fun is. Whether you love or hate grammar, if you love the English language, you will like this book.

The point is, if you love writing, you must first love sentences.

And if you can’t write a well-formed sentence, or even appreciate one, then you can’t write well. And there is more to writing a sentence then subject and verb placement. More to writing a good sentence, anyway.

Fish is like a chef whose peers want to teach you to cook by spending one day on the onion, another on the potato, and another on knife cutting techniques. All that is well and good, but Fish takes you aside, hands you a chip piled with guacamole and says, “let’s talk about what exactly makes this combination so surprising and delightful. And then we will see what other surprising chip dips we can make using a vegetable, acidic element, root vegetable, and an alkaline fruit”.

In short, where Strunk and White provide the rules, Fish offers form. And he shows through many examples that those forms are fool-proof, if you can only dissect the forms properly. But once you have done the dissecting, the possibilities are endless. Literally!

Creating sentences is way more fun than you ever believed!

Since reading the book, I have been on the lookout for sentences that I love. It’s hard. There are plenty of quotes and inspiring thoughts to love, but finding great sentence structures when the meaning of the words is stripped away is not an easy task.

His chapters on first and last sentences will have you reaching for every book on your book shelf, eating up the first and last sentences of everything you can get your hands on. What a whole new world he has opened up!

Overall, this book is a delight to read and I would even go so far as to call it a must-read for writers and readers who want to be better writers and readers, whether or not you agree with him 100%.

What do you think? Are you intrigued? Will you read it? What are some of your favorite books for writers and readers alike? Comment below! And click on the book below for info, and more reviews.

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2014 Review in Books

Monday, January 5, 2015 0 No tags

I said I wasn’t the type of human to make New Year resolutions, but books are my one exception. For the past few years, I have resolved to read a certain number of books during the year. It thrills me and doesn’t overwhelm me like other resolutions would.

This past July, I wrote a blog post about my book goal for the year, and shared the first half of my year in books. I made a goal to read 24 books in 2014, and it happened much easier than I thought. It’s funny, because the year before, when I had made a goal to read a mere 15 books, I struggled to complete the last book in time. This leads me to believe that when it comes to books, I am a goal-oriented person, and work well with a little visual accountability (thanks goodreads!). Book goals keep me on track!

For 2015, I am tempted to up my book count again, but I really don’t know what to expect of myself as I will have a newborn to look after at the end of March. Instead of raising my book goal this year–or lowering it in premature despair–I plan on keeping my book goal at 24, and making a promise to accept whatever number happens to exist at the end of this year. Babies tend to make life a little unpredictable, so I hear.

Here are the books I finished between July and December of 2014 (you can see the first half of the year here):

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A book list is a personal thing, isn’t it? The saying is “don’t judge a book by its cover” , but I think it is also fair to say, “don’t judge a person by his reading list”; even though what a person reads offers pretty good insight into their minds… so on second thought, feel free to judge me. I guess I deserve it.

2014 re-reads: The only books I re-read this year were Harry Potter, books 1-4. I plan on finishing the series for the second time before Baby comes in 2015. I think it is safe to say that I love the series even more, this time around.

Most surprising books of 2014:  The Diary of Anne Frank was surprising in that I was shocked I hadn’t read it until this year. Not so surprising that I loved it.

Natural Hospital Birth and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (read my full review of Ina May’s book on my goodreads profile, if you are curious) were surprising in that I wasn’t planning on reading about pregnancy at the beginning of 2014, and also surprising that they convinced me to try my best at having an all-natural labor.

Weirdest book of 2014: Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor. I loved it, but it was weird in the kind of weird only Flannery can do.

First reads I plan on becoming re-reads: definitely Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners. It was my favorite book on writing I have read so far, and so full of wisdom. It’s a gem I plan on re-reading many times over.

I consider all C.S. Lewis to be re-read-worthy, but The Problem of Pain was especially good.

Most inspiring: An Everlasting Meal and At Home with Madame Chic were both domestically inspiring. They both infuse creativity into every day life, just the way I like it.

Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage was a fantastic book on a topic that tends to be riddled with cheesiness. I can’t say this one was entirely devoid of cheese, but it was at a very tolerable minimum. I highly recommend it, no matter how long you have been married, and certainly even if you are not married.

What I plan on reading in 2015: I try not to make too strict of a list each year, as I inevitably come across new books I want to add throughout the year. But a few I really hope to read in2015 are The Weight of Glory, The Space Trilogy, and On Stories, by C.S. Lewis, Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset, How to Write a Sentence, by Stanley Fish, Persuasion, by Jane Austen, and of course, finish all the books I am half way through right now. :) I have a bad habit of reading multiple books at once. A bad habit I don’t tend to break, I might add.

What did you read last year? What do you recommend? What do you plan on reading in 2015? Do tell!

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P.S. Are we friends on goodreads?

On Creativity: thoughts from a demon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 0 No tags

I want to share some very beautiful words with you. I feel like I should apologize because it is longer than a tweet, and less entertaining than a video of a dog chasing its tail, but I think it is worth sharing.

First, there are a few books in this world that hold a particularly strong grip on me. Usually because they are full of truth and wisdom spoken in just the perfect way to prick my soul and remind me of things I forget too often. The Screwtape Letters is one of those books to me. I have read it countless times, and will continue reading it until I die.

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Do you ever feel like you have too many interests? Or maybe you don’t have too many interests, but maybe you feel like being interested in things is on the verge of being selfish? Sometimes I feel that way about this blog.

These are the words I wanted to share, from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters. If you are not familiar with it, let me briefly explain. This is a fictional book written in letter format. The letters are all from a senior demon, written to his young demon pupil, on how to bring a Christian to hell. He does not succeed, but the attempts made on the Christian’s soul are so eye-opening, so profound. Everything in it feels so familiar. Like, “wait a second, yes. Yes, I have had that exact same moment when I was sitting outside, about to contemplate the nature of God, when I talked myself into eating lunch instead.”

Of course, it is all speculative on Lewis’s part, but it rings with so much truth.

So here is a portion of one of the letters (keep in mind that in this context, the “Enemy” is God, and the “patient” is the Christian man). In this moment, Screwtape (the senior demon) is chastising his protégé for missing a wonderful opportunity to tempt his patient. Note that emphasis is added.


 

“As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from
himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.
Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in
a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and
sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of
their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will;
once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and
boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more
themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even
their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own
nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so.

The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the
starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from
those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is
always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or
fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry
this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong
personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite
trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking
cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a
sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I
distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the
world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about
it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of
attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or
books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the
“important” books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to
social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

 


Doesn’t that kind of make your jaw drop? Or at least make you want to  go enjoy tripe and onions (tripe, I learned today, is the stomach linings of an ox…yum!)? Sometimes I think I should stick to one creative pursuit. That maybe it’s a problem that I want to learn to play the guitar and paint with pastels in the same breath. But God created the armadillo on the same day He created the cheetah, so I don’t think He is adverse to variety. And if creativity is self-expression, and God created humans and creativity, then what is our creativity truly expressing? Of course this demon mentor is instructing his pupil to distract his patient from even innocent pursuits.

By not caring “twopence” about what other people say about the harmless things we enjoy, we are, according to Screwtape, armed against some of the subtlest modes of attack. Therefore, if you want to become less of who God created you to be, less unique, with less of a personality, then by all means, skip your morning walk through the woods and ignore your desire to learn how to make homemade pasta this afternoon.

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If you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, buy it now.

More posts about The Screwtape Letters: here and here.

And a post on another favorite C.S. Lewis book, The Problem of Pain.

At Home With Madame Chic: a review

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 0 No tags

(While I received an ARC of this book, I am not being compensated in any way for my review. All opinions are my own, based on the fact that I am simply a big fan of Jennifer L. Scott’s work. I have included an Amazon affiliate link if you do choose to buy her book through Amazon, because, why not? Enjoy!)

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I am writing this now while listening to my favorite composer (George Frideric Handel) after making, and eating, one of my favorite breakfasts (scrambled eggs with tomatoes, parsley and cream with a side of sourdough bread). I will confess I am not dressed for the day, but, baby steps (remember?).

If you are familiar with Jennifer L. Scott, her blog, and first book, Lessons From Madame Chic, then you know that my morning routine is inspired by her. While I will admit I have always been drawn to the arts, and enjoying the small pleasures of life, I do not always allow myself such enjoyment. Reading the Madame Chic books has been a wonderful reminder to me to enjoy what I love.

I think there is something about our rushed culture that causes tension between the art of every day living, and surviving. We may feel we are wasting precious time if we sit down with a cup of tea and listen to beautiful music for part of an afternoon. But I know that when I make time to make every moment enjoyable, to be grateful for every moment of life, I am more content.

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The lessons in Ms. Scott’s books fit so well with the theme of this blog: we are far too easily pleased. We are far too pleased with the mediocre, when so much more is available to us. It takes discipline, and much practice, but we can overcome mediocrity in all areas of our lives. What do you think?

In her second book, At Home With Madame Chic, which comes out today (Buy it here!), Ms. Scott fine-tunes one very important trait of being chic: perspective. The book is divided into two sections. Part I focuses on getting your home in order (decluttering, adding small touches, etc.) so that you can focus on Part II: enjoying the pleasures of daily life. But unlike a typical how-to-get-your-life-in-order self help book, At Home is interwoven with a specific philosophy. And as I have said before, I love the philosophy!

Here is what I took from this book: Our lives are busy, and we don’t pause as often as we should to enjoy small moments: sharing a meal with a friend, opening our homes, even getting ready for the day. So much of our lives are made up of small chores and responsibilities that are not typically thought of as fun or enjoyable. But they are a daily occurrence, and there is no way of avoiding them. Therefore, if we can learn to derive pleasure from even the smallest, most mundane parts of life, then how much more will we enjoy life? Life in the 21st century feels hectic because I think our natural mentality is that we have to work hard before we can play hard. But what if we learned to enjoy all of our work? There is no need to deprive ourselves.

Jennifer takes you by the hand and shows you how keeping a home always ready for guests is not a daunting task, but a pleasurable one. You don’t have to play mind games with yourself to somehow fake the idea that folding laundry is great fun; but what if you loved a happy home more than you hated laundry? It is your perspective that affects every moment of every day, not whatever events are filling your every day.

So how does one go from simply going through the motions of daily life, to cherishing every minute? Well, I won’t give it all away. But I will say that Scott’s tips are probably ones you knew deep down inside, but have grown in the habit of casting aside in the name of…well, I don’t really know. But I do know that once you read this book, you will be motivated and inspired to begin to capture the je ne sais quoi of the French women who seem to flow through life with ease. In essence, this book will give you practical tips to cultivate a chic attitude that translates seamlessly into daily living.

Will you read this book? If you haven’t guessed by now, I highly recommend it for all women in all stages of life whether single, married, young, old, working in the corporate world, or at home.

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P.S. Here are a few lessons I learned from Jennifer Scott’s first book, Lessons From Madame Chic

And don’t forget to check out Jennifer Scott’s blog, The Daily Connoisseur!

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