A typical text exchange:
“Just wondering how you are.”
“ Bored and tired.”
“I wonder whether you would like to get together.”
“Get a life.”
If you are over 50, you are more likely familiar with the recent buzz about Stanley Fish’s new book, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. For Fish, language is logic. He stresses how the sentence, regardless of length-whether declarative or embroidered with qualifiers-is a structure of logical relationships. He discusses the all-important opening sentence and closing sentence, especially as the latter can be isolated from its dramatic context to convey full rhetorical effect.
Here is a little quiz. Below you will find the first sentences of the books (or a selection from a book) we will be discussing at Toronto Pursuits this July. You will, no doubt, recognize some.
1. “Idle reader: Without my swearing to it, you can believe that I would like this book, the child of my understanding, to be the most beautiful, the most brilliant, and the most discreet that anyone could imagine.” Click here.
2. “In fact, I’m well prepared to answer your question.” Click here.
3. “It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea front: a lady with a little dog.” Click here.
4. “Cola Pesce was always playing in the sea and one day his mother said in exasperation she hoped he’d turn into a fish.” Click here.
5. “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Click here.
6. “The Michaelerplatz is not the most beautiful square in Vienna, but it is one that most poignantly evokes the restless spirits of the past.” Click here.
7. “Every good story is of course both a picture and an idea, and the more they are interfused, the better the problem is solved.” Click here.
8. “On a spring afternoon in 19__, a year that for months glowered threateningly over our continent, Gustav Aschenbach—or von Aschenbach, as he had been known officially since his fiftieth birthday—set off alone from his dwelling in Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich on a rather long walk.” Click here.
9. “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey.” Click here.
10. “At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was wild and waste, darkness over the face of Ocean, rushing-spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters—God said: Let there be light!” Click here.
11. “I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close,
At two o’clock our neighbours drove me home.” Click here.
If you are partial to any of the above sentences, you will love the books they come from. Choose one of the 11 seminar options at Toronto Pursuits this July and savor the satisfaction of deep reading and convivial conversation over five mornings. Each afternoon and evening, enjoy a diverse array of cultural, recreational and social activities both on and off the campus. View the 2011 Toronto Pursuits Schedule.
We request the pleasure of your company. (And leave your comments about your own favourite opening sentence.)