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While I increasingly rely on the Internet for reference—I’ll more likely type a word into my on-line dictionary or thesaurus than pull a wrist-breaker of an old tome off its shelf—there is still no substitute for a writer’s reference library—real books on a real shelf, at-hand. And among the most useful works in my own reference library is Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.
From the catalog copy:
“... Tufte presents—and comments on—more than a thousand excellent sentences chosen from the works of authors in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The sentences come from an extensive search to identify some of the ways professional writers use the generous resources of the English language.
“The book displays the sentences in fourteen chapters, each one organized around a syntactic concept—short sentences, noun phrases, verb phrases, appositives, parallelism, for example. It thus provides a systematic, comprehensive range of models for aspiring writers.”
But Artful Sentences is not only for aspiring writers. Having written more books than I’ll bother to count, I still find that an occasional review consistently yields inspirations.
Where, and for what effect, can I limber up my writing? Perhaps I need to work in shorter sentences. (p. 9) Bright little ones!
Or perhaps, I could play a bit with what Tufte terms “Catalogs of modifiers” (p.100)-- basically, a bunch, a spew, an avalanche of adjectives.
Or perhaps, I might try an adjective as an opener.” (p.160) Open doors, don’t they seem more inviting?
Artful Sentences elucidiates the immense range of possibilities we have in the English language to arrange our sentences, and within them, the sounds and rhythms of words, the better to sharpen and strengthen what we mean to say. And that, my dear writerly reader, is power.
P.S. You will find more recommended reading on my workshop page.
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