Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Favorite Sentences Redux

A couple of days ago I posted notice of Stanley Fish's favorite sentences and promised a follow-up. Here it is. The original Fish idea--favorite sentences--elicited a flood of the same from a huge number of readers. According to Fish, the responses featured lots of Moby Dick, Joyce, Dickens, Nabokov, Hemingway. After the expected protests about how blown away he was and how impossible it was to make choices--and his wife too, apparently--Fish lists his three choices from all that flood the readers sent in. Here they are:
  1. One had to forget—because one could not live with the thought that this graceful, fragile, tender young woman with those eyes, that smile, those gardens and snows in the background, had been brought in a cattle car to an extermination camp and killed by an injection of phenol into the heart, into the gentle heart one had heard beating under one's lips in the dusk of the past. - From Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin
  2. Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred; so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. - From 2 Samuel 13:15 (Revised Standard Version)
  3. The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"- From Jack Kerouac's On the Road
How cool is it that something from the Bible--and not the KJV at that--should make the big cut! Everything considered, Nabokov was almost a shoo-in for such a list. I mean doesn't everybody and their brother and 3rd cousin claim that he is higher than God when it comes to writing in English? I have to admit, it's a nice sentence. But the whole task is impossible, and arbitrary beyond belief. I don't read (or remember) enough fiction to make this favorite sentence thing a fruitful exercise for me, but I'll bet my friend Montag can play this game with more profit. What say you up there in Michigan?
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