Reading Style: A Life in Sentences
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A professor, critic, and insatiable reader, Jenny Davidson investigates the passions that drive us to fall in love with certain sentences over others and the larger implications of our relationship with writing style. At once playful and serious, immersive and analytic, her book shows how style elicits particular kinds of moral judgments and subjective preferences that turn reading into a highly personal and political act.
Melding her experiences as reader and critic, Davidson opens new vistas onto works by Jane Austen, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Pynchon; adds richer dimension to critiques of W. G. Sebald, Alan Hollinghurst, Thomas Bernhard, and Karl Ove Knausgaard; and allows for a sophisticated appreciation of popular fictions by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lionel Shriver, George Pelecanos, and Helen DeWitt. She privileges diction, syntax, point of view, and structure over plot and character, identifying the intimate mechanics that draw us in to literature's sensual frameworks and move us to feel, identify, and relate. Davidson concludes with a reading list of her favorite titles so others can share in her literary adventures and get to know better the imprint of her own reading style.
dead”; “The cistern contains: the fountain overflows”) or to Franz Kafka’s lovely and elusive Zürau aphorisms. La Rochefoucauld may provide the template for the aphorism—sharp, cynical, interested in human nature—but my favorite aphorisms of Kafka’s serve less as sharp assertions about human nature and the human world than as self-contained elliptical parables, their feel not satirical so much as mythic: Leopards break into the temple and drink all the sacrificial vessels dry; it keeps
a banality. She responds specifically to Frank’s choice to use his father’s name when he signs the letter, rather than exclusively the surname of the family into which he has been adopted. It was a common practice at this time for a relatively impoverished family of gentry with surplus sons to offer one of them up, as heir, to another branch of the family with more wealth and no offspring, with the name change often being made a condition of the adoption: Jane Austen’s brother Edward was adopted
some clues as to his concerns, and I will single out two particular points from it before plunging into the thickets of the novel itself for what it shows about how language mediates perception and what possibilities exist for the notation of various forms of cognition in sentences and paragraphs. I should warn the reader in advance that partly because I follow James’s difficult novel closely, and perhaps for other reasons as well, this chapter is probably the hardest to read in the entire book,
engulfs certain properties of the novel. Sensual objects have a place in criticism after all. The green peas in butter, the peeled orange—they make the mouth water, as it were, appealing to the senses rather than purely to the intellect. Barthes enumerates the double effect: “sumptuous appearance of a materiality” (a sumptuous repast!), a disruption of the “intellectual murmur.” Elsewhere in the book Barthes characterizes his own style as operating by means of fragments, a choice justified on
is a line from Julia Glass’s Three Junes, a man’s description of fixing a puppy’s hernia by hand when he was a boy: “I still recall the sensation of pushing the lump of flesh back through the muscle wall in that taut little belly, using just the tip of my right middle finger. It felt like forcing a marble into an elastic velvet pouch.”1 I am tempted to adduce it as a happy instance of self-consciously “fine” writing mobilized in the service of character development and the themes of the novel as