Sentences Worth Re-reading

A horrendous sentence by an exceptionally good writer. Pulitzer good. I proceed knowing full well that kharma is going to kick my ass sometime soon.

Kathryn Schulz in Polar Expressed:

“The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is more than a hundred and ten thousand years old and covers six hundred and sixty thousand square miles of the Far North, has shed two hundred billion tons of water a year since 2003.”

Three references, each one extremely difficult to picture, taken together, laughably incomprehensible. Can you picture hundreds of thousands of years or square miles? What about 200,000,000,000 tons of water (or 444,000,000,000 lbs)? We need the equivalencies. For example, six hundred and sixty thousand square miles, or the size of “x” number of Western states. Or two hundred billion tons of water or enough water to fill “y”. The best writers sometimes swing and miss, just a lot less often than the rest of us mortals.

An exemplary sentence by Zoe Heller’s in her review of Sally Bedell Smith’s new biography, “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life”.

“Too physically uncoordinated to be any good at team sports, too scared of horses to enjoy riding lessons, and too sensitive not to despair when, at the age of eight, he was sent away to boarding school, he was happiest spending time with his grandmother the Queen Mother, who gave him hugs, took him to the ballet, and, as he later put it, ‘taught me how to look at things.’”

One sentence, seven detailed references about Charles, resulting in genuine insight into his personality. Brilliant.

And another Heller gem from later in the same review:

“Even Charles’s love life was choreographed for him with the sort of elaborate care and tact usually reserved for pandas in captivity.”

A master lesson in how to make your readers smile.

Adam Johnson Wins Pulitzer for Orphan Master’s Son

From the NYTimes. 

Mr. Johnson, 45, was cited by the board for an ‘exquisitely crafted novel that carries the reader on an adventuresome journey into the depths of totalitarian North Korea and into the most intimate spaces of the human heart.’

While writing the novel, Mr. Johnson said, he read propaganda and books approved by the regime. He eventually included Kim Jong-il, the late North Korean leader, as a character in the book. ‘I came to, not feel for him, but to see a human dimension in him,’ he said. ‘He was a very cunning person, a very witty person. He had flaws like all people. The more I studied him the more I realized that he was a very human figure.

Richly deserved award. Here’s my review of the Orphan Master’s Son.

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