The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

The Well-Wrought Sentence

Gary Lutz on writers of exquisite sentences:

It took me almost another decade after graduate school to figure out what writing really is, or at least what it could be for me; and what prompted this second lesson in language was my discovery of certain remaindered books—mostly of fiction, most notably by Barry Hannah, and all of them, I later learned, edited by Gordon Lish—in which virtually every sentence had the force and feel of a climax, in which almost every sentence was a vivid extremity of language, an abruption, a definitive inquietude. These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.” The writers of such sentences became the writers I read and reread. I favored books that you could open to any page and find in every paragraph sentences that had been worked and reworked until their forms and contours and their organizations of sound had about them an air of having been foreordained—as if this combination of words could not be improved upon and had finished readying itself for infinity.

And as I encountered any such sentence, the question I would ask myself in marvelment was: how did this thing come to be what it now is? This was when I started gazing into sentence after sentence and began to discover that there was nothing arbitrary or unwitting or fluky about the shape any sentence had taken and the sound it was releasing into the world.

I’ll try to explain what it is that such sentences all seem to have in common and how in fact they might well have been written.

Whom would you put on this list?

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. “The short sentence is artificial” Laszlo Krasznahorkai interviewed at The Guardian: “… the short sentence is artificial – we use almost never short sentences, we make pause, or we hold...
  2. Zone’s Sentence The Chicago Tribune has a little more about Mathias Enard’s Zone, recently acquired for translation by Open Letter. By far, the most distinctive feature of...
  3. The One Sentence Challenge Interesting. Physicist Richard Feynman once said that if all knowledge about physics was about to expire the one sentence he would tell the future is...
  4. Sentence as Book Possibly inspired by the publication of Zone, Ed Park runs down some 1-sentence novels and variations thereof. . . . continue reading, and add your...
  5. Read Lynne Tillman’s Love Sentence! Because Richard Nash has decided to embrace social media, you can now read Lynne Tillman's new collection of stories, Someday This Will Be Funny free...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

28 comments to The Well-Wrought Sentence

  • Steve

    Give a dog a bone. It’s no surprise which author Scott would put on the list. Next, please.

  • Dennis Abrams

    Joan Didion. Period.

  • Gs

    Shakespeare. I know, do we even bother to include Shakespeare in such lists? “But look, the morn in russet mantle clad.”

  • Drew

    Steve – Laszlo?

    Javier Marias would get a vote from me. All the more amazing given his cyclical rhythm.

  • Steve

    Haha, Drew! Yes, Laszlo!

    I’d nominate Edward Dahlberg for this. His diction and style are outstanding.

  • Lutz himself, and Christine Schutt (who he mentions in that lecture) would top my list. Hannah too, of course. Lutz says somewhere else that Hannah has “a kind of brawling, roughhouse aphoristicity”, which I think captures it perfectly.

  • Neil Griffin

    This might be a boring or obvious suggestion, but I really enjoy DeLillo’s sentences.

  • SirJack

    Yes, Delillo. And Woolf and Nabokov immediately come to mind.

  • Seth

    Proust, Cormac McCarthy and Merce Rodoreda.

  • Barry Hannah is a huge one for me. I would second Faulkner and Nabokov for sure, and add Patrick White, Beckett, and… Charles Portis? It seems like these well-wrought sentences have a lot to do with why writers like Hannah and Portis are so hilarious. The rhythm with which they deliver their punchlines destroys me every time.

  • Oddly, I want to say Barthelme.

  • siddhartha

    Lispector. Ondaatje; though it is fashionable to dismiss him as he’s not an avant-gardeist but his early work has deep pleasures!

  • Oh! Barthelme is a brilliant choice.

    I’m often as surprised by my choice as my friends are when I express it: John Ruskin.

  • Stephen

    Henry Green, Patrick White, and Beckett, surely. Banville, but only about eighty percent of the time.

  • Bill

    Gass came immediately to mind. DeLillo too.

  • Marty

    Henry James. Barthelme. EB White/Katherine White. John Cage. William Gaddis. James Joyce. Herman Melville. Thoreau. Walker Percy. Eudora Welty. Norman Mailer. John Kenneth Galbraith. Samuel Beckett.

  • Brandon

    Emerson is (in a sense beyond the immediate literal one, of course) a writer of sentences.

  • Stephen S.

    It’s nice to see Patrick White on the list, although I’m a little surprised at just one mention of Gass. I think Mary Butts is an underrated stylist, as is Marguerite Young. And while translations are tricky, I’d nominate Julien Gracq and Eric Chevillard.

  • Tom

    John Hawkes wrote gorgeous sentences. Burroughs exploded the sentence. Kapuscinski made his sentences evoke a place like nobody else’s. Denis Johnson’s sentences can make you hurt. Ditto David Wojnarowicz. Juan Carlos Onetti and Alejo Carpentier.

  • Hob Broun constructed some pretty riveting sentences. Paralyzed from the neck down, apparently he wrote by breathing into a catheter connected to his computer. As Sam Lipsyte (hugely influenced by Broun) puts it, “every word was hard-won.” The effect is that, at a compositional level, each sentence feels like (this from Gordon Lish, Broun’s editor) “a map of the will of the author to keep on.” An unjustly neglected author, worth checking out…

  • Jhunie

    Clarice Lispector, especially the old translations, in which every sentence I orgasmed. . The distrait, unselfconscious beauty of Cormac mcCarthy. Laszlo, for all his lumbering verbal acrobatics. Joyce.

  • Rachel Owlglass

    Gass, Marías, Proust, Gaddis most of the time, Joyce, Melville most of the time

  • SirJack

    Gass almost none of the time.

  • Steve

    SirJack, I concur. Gass labors at his sentences, the result being nothing more than a medicine cabinet put up on the wall.

  • Alex

    Lydia Davis for sure. John Hawkes for sure. Thomas Bernhard. Early Sam Lipsyte (Venus Drive). David Foster Wallace here and there (Incarnations of Burned Children, Church Not Made With Hands, some sections of his novels). Carole Maso at her best (AVA). For that matter, David Markson at his best. Gerald Murnane. Marilynne Robinson. Hemingway, even if his topography is flat. Ben Marcus sometimes. Beckett almost always.

  • To those names already proffered (Barry Hannah and Charles Portis are legerdemain in this field), I’m compelled to cite likeminded examples in Knut Hamsun, Julio Cortázar, Bruno Schulz, Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, Brautigan, Kerouac, J.P. Donleavy and, occasionally (but not always consistently), Chekhov, Marquez, Ken Kesey, Roberto Bolaño, Percival Everett, Thomas Pynchon, Steve Erickson, Junot Díaz, David Mitchell, Mark Leyner, Aleksandar Hemon, D.B.C. Pierre and Jonathan Lethem. Some younger writers currently mining this linguistic vein are Matt Bell, Patrick Holland (“The Long Road of the Junkmailer”; “The Mary Smokes Boys”), Sam Thompson (“Communion Town”), and Robert Kloss (“The Alligators of Abraham”). As this constitutes the tabernacle before which I hunch in reverence, I’m enthused for further examples to be slung or sallied my way.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>