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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


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  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
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  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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?

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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.

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