The Beauty of the Sentence–Why You Should Read Fiction

At the bookstore today, I heard one of the sales staff say that last year 80% of American households did not read a book. In 2012, the number of adults who read fiction, a book, poem or a play, decreased from 50% in 2008 to 47%.  I am hoping the sales staff is wrong.  With the increased availability of content, the advent of e-readers and I-pads, it seems incomprehensible that instead of a surge in reading, there has been a dramatic decline.

This decline is concerning for many reasons. Reading literary fiction is important to society because it promotes understanding. In a recent study by The New School in New York City, researchers found evidence that reading literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling. Story is the essential component of fiction. When readers immerse themselves in a story, they receive the added bonus of expanding their world view. With its drama and emotion, it is story, rather than the blather of pundits, that puts a face on other cultures and views.

Just as story is a way to broaden readers’ perspectives, story and literature are also works of art, pieces to be admired. If story is the essence of fiction, sentences are the brushstrokes on the canvass. When I read an amazing sentence, I like to linger in it, then I bookmark it in order to review it again and again.

Here are some of my favorite sentences:

“His eyes have paled clear and blue, which give the illusion that he has spaces in his head through which the sky shows. ” Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult.



“During those moments when the fickle wind turned their way, they could faintly hear the primitive skirling strains of the hurdy-gurdy playing tantalizing snatches of the old songs; songs handed down from animal to animal over untold generations; songs giving thanks for the gifts of a snug burrow, a full larder, a healthy litter, and the return of another summer.” Return of the Willows by Jacqueline Kelly.


“As it dug into him, halting his forward momentum, the slender branch shuddered in her hands but did not break.” The Price of Sanctuary by Gaylon Greer.



“Justine looked over at Meenakshi, who was leaning over the sink trying to bite off a piece of powdered-sugar donut without dusting her lipstick, a magnetic sienna Justine committed to memory in order to reproduce in magazine parings an abstract collage that would hopefully guide Justine into what to do with this pregnancy.” The Parallel Apartments by Bill Cotter.



“The way I see it, it is the people you least expect, the people the rest of the world walk right by, maybe even turn away from,  who know about the meaning of life, and by that I mean the world beyond this one and all those strings that connect us to it.” Thin Places by Diane Owens Prettyman


“She wiped his face and rubbed his hair and was very gentle as she wiped down his stomach and chest which were already blossoming into a spectrum of purple and green.” The State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.


“Except for herself, the deputy, and one lank brown dog, the emptiness was absolute.” Moving On by Larry McMurtry.

In the early morning the distant image of Cannes, the pink and cream of old fortifications, the purple Alps that bounded Italy, were cast across the water and lay quavering in the ripples and rings sent up by sea-plants through the clear shallows.” Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.


A silver whoosh of hair, standing thick and high above his oblong ruddy face, made him look as if he had just stepped from a speeding convertible.” And the Dark Sacred Night: A Novel by Julia Glass.

The thunder grumbled and rumbled into a low continuous roar, a lion pushed into irritability, and the lightning was flashing and flickering like a malfunctioning fluorescent tube. The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel by Neil Gaiman.

An early blackbird flies across at a slant swiftly from somewhere to somewhere else, its lacquered wing catching an angled glint of sunlight, and he cannot but think with a pang of the early worm. The Infinities by John Banville.

I hope you enjoy these sentences. Please write me with some of your favorites.



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