What a Stitch! Sensational Sentences, Part Two


Sensational sentences are the threads of great writing.  And like thread – cotton or nylon, wool or silk – they are full of color, shine and texture. Sure, they pack more wow when followed by another great sentence and then, another. But the great sentence stands on its own, telling its own story.

I look for them and collect them. Because in their simplicity, they embody the craft of writing beautiful sentences.

You can find them in the most interesting places.

The specimens below were all posted on Facebook (yes, Facebook!), sprung from a sharp wit and keen, urban observing eye. I was delighted when the writer gave me permission to reprint them, as she doesn’t always say yes to her mother.

This time, she did. Note the well-selected details, use of senses (especially smell), dollop of imagination, mix of quote, observation and advice and, of course, humor.

On family reunions

Grandpa, referring to the Google map direction voice to the restaurant: “Hush, everybody! This woman is trying to take us someplace!”

On temptation

Every morning I don’t succumb to the siren song of bacon emanating from Longman & Eagle [a popular Logan Square restaurant] on my way to the train is both a victory and a loss.

City commuting

Sometimes, after it rains in the loop it smells like a giant fart cloud.

More on farting. Advice from a city girl on her lunch hour

If you’re wandering around Macy’s trying to kill time and you find you have to fart, just waltz into the perfume section.

On the winter of 2014

I’m moving to Hell for the weather.

Airport travel

Airport sushi is a sure fire way to miss your flight in more ways than one.

On St. Patrick’s Day

If I were really smart, I would have targeted the drunkest of drunk people, pretended to be a leprechaun, then stolen their wallets amidst their awe and confusion.

Thanks, Em!

Photograph by Ellen Blum Barish. 2014.






Sensational Sentences


When we read something that we really respond to, that makes us pause or prompts us to read it again, it’s the sentence that connects us to the work. Sometimes, it can be just a phrase. We couldn’t possibly remember every word we read. When we tell others why we liked something, we try to reconjure the exact words.

I’ve been asking my students to pay attention to sensational sentences, the emphasis on words that activate the senses.  I urge them to underline, asterisk or highlight them; to write them down so they can see their structure and hear their rhythm.

Here are a few I’ve liked from recent reading:

On witnessing two people leaping from the South Tower, hand in hand, on September 11, Brian Doyle wrote in “Leap,”

“I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.”

On standing up in a field of cows on an English hillside, G. K. Chesterton wrote in “A Piece of Chalk,”

“Then I suddenly stood up and roared with laughter, again and again, so that the cows stared at me and called a committee.”

In the opening of her essay, “Traveling Mercies,” Anne Lamott wrote,

“Broken things have been on my mind lately because so much has broken in my life and in the lives of people I love – hearts, health, confidence.”

Like the fresh vegetables in a salad compared to the bland, uni-size frozen versions, we recall the taste of that sweet red pepper or crisp garden cucumber or the surprise of black olive, chopped parsley or feta cheese. Maybe we are struck by how the vegetables are sliced. Because it can be in the fewest words that writers leave their impression.