I grew up in a house full of books. From first grade forward, every school I attended had its own library, and as soon as my parents let me ride my bike without supervision, I made daily treks to the public library three miles away, where I checked out as many books as I could carry, bringing them back the next day for more. I ate books the way I now sometimes eat potato chips, and I soon became equally enthralled with writing.
I had a sense that my writing would improve if I just kept practicing—and plus, it was fun—so I kept a journal and wrote poems and stories whenever the whim struck me.
One day, my father gave me his copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and I gobbled it up. It reinforced my suspicion that good writers were not born but made, and it gave me hope that some day I’d write something that other people would want to read. In retrospect, I had many, many teachers who encouraged me to write—more than ten that I can think of right now—and while I loved them at the time, I didn’t realize how unusual that was. My family was not wealthy, but my parents and teachers were an embarrassment of riches.
Fast-forward 40 years (give or take), and having published two books (with a third in the wings, if anyone knows a good agent), I’ve begun another—this time, on how to use grammar to improve writing. Naturally I ordered a dozen grammar books to suss out the competition. That’s how Stanley Fish’s HOW TO WRITE A SENTENCE (subtitled And How to Read One) was delivered to my door.
Fish begins with an anecdote from Annie Dillard’s 1989 classic, The Writing Life, in which she tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?” to which he responds, “Well, do you like sentences?”
A hook like that is almost unfair. I love sentences.
Fish focuses on form, craft, and appreciation, and his insights about writing are dazzling. If you like (or love) sentences, you should really read this book.