Tag Archives: Donna Tartt

Sentence Shaming

Sentence Shaming

With a tiny bit of sleuthing, Isaac Fitzgerald has identified the unnamed “popular writer” whom the also-popular writer Lydia Davis disparages in her recent New Yorker profile. Turns out it’s Khaled Hosseini. In the profile, Davis is described as objecting to Hosseini’s use of mixed metaphors in sentences like “The unexpected intimacy he had stumbled upon in the hospital, so urgent and acute, has eroded into something dull.” Did you catch that? The problem, according to Davis, is that “eroded” is an earth metaphor, so it doesn’t jibe with “acute.”

9781594631764This kind of sentence-shaming—which we’ll define as close, critical reading for the purpose of arguing that a previously respected piece of writing is, linguistically and/or logically, nonsense—was recently used by Francine Prose in the New York Review of Books to call Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch a piece of crap. James Wood, the godfather of close reading (and of sentence-shaming) gave The Goldfinch a similar brush-off in the New Yorker, highlighting specific passages to show that Tartt’s writing is full of “flailing imprecision.” For instance: “My heart was pounding and my head swam.”

9780316055437Good writing should hold up under a microscope, as they say. But these are some pretty small microscopes. (Or large ones. Whichever ones magnify things the most.) Is it really a problem that Hosseini used “acute” and “eroded” in the same sentence? More importantly, is this the best criticism that we can level at writers like Hosseini and Tartt? Because their books have sold millions and millions of copies. They don’t seem ashamed.

– Brian Hurley

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Books that Mattered in 2013: Extraordinary Books by Women

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The last 12 months were crammed with great and celebrated books. The Flamethrowers. Men We Reaped. The Goldfinch. Life After Life. Vampires in the Lemon Grove. The Interestings. Lean In. MaddAddam. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Booker prize winner The Luminaries. Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal. Tampa. Night Film. Bough Down. The Lowland. Speedboat. The Woman Upstairs. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roose­velt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  

If you’re not too busy trying to read them all, you might want to go see the adaptation of Catching Fire in the theater. While you’re out, you may also feel the urge to pick up some Alice Munro following her well-deserved Nobel Prize in Literature.

Then, if you get a chance, you might see if any of the books written by men in 2013 are worth reading.

As we suspected back in August, 2013 was the Year of Women. This year, offerings from Thomas Pynchon, Dave Eggers (both of whom, FYI, wrote books with female protagonists), and even the darling George Saunders we’re overshadowed by the excitement around The Luminaries, by 28-year-old Elanor Catton, or The Flamethrowers, the second novel from Rachel Kushner. Allie Brosh had ’em laughing, and dressing up in costume, at readings of Hyperbole and a Half around the country, and Joyce Carol Oates’ annual novel The Accursed was said by many to be one of her best, or at least one of her strangest. The trend was so strong that J.K. Rowling tried to release The Cuckoo’s Calling under a man’s name, only to be swiftly revealed as her true female self.

Strangely, no one seems to have much noticed The Year of Women, or wagered a guess as to why so much of the interesting and ambitious writing of the past year came from women. We welcome your ideas, but for now we’ll go ahead and take this as a good sign. The books above were never labeled or categorized as “great women’s books” — they’re just great books that people loved. It’s the best rebuke to all the Sad Literary Men and Great Male Narcissists since, well, Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., and has made for an extraordinary year of reading.

See other Books that Mattered in 2013.

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