The 10 best sentences in literature: Do you agree?

What are some of your favorite sentences of all time?
What are some of your favorite sentences of all time? iStockphoto/NPR

Have you ever had a sentence stop you in your tracks? Editors at The American Scholar magazine have put out their list of the "10 Best Sentences" in fiction and nonfiction. Associate editor Margaret Foster says the inspiration came from water cooler talk around the office.

"We're sometimes struck by a beautiful sentence or maybe a lousy sentence, and we'll just say, 'Hey, listen to this,'" she says.

Her choice was the last line of "Sula," a novel by Toni Morrison:

It was a fine cry — loud and long — but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.

Foster has thought a lot about what makes a sentence powerful — parallel sentence structures and the use of repetition.

"But it is, in the end, very subjective," she says. "I mean, who are we to say what the best sentence in 'The Great Gatsby' is?"

That book, by the way, made the list with this sentence:

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

Other writers who made the list include Joan Didion, James Joyce, Jane Austen and Truman Capote. The sentence they chose from Capote's book "In Cold Blood":

Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.

Foster says that while brainstorming sentences, editors at the magazine tried to remember what stuck with them over the years.

"What do you remember reading when you were younger that just blew you away, stopped you in your tracks and grabbed you by the lapels?" she says.

You can read the rest of the sentences from The American Scholar list here

Do you agree with these choices? Or do you have better ones? Contribute your own favorites in the comment section below, or share them with other KPCC listeners on our Facebook page.

blog comments powered by Disqus