The best sentences in literature

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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The American Scholar has completed its search for literature’s 10 best sentences, and presented its unranked list (of 11, just because).

The authors elevated to the pantheon of sentence-makers are F Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, John Hersey, Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Tim O’Brien, Vladimir Nabokov and Truman Capote. Read the chosen sentences themselves here; Roy Peter Clark of Poynter teases out why they’re the best sentences here.

Meantime, these are the three shortest:

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

“Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.”

– Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

“There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child.”

– Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita


The opening sentence of a recent obituary in the New York Times is pretty great, too.

“Walter R Walsh, a world-class marksman who shot clothespins off laundry lines as a boy and went on to become an FBI legend in shootouts with gangsters in the 1930s, an Olympic competitor and a trainer of generations of Marine Corps sharpshooters, died on Tuesday at his home in Arlington, Virginia.”

And the second sentence: “He was 106.”


See also: Ten of the best opening lines in news reports

Ten of the funniest newspaper corrections

Obituaries: oases of calm in a world gone

An obituary for facts

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