The Enormous Pile of Cool Sentences

Error, superstition, dread, devout submission, hypocrisy, self-imposed silence, and theological mystification, a towering and colossal edifice of imposture and false doctrine, as Meslier saw it, formed an all-embracing system reaching everywhere, powerfully bolstering the supremacy of tyranny, abuse, exploitation, and vice throughout our world, a labyrinth of error so great that it appeared an all but impossible task to undermine or break it down. (Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Reconsidered)

She sat with a smile on her face, as if to say how pleased, how privileged, she felt to be there, how alert and ready to respond to the demands of this life she was, once she understood what they were. (Alice Munro, too Much Happiness)

Gradually she learned to use her eyes and apply new knowledge, till she could stand in an empty suburban street and realize that far beneath her shoes was a crater filled with rubble never to be seen, that never had been seen, because there were no eyes to see it at its creating or throughout the long history of its being made and filled and hidden and lost. (Munro, Too Much Happiness)

Like two lilies in a pond, romantically part of it but infinitely remote, surrounded, supported, floating in it if you will, but projected by being different on to another plane, though there was so much water you could not see these flowers or were liable to miss them, stood Miss Crevy and her young man, apparently serene, envied for their obviously easy circumstances and Angela coveted for her looks by all those water beetles if you like, by those people standing round. (Henry Green, Party Going)

The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were taking a lively interest in the outcome, for they, of course, would be playing both teams over the coming year; and the Heads of House of the competing teams, though they attempted to disguise it under a decent pretense of sportsmanship, were determined to see their side’s victory. (J.K. Rowling, The Order of the Phoenix)

They had started out with twenty-seven dogs, enough for two main teams and a team to spare, but four of them had been torn apart by their fellows out of some complex canine emotion composed of boredom, rivalry, and appalling high spirits; one had fallen into a bottomless hole in the ice; two had come down with something as mysterious as it was swift; one had been shot by the signalmen, Gedman, for reasons that remained poorly understood; and Stengel, the true genius among the dogs, had wandered off into the fog one day when no one was looking and never come back. (Michael Chabon, Kavalier and Clay)

I find nothing more conducive to the blunting of one’s appetite than to have none but elderly persons sitting around one at table, fouling their napkins with the disintegration of their make-up, and surreptitiously trying, behind noncommittal smiles, to dislodge the red-hot torture point of a raspberry seed from between false gum and dead gum. (Nabokov, Pale Fire)

The truth is that when his mind was completely gone, he had the strangest thought any lunatic in the world ever had, which was that it seemed reasonable and necessary to him, both for the sake of his honor and as a service to the nation, to become a knight errant and travel the world with his armor and his horse to seek adventure sand engage in everything he had read that knights errant engaged in, righting all manner of wrongs and, by seizing the opportunity and placing himself in danger and ending those wrongs, winning eternal renown and everlasting fame. (Cervantes, Don Quixote)

So every morning, after climbing to the basin, he would seize his hammer and pound the faucet, and the other members of the household, dozing in their beds, would hear the bright sharp plink plink plink of Stuart’s hammer, like a faraway blacksmith, telling them that day had come and that Stuart was trying to brush his teeth. (E.B. White, Stuart Little)

After exercising, Stuart would slip on his handsome wool wrapper, tie the cord tightly around his waist, and start for the bathroom, creeping silently through the long dark hall past his mother’s and father’s room, past the hall closet where the carpet sweeper was kept, past George’s room, and along by the head of the stairs till he got to the bathroom. (E.B. White, Stuart Little)

Evolutionary biologists do argue over the mechanics of evolutionary change, how fast it happens, how to measure the rate of evolutionary change, whether transformations occur gradually and cumulatively, putter and futz, generation after generation, always working to stay ahead by a nose, until, whaddaya know, you’re wearing a Chiquita on your beak; or whether long banks of time will pass with nothing much happening, most species maintaining themselves in a comfortable stasis until a crisis strikes—an asteroid hits the Earth, or volcanoes dress the skies in flannel pajamas of sulfur and ash—at which point massive evolutionary changes may arise very quickly. (Natalie Angier, The Canon)

One time, as a child, in a power failure, his mother had found and lit a last candle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vast dimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed, hoping that the power might not come on again too soon. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it had to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darknesses, but moving also toward a new sun. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

At home, or at least having been guests, in many countries of the spirit; having escaped again and again from the musty agreeable nooks into which preference and prejudice, youth, origin, the accidents of people and books or even exhaustion from wandering seemed to have banished us; full of malice against the lures of dependence that lie hidden in honors, or money, or offices, or enthusiasms of the senses; grateful even to need and vacillating sickness because they always rid us from some rule and its “prejudice,” grateful to god, devil, sheep, and worm in us; curious to a vice, investigators to the point of cruelty, with uninhibited fingers for the unfathomable, with teeth and stomachs for the most indigestible, ready for every feat that requires a sense of acuteness and acute senses, ready for every venture, thanks to an excess of “free will,” with fore- and back-souls into whose ultimate intentions nobody can look so easily, with fore-and backgrounds which no foot is likely to explore to the end; concealed under cloaks of light, conquerors even if we look like heirs and prodigals, arrangers and collectors from morning till late, misers of our riches and our crammed drawers, economical in learning and forgetting, inventive in schemas, occasionally proud of tables of categories, occasionally pedants, occasionally night owls of work even in broad daylight; yes, when it is necessary even scarecrows—and today it is necessary; namely, insofar as we are born, sworn, jealous friends of solitude, of our own most profound, most midnightly, most middaily solitude: that is the type of man we are, we free spirits! (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

The dungeons against whose dripping walls the brave and generous have sighed their souls away, the scaffolds stained and glorified with noble blood, the hopeless slaves with scarred and bleeding backs, the writhing martyrs clothed in flame, the virtuous stretched on racks, their joints and muscles torn apart, the flayed and bleeding bodies of the just, the extinguished eyes of those who sought for truth, the countless patriots who fought and died in vain, the burdened, beaten, weeping wives, the shriveled faces of neglected babes, the murdered millions of the vanished years, the victims of the winds and waves, of flood and flame, of imprisoned forces in the earth, of lightning’s stroke, of lava’s molten stream, of famine, plague and lingering pain, the mouths that drip with blood, the fangs that poison, the beaks that wound and tear, the triumphs of the base, the rule and sway of wrong, the crowns that cruelty has worn and the robed hypocrites, with clasped and bloody hands, who thanked their God—a phantom fiend—that liberty had been banished from the world, these souvenirs of the dreadful past, these horrors that still exist, these frightful facts deny that any God exists who has the will and power to guard and bless the human race. (Robert Ingersoll)

To look at his life, to take the stock he always imagined a man would at his end, was to witness a shifting mass, the tiles of a mosaic, spinning, swirling, reportraying, always in recognizable swaths of colors, familiar elements, molecular units, intimate currents, but also independent now of his will, showing him a different self every time he tried to make an assessment. (Paul Harding, Tinkers)

He resisted the desire to stop the wagon and give Prince Edward an apple and crawl into the shadows and sit quietly and become a part of the slow freshet of night, or to stop the wagon and simply remain on the bench and watch the shadows approach and pool around the wagon wheels and Prince Edward’s hooves and eventually reach the soles of his shoes and then his ankles, until mule, cart, and man were submerged in the flood tide of night, because the secrets gathered in the shadows at the tree line that rustled and waited until he passed, and which made the hair on his arms and the back of his neck stand on end and his scalp tighten when he felt them flooding, invisible, the road around him, were dispelled each time he turned his direct attention to them, scattered to just beyond his sight. (Paul Harding, Tinkers)

The flowers must have been the latest generation of perennials, whose ancestors were first planted by a woman who lived in the ruins when the ruins were a raw, unpainted house inhabited by herself and a smoky, serious husband and perhaps a pair of silent, serious daughters, and the flowers were an act of resistance against the raw, bare lot with its raw house sticking up from the raw earth like an act of sheer, inevitable, necessary madness because human beings have to live somewhere and in something and here is just as outrageous as there because in either place (in any place) it seems like an interruption, an intrusion on something that, no matter how many times she read in her Bible, Let them have dominion, seemed marred, dispelled, vanquished once people arrived with their catastrophic voices and saws and plows and began to sing and hammer and carve and erect. (Paul Harding, Tinkers)

This morning—the Monday morning after Friday morning when there was predawn snow and Howard had stopped to look at a field that had once been a homestead and had, in a fugue state, made a contraption out of twigs and grass and flowers, which he had already forgotten making, and then had had a seizure and awoke freezing in the field and had finally realized who he was and where he was and had made his way home—this morning brought fear that there hid somewhere on one of the back roads that he intended to canvass another seizure, a bolt of lightning coiled behind a rock or stump or within the hollow of a tree or some strange nest and which his passing would trigger to spring, to explode, and to impale him. (Paul Harding, Tinkers)

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. (Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day)

As a rule, Shade destroyed drafts the moment he ceased to read them: Well do I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies of that backyard auto-da-fe. (Nabokov, Pale Fire)

[A theologically engaged atheism] would be unafraid to credit the immense allure of religious tradition, but at the same time it would be ready to argue that the abstract God of the philosophers and the theologians is no more probable than the idolatrous God of the fundamentalists, makes no better sense of the fallen world, and is certainly no more likable or worthy of our worshipful respect—alas. (James Wood, New Yorker)

The shouting had died down, now a confusion of sounds was coming from the hallway, these were the blind, driven like sheep, bumping into each other, crammed together in the doorways, some lost their sense of direction and ended up in the other wards, but the majority, stumbling along, huddled into groups or dispersed one by one, desperately waving their hands in the air like people drowning, burst into the ward in a whirlwind, as if being pushed from the outside by a bulldozer. (Jose Saramago, Blindness)

My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. (Anne Marrow Lindbergh)

Everything could so easily lapse into nothingness, yet each year after the death of winter, trees sprout new leaves, the moon wanes but always waxes brilliantly once more, and the serpent, a universal symbol of initiation, sloughs off its old withered skin and comes forth gleaming and fresh. (Karen Armstrong, The Case for God)

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth-rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of heaven to welcome us—when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature. (Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill”)

Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the constant omission of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference. (FDR)

I would write about the distressing pain, the helplessness, the impotence, the rage, the prayers, the fasting, the priesthood blessings, the ineffectuality of all I or my wife or medicine could do as my son screamed, two months old with his head sliced in two a strip of skull removed blood-soaked iodine-soaked bandages and butterfly strips and jagged uneven black stitches holding him together as his hands contorted and could not hold my finger could not be still shaking trembling tired of the pain the IV pulling dripping air bubbles in the hose setting alarms extra shots of morphine extra shots of ibuprofen heart-rate monitors and blood-oxygen monitors pulling away from his chest his toes nurses pulling his sock back on replacing the stickers on his chest caresses holding him tightly his mother crying tears falling to a gathering puddle on the floor beneath her hung head as he screams and writhes and screams for an entire day twenty-four hours with only short pauses to breathe Eli Eli never sleeping each scream a full expenditure of breath worried he won’t breathe in again each time tears rage why stop this stop this if it be thy will let this cup pass from me (Pat Madden, “Gravity and Distance”)

Jeff drinks, he sleeps in, gets fired, gets married, gets divorced, studies refrigeration and air conditioning, quits, thinks he’s being followed, thinks he’s the victim, thinks there’s no way back, joins a band, misses a gig, doesn’t pay his rent, moves to Reno, shacks up, dyes his hair blonde. (Pat Madden, “Gravity and Distance”)

We start with Montaigne, 1533-92, father of the essay form, collector of thoughts in commonplace books, quotes from the sages, marginalia expanded to his grandiose discussion of himself, coiner of the term, in French, essais, meaning “attempts” or “trials,” widely read for his honesty, his wit, his invitation to accompany him in thought as he ponders a variety of life questions. (Pat Madden, “Gravity and Distance”)

And when he was commanded, later that night, by every authority imaginable (the mayor, a duke, a princess, the captain of police) to send the elephant back, to make her go away, to, in essence, disappear her, the magician had dutifully spoken the spell, as well as the words themselves, backward, as the magic required, but nothing happened. (Kate DiCamillo, The Magician’s Elephant)

You hit the crash cymbal at the end of a fill, as a flourish, but also as a kind of announcement that time-out has, boringly enough, ended, and that the beat must go back to work. (James Wood, on Keith Moon in The New Yorker)

He had seen it, even in men who had undergone a complete ideological reversal, who in the secret hours of the night had found a new creed, and alone, compelled by the internal power of their convictions, had betrayed their calling, their families, their countries. (John le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold)

She remembered, in the fevered condition of her mind, how, as a child, she had been horrified to learn that with every step she made, thousands of minute creatures were destroyed beneath her foot; and now, whether she had lied or told the truth–or even, she was sure, had kept silent–she had been forced to destroy a human being; perhaps two, for was there not also the Jew, Fiedler, who had been gentle with her, taken her arm and told her to go back to England? (John le Carre, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold)

Zelikman was alien to feelings of sympathy with young men in tears, having waked one morning, around the time of his fifteenth birthday, to find that by a mysterious process perhaps linked to his studies of human ailments and frailties as much as to the rape and murder of his mother and sister, his heat had turned to stone. (Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road)

The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line—that was the woods on t’other side—you couldn’t make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and warn’t black any more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting along, ever so far away–trading scows, and such things; and long black streaks—rafts; sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumbled up voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by-and-by you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there’s a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes the streak look that way; and you see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river, and you make out a log cabin in the edge of the woods, away on the bank on t’other side of the river, being a wood-yard, likely, and piled by them cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres; then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from over there, so cool and fresh, and sweet to smell, on account of the woods and the flowers; but sometimes not that way, because they’ve left dead fish laying around, gars, and such, and they do get pretty rank; and next you’ve got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it! (Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

But, when nothing subsists of an old past, after the death of people, after the destruction of things, alone, frail but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, smell and taste still remain for a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, upon the ruins of all the rest, bearing without giving way, on their almost impalpable droplet, the immense edifice of memory. (Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way)

It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul; never to be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred, which, especially since her illness, had power to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine; gave her physical pain, and made all pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved and making her home delightful rock, quiver, and bend as if indeed there were a monster grubbing at the roots, as if the whole panoply of content were nothing but self love! this hatred! (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway)

What she would say was that she hated frumps, fogies, failures, like himself presumably; thought people had no right to slouch about with their hands in their pockets; must do something, be something; and these great swells, these Duchesses, these hoary old Countesses one met in her drawing-room, unspeakably remote as he felt them to be from anything that mattered a straw, stood for something real to her. (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway)

Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent’s Park, was enough. (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway)

A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a blood stained weddingveil and some in headgear and of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses’ ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools. (Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian)

Her mother went back to her picking, but Little Sal, because her feet were tired of standing and walking, sat down in the middle of a large clump of bushes and ate blueberries. (Robert McCloskey, Blueberries for Sal)

Modern scholars have a gravitational pull toward ancient bureaucrats–keep records even of your cruelties and history will love you–and the new research has produced a slightly, if significantly, revised picture of Galileo’s enemies. (Adam Gopnik, “Moon Man,” The New Yorker)

As Smith’s memoir demonstrates, childhood—those first, fresh experiences of the world, unclouded by reason and practicality, when you are the center of existence and anything might happen—should be regarded less as a springboard to striving adulthood than as a well of rich individual perception and experience to which you can return for sustenance throughout life, whether you rise in the world or not. (Christina Schwarz, “Leave Those Kids Alone,” The Atlantic)

The human soul, like the statue of Glaucus which time, the sea and storms had so much disfigured that it resembled a wild beast more than a god, the human soul, I say, altered in society by the perpetual succession of a thousand causes, by the acquisition of numberless discoveries and errors, by the changes that have happened in the constitution of the body, by the perpetual jarring of the passions, has in a manner so changed in appearance as to be scarcely distinguishable; and by now we perceive in it, instead of being always acting from certain and invariable principles, instead of that heavenly and majestic simplicity which its author had impressed upon it, nothing but the shocking contrast of passion that thinks it reasons, and an understanding grown delirious. (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality)

The price we have paid for expecting to be so much more than our ancestors is a perpetual anxiety that we are far from being all we might be. (Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety)

I think that novels tend to fail not when the characters are not vivid or deep enough, but when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality level. (James Wood, How Fiction Works)

Decomposition like this happens to any long-lived and successful style, surely; so the writer’s—or critic’s, or reader’s—task is then to search for the irreducible, the superfluous, the margin of gratuity, the element in a style—in any style—which cannot be easily reproduced or reduced. (James Wood, How Fiction Works)

For when the private man has lived through the romantic age in politics and is no longer moved by the stale echoes of its hot cries, when he is sober and unimpressed, his own part in public affairs appears to him a pretentious thing, a second rate, an inconsequential. (Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public)

The process of selecting and securing a partner, whether for conceiving and rearing children, or for enhancing one’s socioeconomic standing, or for attempting motel-room acrobatics, or merely for finding companionship in a cold and lonely universe, is as consequential as it can be inefficient or irresolute. (Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker)

But the kind of prayer that is an asking, rather than an asking for, and that anticipates a personal response, a discernible moment of dialogue or communicated content, would be a distinctive kind of prayer, one that falls outside the models of revelation that we have seen, relegating as they do God’s operations to historical events, canonized texts, or the infusion of “vital energy.” (Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon)

I have spent many an hour, when I was younger, floating over [Walden Pond’s] surface as the zephyr willed, having paddled my boat to the middle, and lying on my back across the seats, in a summer forenoon, dreaming awake, until I was aroused by the boat touching the sand, and I arose to see what shore my fates had impelled me to; days when idleness was the most attractive and productive industry. (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor, are not awakened by our own newly acquired force and aspirations from within, accompanied by the undulations of celestial music, instead of factory bells, and a fragrance filling the air—to a higher life than we fell asleep from; and thus the darkness bear its fruit, and prove itself to be good, no less than the light. (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

In fact a swimming pool requires, once it has been filled and the filter has begun its process of cleaning and recirculating the water, virtually no water, but the symbolic content of swimming pools has always been interesting: a pool is misapprehended as a trapping of affluence, real or pretended, and of a kind of hedonistic attention to the body. (Joan Didion, The White Album)

The universe passed through its unimaginable first moment, first year, first billion years, wresting itself from whatever state of nonexistence, inflating, contorting, resolving into space and matter, bursting into light. (Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. (John Hersey, Hiroshima)

Non-hibakusha employers developed a prejudice against the survivors as word got around that they were prone to all sorts of ailments, and that even those, like Nakamura-san, who were not cruelly maimed and had not developed any serious overt symptoms were unreliable workers, since most of them seemed to suffer, as she did, from the mysterious but real malaise that came to be known as one kind of lasting A-bomb sickness: a nagging weakness and weariness, dizziness now and then, digestive troubles, all aggravated by a feeling of oppression, a sense of doom, for it was said that unspeakable diseases might at any time plant nasty flowers in the bodies of their victims, and even in those of their decendents. (John Hersey, Hiroshima)

His memory, like the world’s, was getting spotty. (John Hersey, Hiroshima)

The mind, whatever else it is, is a constant of everyone’s experience, and, in more and other ways than we know, the creator of the reality that we live within, that we live by and for and despite, and that, often enough, we die from. (Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind)

As he sat at a window table with Margaret Vernon and Caroline and Walter Dundee, eating two eggs with fried steak and glancing at Emmeline in her striped percale shirtwaist on the stool behind the cash register and at the sidewalk spectators clustered at the window, he felt, even as he turned over the idea of a fourth cafe in Brooklyn, a little sharp burst of restlessness, of dissatisfaction, as if he were supposed to be doing something else, something grander, higher, more difficult, more dangerous, more daring. (Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler)

From another drawer Harwinton drew out a four-color poster showing an ad for a new carpet sweeper with a spring-action dumper and a rubber furniture protector—and now from drawer after drawer came bursts of color, a riot of bright designs, showing a copper-lined bathtub, a jar of brilliantine, a spring-wagon harness of oak-tanned leather, a cake of lemon-juice complexion soap, as if the secret life of the room were this hidden profusion of images, sprouting in the dark, multiplying, unstoppable, like scarlet secrets whispered in the darkness of the confessional. (Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler)

For Claire Moore was a kind of woman that Emmeline had observed more than once—a woman empty within, hungry to be filled, a vampire woman, drinking the blood of victims. (Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler)

Since Caroline was always asleep when he woke early in the morning, and asleep when he went up to his bed late at night, it struck Martin that he saw her only at dinner, when she seemed faded and tired, as if she had been pulled with difficulty out of the thick, sticky sleep surrounding her on both sides of dinner, an ooze of sleep into which she would be sucked the moment she put down her fork; and as he glanced at her shadowy form in the bed at night, or her pale face staring at the brilliant white cloth of the dinner table, it seemed to him that she was gradually dissolving, like the sugar cubes he had liked to drop long ago into a glass of water and watch until there was nothing left but a slightly cloudy liquid. (Steven Millhauser, Martin Dressler)

In an instant’s compass, great hearts sometimes condense to one deep pang, the sum total of those shallow pains kindly diffused through feebler men’s whole lives. (Herman Melville, Moby Dick)

We had all won a fashion magazine contest, by writing essays and stories and poems and fashion blurbs, and as prizes they gave us jobs in New York for a month, expenses paid, and piles and piles of free bonuses, like ballet tickets and passes to fashion shows and hair stylings at a famous expensive salon and chances to meet successful people in the field of our desire and advice about what to do with our particular complexions. (Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar)

Topsides, it felt like being inside a greenhouse, if a greenhouse were a houseboat and haunted: plastic sheeting stapled to a tented frame of two-by-fours sheltered the ship from gale, sleet, rain, snow, and every other act of God to afflict the rocky coast of Cape Ann, the site of twenty-seven shipwrecks before John Hancock convinced the Massachusetts legislature to raise money to build a pair of lighthouses, whose whale-oil lights were first lit on December 21, 1771, Forefathers Day, a holiday commemorating the arrival of the Mayflower’s first landing party in Plymouth, a century and a half before. (Jill Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes)

Historical fundamentalism is marked by the belief that a particular and quite narrowly defined past–”the founding”–is ageless and sacred and to be worshipped; that certain historical texts–”the founding documents”–are to be read in the same spirit with which religious fundamentalists read, for instance, the Ten Commandments; that the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired; that the academic study of history (whose standards of evidence and methods of analysis are based on skepticism) is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy; and that political arguments grounded in appeals to the founding documents, as sacred texts, and to the Founding Fathers, as prophets, are therefore incontrovertible. (Jill Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes)

Yvonne was sitting up half reading her magazine, her nightgown slightly pulled aside showing where her warm tan faded into the white skin of her breast, her arms outside the covers and one hand turned downward from the wrist hanging over the edge of the bed listlessly: as he approached she turned this hand palm upward in an involuntary movement, of irritation perhaps, but it was like an unconscious gesture of appeal: it was more: it seemed to epitomize, suddenly, all the old supplication, the whole queer secret dumbshow of incommunicable tendernesses and loyalties and eternal hopes of their marriage. (Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano)

On large fields during the height of the season–which began in August in south Texas and moved eastward, reaching the Carolinas by early fall—the star pickers sped like fan blades through the cotton, a blur of fingers and bolls, arms and torsos switching from the left row to the right, picking on both sides of them and tossing the cotton like feathers into their sack. (Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns)

Our political system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the order of the world and with the mode of existence decreed to a permanent body composed of transitory parts, wherein, by the disposition of a stupendous wisdom, molding together the great mysterious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is never old or middle-aged or young, but, in a condition of unchangeable constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual decay, fall, renovation, and progression. (Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France)

The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces, the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters and atmosphere, animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles, insects mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organised as man or mammoth, the mineral substances, their generation and uses, it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is, in all this, design, cause and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regenerator into new and other forms. (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823)

Dallas Wiens needed civilian medical and psychological evaluations before returning to the Army, and for that he needed money, which is how he ended up at the Ridglea Baptist Church on November 13th, the day his face was destroyed. (Raffi Khatchadourian, The New Yorker)

His progeny will be as bald as billiards! (one female student to the other, overheard on BYU campus–alliteration, assonance, iambic pantameter with a feminine ending, like this phrase from Jane Austen’s Persuasion: “upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges”–thanks Timothy Steele!)

I believe that every poet should read our English Classics, master the main grammatic rules before daring to bend or break them; should travel abroad, be at ease among all sorts and conditions of men, and experience not only the horrors of thwarted passion but, if he is fortunate, the tranquil love of an honest woman. (Robert Graves, Oxford Address on Poetry)

As the aircraft came closer and the carrier heaved on into the waves and the plane’s speed did not diminish and the deck did not grow steady—indeed, it pitched up and down five or ten feet per greasy heave—one experienced a neural alarm that no lecture could have prepared him for: This is not an airplane coming toward me, it is a brick with some poor sonofabitch riding it (someone much like myself!), and it is not gliding, it is falling, a thirty-thousand-pound brick, headed not for a stripe on the deck but for me—and with a horrible smash! it hits the skillet, and with a blur of momentum as big as a freight train’s it hurtles toward the far end of the deck—another blinding storm!—another roar as the pilot pushes the throttle up to full military power and another smear of rubber screams out over the skillet—and this is nominal!—quite okay!—for a wire stretched across the deck has grabbed the hook on the end of the plane as it hit the deck tail down, and the smash was the rest of the fifteen-ton brute slamming onto the deck, as it tripped up, so that it is now straining against the wire at full throttle, in case it hadn’t held and the plane had “boltered” off the end of the deck and had to struggle up into the air again. (Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff)

When everything else has gone from my brain–the President’s name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family—when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that. (Annie Dillard, An American Childhood)

Torpid conformity was a kind of sin; it was stupidity itself, the mighty stream against which Mother would never cease to struggle. (Annie Dillard, An American Childhood)

As an emotional span, uniting its movement in space and time, a sentence seems to generate its own dynamics of feeling, ushering us into its meaning and escorting us across it, anticipating, deflecting, suspending, and finally going to a satisfactory close. (Virginia Tufte, Grammar as Style)

The crisis had partly to do with the enormity of the task presented to us, having to make writers out of young adults who, many of them, had done almost no writing at all. (David Bartholomae, “Released Into Language”)

And Duncan—who taught himself to play the guitar when we were in high school, and married a woman who was so pretty in grade school that she modelled underwear in department store catalogues, and got divorced after a few years, and had trouble keeping a job, and had substance issues, and sometimes played music in a restaurant managed by another classmate of ours, and finally met a woman who was just right for him, and adopted an abused dog, and seemed to be getting his life straightened out—is dead as well, of a heart attack, five years ago, when he was fifty-two. (David Owen, “Scars,” in the New Yorker, 19 Mar 2012)

Here, we now realize, was one reason for Anderson’s choice of “noye’s Fludde”–the miracle play, set to Britten’s music, always performed by children, and first heard, in 1958, on a patch of the English coast which had been half-drowned by a maddened sea five years before, just as New Penzance is now in danger of being washed away. (Anthony Lane, review of “Moonrise Kingdom,” New Yorker June 4 & 11, 2012)

Now he has returned Home, bruised, scarred, battered, and fatally short-of-breath, and counting on the promise of a restorative Resurrection, which he hopes will dry all tears, ease all disappointments, and fix everything. (from obituary for Richard Cracroft, once BYU English Dept chair)

The ethos of the Koran, the value system it endorses, was, in essence, the vanishing code of nomadic Arabs, the matriarchal, more caring society that did not leave orphans out in the cold, orphans like Muhammad, whose success as a merchant, he believed, should have earned him a place in the city’s ruling body, and who was denied such preferment because he didn’t have a powerful family to fight for him. (Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir)

Similarly, perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow. (Joan Didion, “On Keeping a Notebook”)

Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. (Joan Didion, “On Morality”)

Soon, she was back in her airy Upper East Side apartment, standing legs akimbo in a posture of strength at the window, regarding, beneath her, all that man had created via his indomitable will-to-power, while Paul, at a simple but elegant table behind her, worked out the details of the austere, even cruel, budget she hoped he would someday implement, and there I was, back in my sock-smelling bedroom, listening to “Photographs and Memories” by Jim Croce, feeling like a total dork. (George Saunders, “I Was Ayn Rand’s Lover”)

They speculated in low tones about the asking price, which led to a review of how Squirrel Hill was doing, and what other neighborhoods were losing value, and how the schools were failing and the tax base dwindling—an argument against leaving the city, Emily tried to mention, but quickly they were on to the elections, and the presidential race, and the larger issue of how the Republican Party they knew was gone, hijacked by the right, leaving them no one to vote for, a lament Emily had heard time and again, and which, like most of the world’s problems, would not be solved by any amount of small talk. (Stewart O’ Nan, Emily, Alone)

The one that killed him—a hospital-grade potion called propofol—was used to put to sleep a man who apparently couldn’t find sleep otherwise, and it’s easy to see why he would need help, his mind full of songs, ideas, melodies, dance moves; of his fantasies and his lies; of the memories of his silly, grasping, toxic family; of the kids who were, or were not, his kids; of the other families whose lives he had touched and made better and the ones he’d beguiled and corrupted; of the giant global scream of an audience that he could no longer face. (Bill Wyman, “The Pale King,” an article on Michael Jackson)

For watch whenever the bright rays of the sun pour shafts of light into a darkened house: you’ll see a thousand motes a thousand ways commingling in those very shafts of light, engaged in battle and blow as if in strife eternal, host against host, without a pause, uniting, dividing, swiftly, again and again; from this you may conjecture of what sort is the endless movement of atoms in the void. (Lucretius, The Nature of Things)

Long visits and long talks were the means, and poetry the end, of this earnest twinship; the two men, alike in their love of the countryside, their position as outsiders without regular positions, their precarious family economics, and their perfectly attuned sensibilities, loved each other beyond measure, corresponded yearningly when they were apart, and hoped to find, in the long run, a common literary life in the United States. (Helen Vendler, “They Shined Together,” New York Review of Books article on a bio of Edward Thomas)

Anyone who has seen the martins and swallows in September, assembling on the telephone wires, twittering, making short flights singly and in groups over the open, stubbly fields, returning to form longer and even longer lines above the yellowing verges of the lanes – the hundreds of individual birds merging and blending, in a mounting excitement, into swarms, and these swarms coming loosely untidily together to create a great, unorganized flock, thick at the center and ragged at the edges, which breaks and re-forms continually like clouds or waves until that moment when the greater part (but not all) of them know that the time has come: they are off, and have begun once more that great southward flight which many will not survive; anyone seeing this has seen at work the current that flows (among creatures who think of themselves primarily as part of a group and only secondarily, if at all, as individuals) to fuse them together and impel them into action without conscious thought or will: has seen at work the angel which drove the First Crusade into Antioch and drives the lemmings into the sea. (Richard Adams, Watership Down)

The farmers I take care of aren’t in any more of a hurry to die than my city-dwelling patients, but when death comes, they are familiar with it. They’ve seen it, smelled it, had it under their fingernails. (Craig Bowron, “Our Unrealistic Views of Death,” Washington Post)

Many waves are there agitated by the wind, keeping nature fresh, the spray blowing in your face, reeds and rushes waving; ducks by the hundred, all uneasy in the surf, in the raw wind, just ready to rise, and now going off with a clatter and a whistling like riggers straight for Labrador, flying against the stiff gale with reefed wings, or else circling round first, with all their paddles briskly moving, just over the surf, to reconnoitre you before they leave these parts; gulls wheeling overhead, muskrats swimming for dear life, wet and cold, with no fire to warm them by that you know of; their labored homes rising here and there like haystacks; and countless mice and moles and winged titmice along the sunny windy shore; cranberries tossed on the waves and heaving up on the beach, their little red skiffs beating about among the alders;—such healthy natural tumult as proves the last day is not yet at hand. (Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers)

One author using two rhetorical styles in the same article from Jill Lepore, “The Prodigal Daughter,” New Yorker 8 & 15 July 2013:

 1. History’s written from what can be found; what isn’t saved is lost, sunken and rotten, eaten by earth. (asyndeton; Gk. “unconnected”–missing coordinating conjunctions)

 2. Her paper was made from rags, soaked and pulped and strained and dried. (polysyndeton; Gk. “connected”)

And who among us has not had flying dreams, lifted high, dramatically free, a throat-catching fluidity in our otherwise aching form, above the ocean, all green, like moving marble? (Lauren Slater, “Dr. Daedalus,” The Best of the Best American Science Writing, p. 75)

She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce—the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice—but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life. (Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth)

Access any of the main modules by clicking on the title below.