Reading Style

A Life in Sentences

Jenny Davidson

Columbia University Press

Reading Style

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Pub Date: September 2016

ISBN: 9780231168595

208 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $22.00£16.99

Pub Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780231168588

208 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $30.00£24.00

Pub Date: June 2014

ISBN: 9780231537407

208 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $21.99£16.99

Reading Style

A Life in Sentences

Jenny Davidson

Columbia University Press

A professor, critic, and insatiable reader, Jenny Davidson investigates the passions that drive us to fall in love with certain sentences over others and the larger implications of our relationship with writing style. At once playful and serious, immersive and analytic, her book shows how style elicits particular kinds of moral judgments and subjective preferences that turn reading into a highly personal and political act.

Melding her experiences as reader and critic, Davidson opens new vistas onto works by Jane Austen, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Thomas Pynchon; adds richer dimension to critiques of W. G. Sebald, Alan Hollinghurst, Thomas Bernhard, and Karl Ove Knausgaard; and allows for a sophisticated appreciation of popular fictions by Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lionel Shriver, George Pelecanos, and Helen DeWitt. She privileges diction, syntax, point of view, and structure over plot and character, identifying the intimate mechanics that draw us in to literature's sensual frameworks and move us to feel, identify, and relate. Davidson concludes with a reading list of her favorite titles so others can share in her literary adventures and get to know better the imprint of her own reading style.
Davidson is the ideal reader every writer wishes for, who catches every nuance and every sly allusion, who is alive to rhythm and color and orchestration. She does not just read for that ostensibly load-bearing stuff that is labeled 'meaning,' but detects all of the layers of meaning that are conveyed purely by style. Her book is a gift and a deep pleasure, because what makes her such a virtuoso reader is that she is also a first-rate writer. Luc Sante, author of Low Life
Charming and erudite. Publishers Weekly
Jenny Davidson has the rare gift of being warmly analytical—highly intelligent but never mandarin, authoritative and intimate at the same time. Reading her discussions of writers ranging from Marcel Proust to Wayne Koestenbaum—by way of Jonathan Lethem and George Eliot—is like being in the company of a very clever friend as she unfolds the treasures of her bookshelf: one who enlightens without condescension, and who is eager to share the pleasures of a well-turned sentence while also being able to point out the satisfactions to be found in a bad one. I loved being in her company on the page, and left it inspired by her appetitive example. Rebecca Mead, author of My Life in Middlemarch
Consistently insightful into classic (and sometimes not so classic) fiction. Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
There is much to value here. Kate Womersley, Times Literary Supplement
[A] delightful new book. Mark Kingwell, World Literatre Today
This is an ideal resource for those new to the study of literature at the college level. Choice
1. The Glimmer Factor: Anthony Burgess's 99 Novels
2. Lord Leighton, Liberace, and the Advantages of Bad Writing: Helen DeWitt, Harry Stephen Keeler, Lionel Shriver, George Eliot
3. Mouthy Pleasures and the Problem of Momentum: Gary Lutz, Lolita, Lydia Davis, Jonathan Lethem
4. The Acoustical Elegance of Aphorism: Kafka, Fielding, Austen, Flaubert
5. Tempo, Repetition, and a Taxonomy of Pacing: Peter Temple, Neil Gaiman, A. L. Kennedy, Edward P. Jones
6. Late Style: The Golden Bowl and Swann's Way
7. Disordered Sentences: Georges Perec, Roland Barthes, Wayne Koestenbaum, Luc Sante
8. Details That Linger and the Charm of Voluntary Reading: George Pelecanos, Stephen King, Thomas Pynchon
9. The Ideal Bookshelf: The Rings of Saturn and The Line of Beauty
10. The Bind of Literature and the Bind of Life: Voices from Chernobyl, Thomas Bernhard, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Notes
A Reading List
Index

Read the chapter, "Lord Leighton, Liberace, and the Advantages of Bad Writing: Helen DeWitt, Harry Stephen Keller, Lionel Shriver, George Eliot":

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Winner, 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

About the Author

Jenny Davidson teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She has published two books on eighteenth-century British literature, including Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century, and four novels. She blogs at Light Reading (jennydavidson.blogspot.com).