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    • August 2016
    • 9780231168595
  • 208 Pages

  • Paperback
  • $22.00
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    • June 2014
    • 9780231168588
  • 208 Pages

  • Hardcover
  • $30.00
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    • June 2014
    • 9780231537407
  • 208 Pages

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Reading Style

A Life in Sentences

Jenny Davidson

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.

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).

"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

"This book offers a lively, unusual, and highly intelligent set of comments on the pleasures of reading—which are, in Davidson's view, not quite the joys or benefits of close reading in the received academic sense but are definitely those of reading closely, paying precise attention to details of style, and reflecting on the mixture of meaning and delight such details give to anyone who cares about them." — Michael Wood, Princeton University

"This book restores the priority of the sentence to literary-critical reading. It seeks to elevate the sentence as a unit of reading, in order to return us to an immediate attachment to the feeling of literary prose—and the forms of thinking done in prose, and the techniques of art that make up prose as brushstrokes and pigments do painting." — Mark Greif, The New School

"How should I read, and what should I read next, and why? Why do I take pleasure from the contour of a sentence, or from the implicit source of its words? How can the length of a book, or the time you'd need to read it, affect your sense of time in the characters' lives? What makes some writers so charming, others so authoritative, others so evasive, and others so good? If you have thought about any of those questions, you will almost surely be glad to spend some time with Davidson's terrific new book about style, which doubles as an examination of selected slices of very good prose and triples as an eccentric and trustworthy menu of recommended reading." — Stephen Burt, Harvard University

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).

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

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).

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

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).

Web Features:


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).

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).