Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gossips' Ten Best Sentences . . . and a Few More

Inspired by The American Scholar, The Gossips of Rivertown set out a few weeks ago to come up with its own list of ten best sentences. Suggestions were requested from readers, and many of you responded with your ideas for the best sentences written in English. As promised, on the day after Tax Day, Gossips publishes, in no particular order, the ten sentences, of the many submitted, that the Gossips editorial advisory board deemed to be the best.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

"Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.
Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
James Joyce, The Dead

Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

The knowledge that she would never be loved in return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.
Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.
John Irving, The Cider House Rules

I loved buildings that had grown silently with the centuries, catching the best of each generation while time curbed the artist's pride and the philistine's vulgarity and repaired the clumsiness of the dull workman.
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

You've got to bear in mind that nobody that ever lived is specially privileged; the axe can fall at any moment, on any neck, without any warning or any regard for justice.
James Agee, A Death in the Family

Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons.
Willa Cather, My Antonia

And then the day came when the risk to remain tight, in a bud, became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
From the poem “Risk,” 
usually attributed to Anais Nin, 
but actually written by Lassie Benton, a.k.a. Elizabeth Appell

Those are the ten deemed best by the Gossips editorial advisory board, but there are seven more thought to be too good not to be included. So, here is that list.

Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. 
Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

She was saved from prettiness by the intensity of her gaze. 
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities 

Some girls you practically never find out what's the matter.
J. D. Salinger, via Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

You can go home, it’s good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life.
James Agee, A Death in the Family

Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Then there were two final sentences (three actually) that the editorial advisory board thought worthy of honorable mention.

But it is those deep far-away things in him, those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him, those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality:--these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare.
Herman Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses"

And when you love a book, commit one glorious sentence of it--perhaps your favorite sentence--to memory. That way you won't forget the language of the story that moved you to tears.
John Irving, In One Person

Thank you to all the Gossips readers who suggested sentences for consideration. If a sentence you suggested was not included on Gossips' A-list or B-list, you might find solace in considering this. The American Scholar is the publication of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, so you have to figure all the editors there belong to that esteemed honor society. Of the members of the Gossips editorial advisory board, not a one of them has a Phi Beta Kappa key.
But be forewarned, Gossips readers. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest--named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the minor Victorian novelist now famous for writing the opening sentence "It was a dark and stormy night"--will announce its 2014 winners sometime in the summer. (The official deadline for entering was yesterday, "a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories"; the actual deadline is June 30.) When the 2014 winners are announced, Gossips just might be inspired to replicate the contest on a local scale and invite readers to "compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels."