Confession time: I really, really like books. But, more than that, I really, really like words. Sometimes, a book overall might feel lackluster — the plot might fall apart at the end, the characters might make decisions you don’t agree with, and a book can, more than occasionally, leave a bad taste in your mouth.
But sentences? Sentences are great. A really good line can’t let you down. Even the worst book can’t totally erase that one perfect sentence from chapter 8. It can just be there, perfectly written, its rhythm dancing along your tongue begging you to read it out loud. A great sentence can hang around in the back of your brain, itching in your fingers insisting you write it out in your own handwriting, just to feel what it’s like to write something so brilliant.
So, I tried to think of some of my all-time favorite sentences in books that I’ve read. Lines or paragraphs that made me stop. Sometimes because of their context in the story, sure, but mostly because of how good they sounded. Mostly because something in that sentence whispered, wait a second. Savor what just happened. Acknowledge the literary mic that just dropped.
Here are some of my favorite lines/sentences/paragraphs/word-related-experiences:
1. The sentence that made me realize writing was a craft, not just … a thing that happened.
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm broken badly at the elbow.
— To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I read this when I was 14 or 15, for an English class. And it changed everything. This sentence, the very first line of the novel, sets up the story’s climax and conclusion.
Before I’d read this sentence, I was just a kid who thought writing a book was nothing more than sitting down, writing whatever came to mind, printing it, publishing it, declaring it done. I never realized it could be something deliberate, something you could craft like a sculpture. That every word could be purposeful. That the first sentence could set up the last. This sentence made writing an art form to me. Books didn’t just spring from the ground; they were created.
2. The first paragraph I ever underlined in a novel.
Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans — in fact, few Kansans — had ever heard of Holcomb. LIke the waters of the river, like the motorists of the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life — to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises — on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them — four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again — those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.
— In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
I don’t write in books. Not because I’m morally against it, I just can never think of anything to say! But I marked this paragraph in my copy of In Cold Blood, almost the very second after I’d finished reading it. Something about this paragraph tastes good. I love reading it. I think it’s the rhythm and the build-up, the lyrical quality to it. I loved the book, but nothing compared to that weird joy I felt when I first read this paragraph, the conclusion of the first chapter.
3. The mic drop
>>> OOH, WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR DAPHNE DU MAURIER’S REBECCA: <<<
The woman buried in the crypt is not Rebecca,” he said. “It’s the body of some unknown woman, unclaimed, belonging nowhere. There never was an accident. Rebecca was not drowned at all. I killed her. I shot Rebecca in the cottage in the cove. I carried her body to the cabin, and took the book out that night and sunk it there, where they found it to-day. It’s Rebecca who’s lying dead there on the cabin floor. Will you look into my eyes and tell me that you love me now?
— Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
I’ve included the context, because this line, the close of a chapter in which everything went down, took my breath away.
4. The sentence I can still perfectly see, years later
I thought of crawling in between the bed sheets and trying to sleep, but that appealed to me about as much as stuffing a dirty, scrawled-over letter into a fresh, clean envelope.
— The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath was full of tasty, savory sentences like this, metaphors and analogies you just want to dip in cream and cram in your mouth.
SIDEBAR: Am I hungry? Is that why I’m making this post? Because I’m reading these sentences and basically reacting like this right now:
Anyway, I can still remember that image I got in my head when I first read that sentence; I can practically hear the rustle of the clean sheets, and the crinkling rasp of the crisp parchment-y envelope as something dirty and wrinkled is crammed inside.
5. The One Where Truman Capote Makes Another Appearance
They would walk through life and out of it with the same determined step that took small notice of those cliffs at the left.
— Breakfast at Tiffanies, Truman Capote
This another sentence I had to stop and savor. (And another occasion where I wrote in a book! There’s a little note by this sentence that just says “good.”) I love the flow of these words, how they fold into each other. Bahhh. Gaahhh. *crams words into my mouth and gorges myself*
Maybe I really just need to eat lunch.
And lastly, number 6:
6. The Super Creepy Sentence That Sold Me Forever on Shirley Jackson
“You will be wondering about that sugar bowl, I imagine, is it still in use? You are wondering, has it been cleaned? You may very well ask, was it thoroughly washed?”
— We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Constance Blackwood says this line while she and her sister serve tea to some obnoxious, nosy neighbors — with a tea set containing the very same sugar bowl once poisoned with the arsenic that killed the rest of their family. How creepy would that be? We Have Always Lived in the Castle is one of my favorite books of all time, and this sentence — the atmosphere of creeping, teasing unease — is exactly why.
Anyway, these are just some of my very favorite sentences/paragraphs. I know there are more, but I’m so bad at marking these moments in my books — I live in eternal envy of those readers who have little tabs stuck throughout their books, pointing to every rich, delicious sentence — okay, yeah, I should really just go eat something.
But first! Feed me your sentences, people. *grabby hands* The sweetest, silkiest, “I have to put this book down and hold these words on my tongue they taste so good” sentences. What are they? Leave a comment below! Or, if you make your own blog post about your favorite sentences, throw me a link!
Edited to add: I didn’t actually write this post for BrokeandBookish’s Tuesday Top 10, but if you want to see a bunch of other people’s favorite sentences, check out the linky list on that post!