Book Reviews On Art

Review: How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish

How nice. This cover is in a classic, perennial style. It transcends time. . .maybe?

In this entertaining and erudite New York Times bestseller, beloved professor Stanley Fish offers both sentence craft and sentence pleasure. Drawing on a wide range of  great writers, from Philip Roth to Antonin Scalia to Jane Austen, How to Write a Sentence is much more than a writing manual—it is a spirited love letter to the written word, and a key to understanding how great writing works.

Extracted Blub, from Amazon

This is a non-fiction, self-help, novella-in-size book for writers. Then, Fish adds the part on the end of the title about how to read one. I’m thinking that yes, if you don’t understand how to read an English language sentence before you get to the end, you certainly will if you study, as not only are his references stylish – so is his flow and structure in his own writing.

I have another self-help book on writing called Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft 3rd edition by Janet Burroway and this book is a world apart from that one. Just like the title says, it simply focuses on sentence structure and what is involved in a great sentence.

A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments, and grey steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

A reference enclosed in How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish, citing reference The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850). Talk about mess up some commas in a good way, huh?

This is not a black and white instruction manual on sentences. It relies on theory and examples to guide you which is important for foundation. There are modern and classic examples, alike. I have heard English is one of the most difficult languages, so I’m sure there is a big market for a book only dedicated toward sentences and Fish also breaks these down into categorical style.


In all aspects of life, we should not forget about the simple things, because they prove to matter more than complicated ones and if the simple gets disregarded it can often prove complicated things, well, more complicated. In light of that, this book is a great reminder.

Fish writes this book about the simple ( sentences, not character or plot, etc ) and presents a style-guidebook in the form of categorical styles and theory in a well thought-out format. I would say that if you are building your writers toolbox that this should hold a place in your tool box, But it is far short from even a whole tool as compared to a hammer without a nail. However, the pages unfold exactly as it is presented. I do not feel, as a native speaker of English, that this was life altering or gave me a new perspective ( except for a thought about looking into the references a bit more ), so I give this diplomatic reference / essay book ★★★★☆ four stars out of five.

Guys, until next time – may you find all the happiness that your life can fit in it’s happy spot – S.D. McKinley

By S.D. McKinley

S.D. McKinley lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in the first half of the 1980's and grew up in Wisconsin as a young boy, then moved to Georgia when he turned exactly twelve years old. During teenage years, he raced dirt track go karts and played guitar. He discovered his current love for all kinds of art after his mid-life crisis at 25 years old. S.D. McKinley began writing books in 2017.

6 replies on “Review: How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish”

This sure does sound like a must-have for writers. I’ll have to keep an eye out for this author and this work in particular. I’ve always wanted to “sharpen” my writing and what better to do so but to learn how to do it through theory and then practice! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

Lashaan, I’m thinking other works should prove interesting as well. This book was recommended by our guest contributor Mr. Bonelli. Fish is also a law professor and struck an interest in reader responses in academia instead of solely focusing on work and author. Cheers.

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