One Sentence

Ben Dolnick
Explaining and appreciating great sentences from books
Created 02 Jul 2021
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  • Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
    10 Nov 2021 • 4 min read • 5 5
    “Now they go by the names of genes, and we are their survival machines.” The most famous sentence in a book is usually its first: best of times, Ishmael, happy families, truth universally acknowledged...
  • Penelope Fitzgerald, Innocence
    03 Nov 2021 • 3 min read • 8 0
    “The old dog, who had been napping in her corner, and was very well aware that the shooting season wasn’t due to open for another long stretch of existence, looked up at the cupboard with a flicker of...
  • Nicholson Baker, A Box of Matches
    27 Oct 2021 • 4 min read • 7 0
    “Soon the baked-on atolls, softened overnight, began to give way; I pestered at the last one from the side for a while, smiling with the clenched-teeth smile of the joyful scrubber, and it was gone — ...
  • Octavia Butler, "Bloodchild"
    20 Oct 2021 • 4 min read • 5 0
    “And she opened him.” One of the primary jobs of the fiction writer is confusion-management. How many characters can you get away with introducing on the first page? How and how quickly should you exp...
  • Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline
    13 Oct 2021 • 4 min read • 6 3
    “They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.” I have a curious aversion to the pantheon of picture books. I’m talking about the ones so famous that people don’t ev...
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Unconsoled
    06 Oct 2021 • 4 min read • 9 0
    “‘And remember, like all these types, he’s very vain.’” Tell a dream, lose a reader, says Henry James. What if the dream were set in very small type and went on for 535 pages?, says Kazuo Ishiguro. Wo...
  • Niki Segnit, The Flavor Thesaurus
    29 Sep 2021 • 3 min read • 5 3
    Hi everybody! Just wanted to extend a special welcome to the new subscribers pointed this way by Frank Bruni’s generous recommendation. I’m delighted to have you here. Now, on to this week’s sentence!...
  • Ira Levin, The Boys from Brazil
    22 Sep 2021 • 4 min read • 10 3
    “‘She says she has to warn you about something a man is —’” The job of the literary fiction writer is to take the reader on a hike. And the sad fact is that most people, most of the time, don’t feel l...
  • Grace Paley, "Faith in the Afternoon"
    15 Sep 2021 • 4 min read • 12 1
    “‘We used to play house and she never guessed.’” A friend invites you to dinner. You show up at the appointed hour, bearing a bottle of wine, and you notice something worrying: smoke seeping out from ...
  • Jorge Luis Borges, "On Exactitude in Science"
    08 Sep 2021 • 4 min read • 9 2
    “In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.” When I was i...
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