The exemplary sentence

I saw this idea on Mark Doty’s blog and immediately adopted it. I’ve been saving sentences for decades, and just now am rereading Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. This is the only one of Bellow’s books I’ve ever liked, but I really love it and it holds up wonderfully since I first read it maybe 30 years ago.

I say rereading, but this time I am listening to it as read by Joe Barrett, who manages to embody the voice of Henderson as well as the soft accents of various African characters. It’s wonderful to me how such a reading can enhance a book. But this one is so packed with exemplary sentences, it’s hard to choose, and I often need to rewind–not as easy on CD as formerly on cassette–to capture their complete sense.  Here is one (not even the whole sentence, but enough):

“Even civilized women  are not keen on geography, preferring a world of their own.”

To me this sentence succinctly captures something without going on about the way women and men think. And a vagueness about where things are exactly is certainly true for me–the geography of the physical world has never had the same importance as its emotional content–and also funny with a slightly misogynist cast that suits Henderson’s character.

Henderson himself is big, crude, sensitive and lost, on a quest for the meaning of life and likely to bruise all those he comes in contact with. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth your time. You can get a used copy for as little as S$3.79, shipping included, from

As for sentences–do you have one you especially like? I’d love to know it.

NOTE: In late-breaking news, after reading this, the extraordinary jazz singer and teacher, Molly Holm, emailed me that the Joe Barrett who reads this book so well is the brother of her old friend, who confirmed his identity as follows: “he is the “accent” and “brouge” go to guy–also kids and ladies–that is my baby bro Joe.” Six degrees of separation shrink to three…

7 thoughts on “The exemplary sentence

  1. “Oh God! that man should be a thing for immortal souls to sieve through!…..There can
    be no hearts above the snow-line”.
    Herman Melville

    “Thought he, it’s a wicked world in all meridians; I’ll die a pagan.”

  2. Great ones, Simone. And relative to souls, how about this one from further on in Henderson: My soul is a pawn shop. I mean it’s full of unredeemed pleasures and clarinets and old cameras and moth-eaten furs.

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