The Exemplary Sentence

I read about Bette Howland and her memoir/novel Blue in Chicago in the NY Times obituaries last month. According to the obituary she was a a protege (and perhaps lover) of Saul Bellow and had a troubled life.






I got her book out of the library, and Blue in Chicago is an extraordinary work, giving a rich portrait of Chicago and the complexities of Jewish family life. Here is an excerpt:

“Words of Yiddish passed over the table like the Angel of Death. It was the language of bad news; bodily functions; the parts of dead chickens.”

And this, about her grandmother’s funeral:

“It seemed strange to me that my grandmother was at one and the same time carrion–garbage–that had to be got rid of, shoveled quickly out of sight; and something precious and tender, of infinite value, being laid away for safekeeping–sunk in a vault. These things seemed opposed, bu the weren’t; they couldn’t be; because both were true. It was necessary to hold them both in your mind at once. That’s all we were trying to do, standing over the open grave… Continue reading “The Exemplary Sentence”

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.”

Continue reading “The exemplary sentence”