The First 750 Words

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Review: Building Great Sentences

Review: Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon


Based on the bestselling series from The Great Courses, Building Great Sentences celebrates the sheer joy of language—and will forever change the way you read and write.

Great writing begins with the sentence. Whether it’s two words (“Jesus wept.”) or William Faulkner’s 1,287-word sentence in Absalom! Absalom!, sentences have the power to captivate, entertain, motivate, educate, and, most importantly, delight. Yet, the sentence-oriented approach to writing is too often overlooked in favor of bland economy. Building Great Sentencesteaches you to write better sentences by luxuriating in the pleasures of language.

Award-winning Professor Brooks Landon draws on examples from masters of long, elegant sentences—including Don DeLillo, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, and Samuel Johnson—to reveal the mechanics of how language works on thoughts and emotions, providing the tools to write powerful, more effective sentences.

Buy the book.

About the author:

Brooks Landon is Hermen J. and Eileen S. Schmidt Professor in the University of Iowa English Department. He is a former chair of the department and a former director of the General Education Literature Program. His books include Understanding Thomas Berger and Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars and he has written widely on science fiction, science fiction film and contemporary American fiction.

Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to ReadBuilding Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read by Brooks Landon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is basically the print version of the video course available from The Great Courses. I ran into the great courses a couple of years ago when the had a pretty nice sale going on. This course was the very first that I bought. I have bought a couple more since. The course on black holes is pretty good.

Anyway, Brooks Landon, the author/instructor, comes across at first as fairly pompous. On the video, I had to get to the third or fourth video before I quit being distracted by his pomposity. The book follows in the same vein. The thing is, I don’t think that in a regular conversation, he would be that way. As you get going, you start to get an idea of his humor. I’m not sure how to describe it. Literary humor? High brow? Whatever. After a while he kind of grows on you.

The book/course is about exactly what the title says it is. Building great sentences. Prof. Landon takes you through the concepts that make for good reading (at the most basic level of the sentence) and eventually gets to how you write a good sentence.

This book is valuable to no one but the writer. While I found it worthwhile, I am unable to think of anyone, who doesn’t occasionally sit at a keyboard and bleed, who would find it at all interesting. I know a lot of writer’s who would be bored by it. However, if you are at all interested, this is the book.

You can think of a book as being made up of it’s components. Chapters, scenes, pages, sentences and, finally, words. Sentences are the building blocks. Words by themselves do not tell a story. You need to combine them into sentences before they have any value. Words are like the quarks in quantum theory.

So long story short, I recommend this to anyone who likes words and likes making sentences. If you don’t learn anything, I would be surprised. But even if you don’t learn anything, some interesting topics are covered.

Buy the book.

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