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The King of Sentences by Jonathan Lethem

This was the time when all we could talk about was sentences, sentences—nothing else stirred us. Whatever happened in those days, whatever befell our regard, Clea and I couldn’t rest until it had been converted into what we told ourselves were astonishingly unprecedented and charming sentences: “Esther’s cleavage is something to be noticed” or “You can’t have a contemporary prison without contemporary furniture” or “I envision an art which will make criticism itself seem like a cognitive symptom, one which its sufferers define to themselves as taste but is in fact nothing of the sort” or “I said I want my eggs scrambled not destroyed.” At the explosion of such a sequence from our green young lips, we’d rashly scribble it on the wall of our apartment with a filthy wax pencil, or type it twenty-five times on the same sheet of paper and then photocopy the paper twenty-five times and then slice each page into twenty-five slices on the paper cutter in the photocopy shop and then scatter the resultant six hundred and twenty-five slips of paper throughout the streets of our city, fortunes without cookies


It is my humble opinion that Jonathan Lethem is the King of Perfect Sentences. I have never written a sentence he has composed that didn’t shine like a diamond. Every word was necessary and every wrangled thought interesting. Frankly, I’m a bit of afraid of him. He writes such perfect sentences that I imagine his brain is a frightful place of such clear and clean words that I’d be a stumbling, bumbling fool in the face of his mind. Read The Fortress of Solitude to see for yourself. It’s as though each sentence took a year to compose.


As for beautiful sentences, though, well, I think Catherynne Valente is the Queen of Beautiful Sentences. Unlike Lethem, I wouldn’t argue that each word is necessary in her work, but the words are always delicious, sexy, lush, and simply gorgeous. Read Deathless to roll around in a buffet of candy, delight, bread, and word porn.


In a blog post from last fall, Michele Berger asks: Have you written 100 beautiful sentences this year? I’m sure that I haven’t, but I’d like to hope that by the end of the year I’d have achieved a few. I hope to finally get to a point with my writing where I’ve earned a break. Right now, I’m still in the midst of a rather constant hard push for more, more, more completed works.

4 thoughts on “The King of Beautiful Sentences

  1. Hi Leta,
    What a wonderful post on beautiful sentences. I, too, am in awe of Jonathan Lethem, he has one of the most exciting imaginations in print. Thanks for linking back to my blog–I’m still working on my beautiful sentences–they rarely come during the white heat of first composition!

    1. Michele, hello! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for the inspiration I got from your blog post. I agree–beautiful sentences seem to be a confluence of inspiration and craft. Not something that comes easily to everyone. Thanks for the comment! Glad to see you here!

  2. This is something I need to work on. I have trouble writing poetry, which I think is often the ultimate goal for perfect sentences. I get too caught up in the whole story I’m trying to tell that I don’t often think about the beauty I could create if I concentrated more on the individual sentences. 🙂

    1. I definitely thing beautiful sentences are a great goal, but I also have a problem with wanting perfection, so I have to weigh my urge to make something as lovely as possible against the need for finished product. Looking at that sentence, I feel like that sums up a lot of things about my whole life, actually! LOL!

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