Brian Dillon likes to collect other authors’ sentences. I’m less methodical about it than him, but, when reading, I also often note down particularly pleasing sentences on the index cards I use as bookmarks. One example I always like to give of a great sentence comes from Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, in which she is describing a mountain loch:
I know its depth, though not in feet.
I love that sentence.
Suppose a Sentence comprises a series of essays about individual sentences that caught Brian Dillon’s attention. As I felt with his earlier book Essayism, I suspect his literary preferences differ greatly from mine. But the whole point of this book was for Dillon to explore what it was he liked—or occasionally didn’t like—about a particular sentences. Sometimes he won me over; other times I was unconvinced. In a couple of cases, I ended up more determined to look into authors I’ve considered reading before, but never got round to. Joan Didion for one. I suspect I’ll like her. Roland Barthes for another. I suspect he’ll irritate the hell out of me.
I was delighted to see a typically majestic sentence from Sir Thomas Browne’s Urne Buriall feature in this book. It also features in my book On the Moor, and is the only book, my personal copy of which, I have literally forced into the hands of another author and told them to keep it. As Dillon wonderfully observes, Browne wrote ‘[s]entences schooled on the language of the Bible’. Not my usual cup of tea, but as wonderful sentences go, Urne Buriall is packed full of them.
Suppose a Sentence is an interesting idea for a book. I very much enjoyed it—even when I didn’t enjoy some of the featured sentences.