Monday, June 23, 2014

Reading Substance

Reading Style: A Life in SentencesReading Style: A Life in Sentences by Jenny Davidson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recommended for intellectuals, academics, and poets. Jenny Davidson is an academic and has chosen that language for her book, so that does limit the readership. Especially for a book purporting to concentrate on the art of the sentence as a springboard to literary appreciation, I was hoping for a book with the range and excitement of Edward Hirsch's How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, or Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn!, where the examination of a work lights a fire within the author that's then passed on to the reader. That blaze is not here, but persistence brings a slow, warm glow.

The author lets us know she reads popular literature (Stephen King, Julia Glass, Dick Francis) but the works she chooses to highlight, and thus her own sentences, are dense, chewy, convoluted. (Proust, James, Eliot, Austen, etc.)  Also, kindle formatting sucks, so it's hard to tell what awkwardness belongs to the author and what to the software engineer--transitions are sometimes without a colon or line break, mostly without quotes, never italics; the mechanics of reading matter. There is a lovely sensual element to Davidson's writing and reading of texts that implies and exploits a synesthestic approach to reading, empowers literature as experience.

Criticism becomes discernment in Davidson's deft hands, and she does transmit her pleasure in the reading, the works, and the language(s).  Very fun, but in no way light reading!  Made me want to revisit James, Austen, and Proust.
Thanks to Columbia UP and netgalley for the e-galley for review.

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