Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Short Story of A Long Sentence

Margaret was reading my book review in the SF Chronicle today and remarked that she especially liked a particular sentence. When she was finished reading, I asked her which sentence it was. It's this long one, she said, and started reading it aloud. I smiled, partly because when I re-read the review a little earlier, I noticed it, too.

I'd written the review several weeks ago, and this was the first time I revisited it. The review is of Simon Singh's book on cosmological history, THE BIG BANG. Here's the sentence: "Singh dramatizes the process of observations that raise questions about established theories that solve those problems but suggest new ones, all in a long chain of surmises and surprises, flashes of imagination and long cold nights nursing mountain-top telescopes, accomplished by the men and the less heralded women who had little in common but a talent, an insight or an obsession that led to a new piece that fits into the great puzzle."

I re-read the sentence when it was published, remembered what I was trying to do, and felt that I'd done it. That's usually the end of it. But Margaret had noticed it so I told her what I'd been up to: the sentence attempts to mirror what it's about: the "long chain." It's one of those sly games played at the keyboard late at night, the first pleasure of which is to pull it off, and the second, that people may like the sentence without knowing why. The music of it has to work, and it summarizes a great deal of what's in the book, but the journalistic thing to do would be to slice it into smaller pieces. But to make this work on another level was the fun of it.

I try similiar tricks pretty often. But they almost always remain my secret. It's nice to see one have its effect once in awhile.

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