Reading Style: A Life In Sentences

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by Jenny Davidson

Overall: An interesting look on classic books. Should probably be called ‘Writing Style’ instead. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review. I was also instructed by the publisher not to use quotes from the book as I did not receive a finalized copy.

Jenny Davidson is an excellent writer, the author of a few young adult books as well as some academic books and articles, I can’t help but be amazed by how beautiful her writing style is. Reading Style: A Life in Sentences is what I could possibly expect. The book is an analysis of the structure of sentences and the writing styles of famous authors from Austen to King. The author takes quotes from famous pieces of literature and deeply analyzes what we might love (or hate) about the book.

Davidson begins with her long history about the love of her books. She recalls in detail getting lost in all of the classics, and throughout the narrative she sprinkles her undergraduate and graduate studies as well as her older interpretations of the books she read. She even offers suggestions on when to read books, her understanding of classics such as Sense and SensibilityMoby DickLolita, and so many more.

I can happily say that I really agree with how Davidson approaches the subject. She talks about the use of unnecessary pretentiousness in writing and how it affects the audience. She discusses the pointlessness of unnecessary details and overly superfluous sentences. However, this book’s title does not reflect the context of the book. I expected this book would compare to Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book but instead it’s more of a book describing the writing styles of famous authors and explaining why people could love to hate them or hate to love them. In Davidson’s defense, she does cover with the excerpts from the stories on how they read to audiences, but she focuses more on the literary techniques and poetic story-telling and not how to dissect and understand a book maybe as complicated as Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake or something else extremely difficult.

However, I cannot say this book was perfect. I can say that this book isn’t really intended for the average reader, or someone who really enjoyed Catcher in the Rye or Crime and Punishment. This book is dense, filled with a lot of knowledge and obscure references to books that probably only an English or literature major would understand. A lot of her wording was very ornamental, almost contradictory to the times she mentioned that the overuse of details wouldn’t interest the audience. I found myself intrigued but towards the sixty percent mark I was getting bored and zoning off in her narrative. But then again I read this book in an evening, if this was spread over something like a curriculum or a couple of days, you would really enjoy this book.

The book is more of an academic essay than a fun little memoir of the writer’s love for books. With that being said, the essay portion was far too inconsistent. The citations are sparse, switching from in-text page citations, to footnotes, and sometimes no citations at all. The citations did not kick in until at least forty percent into the book, and I believe this is because I did not receive a finalized copy. I hope this was edited, including the many typos that I found. I do hope the publishers also formatted the book to clearly designate when the author was quoting a piece of literature and when she was talking herself. I have not read a lot of the books or stories she mentioned, and her style of writing is so similar to some I ended up getting lost.

In the end, I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the literature classics, some sort of literary major in school, or even just a budding writer learning about all the styles of writing. This is definitely a very in-depth and eye opening look on why some books are considered classics, or why some authors are terrible authors! This isn’t a beach read, it’s very detailed and extensive. And at the end of the book the author was so kind enough to offer a very nice book list! I will definitely be reading these books in the future!

You can buy this book in physical form or on Kindle from Amazon.

Sorry about not being around! School is hectic! But summer’s here and there are so many books ahead of me!