cover image Reading Style: A Life in Sentences

Reading Style: A Life in Sentences

Jenny Davidson. Columbia Univ, $25 (185p) ISBN 978-0-231-16858-8

Although this charming and erudite collection of essays originated in a series of lectures delivered at Columbia University, professor and critic Davidson (Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century) thinks of it more as “a field notebook,” a sampler of sentences, and a “modest manifesto.” She studies sentences that have “a high glimmer factor,” with examples by writers ranging from Jane Austen to Harry Stephen Keeler. Davidson understands that reading is largely a matter of taste, and offers both apologies and helpful instructions for reading her book, freeing readers to nibble off corners of essays and move on if necessary. Readers familiar with the works discussed will have an edge over those encountering Henry James or Georges Perec for the first time. However, Davidson’s lengthy quotes and in-depth analysis provide enough context to understand the intricacies of The Golden Bowl, or the challenges and pleasures of a novel that completely avoids the vowel “e,” or a novella whose only vowel is “e.” Most valuably, Davidson stresses the importance of reading for both enrichment and something many of us may have forgotten: pleasure. Agent: Kathleen Anderson, Anderson Literary Management. (June)