Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sentence Envy

Sometimes I congratulate myself for something I’ve written, a sentence or a phrase that I think is fairly succulent and worth chewing on for a while. But most of the time, when I read, I’m struck by Sentence Envy. Other authors write delicious things I wish I’d written. But there’s one particular author who writes sentences that just get in my head and kind of turn in circles, like a dog settling down for a nap, and then they rest there, fat and sassy, a tether to a different world. It’s William Gibson. Here’s what I mean:

The receptionist in the cool gray anteroom of the Galerie Duperey might well have grown there, a lovely and likely poisonous plant, rooted behind a slab of polished marble inlaid with an enameled keyboard.  —Count Zero
His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines. —Neuromancer
“Call him,” he repeated, wrapped in Japanese herringbone Gore-tex, multiply flapped and counterintuitively buckled.  —Zero History

His worlds are at once slick and dissonant, a polished surface with an invisible coating of malice on top, constant tension embedded in the language itself. I can’t write like that, but I’m glad somebody does. If you’ve never read Gibson, you’re missing out one of the premier wordsmiths of our time.

Does anyone else get struck by Sentence Envy?


  1. Oh...These are just...gosh...shiny. Twisty. Glorious. Thank you!

    I am occasionally struck with Sentence Awe and, slightly more frequently, Sentence Delight. Envy is probably close behind.

    I'm now off to hunt these sentences down in their natural environment.

  2. I had a lot of sentence Envy while I was reading The Time Traveler's Wife, personally. Every other page I wished I had thought to describe things the way Audrey Niffenegger did.