159 words, 11 punctuation marks!

I’ve just begun reading Gay Talese’s A Writer’s Life. He writes primarily non-fiction, and I’ve never read anything else by him. I think he mostly writes about sports, or at least that’s how he got his start as a writer, by composing tales about the various games and athletic events second at the University of Alabama, as for his high school teams and his hometown newspaper before that, while also composing stories in fiction on the side, and slowly becoming ingratiated with a crew of New York Times editors who wished to spice up the sports pages of that august and revered rag of national renown; among the lengthy sentences of the first few pages of this weighty tome is a single whopper (a leviathan, really) of a word-smith’s measure, to wit: a sentence of 159 words containing eleven punctuation marks, still completely readable in its elegant, complex clarity — a marvel of lucid yet verbose prose almost poetic in its construction.

Here’s the sentence, about his relationship with his wife the literary editor: “But when we are together under the same roof, sharing what I shall take the liberty of calling a harmonious and happy coexistence that began in the mid-1950s with a courtship kindled in a cold-water flat in Greenwich Village and then moved uptown and expanded with children in a brownstone still owned and occupied by us (two spry senior citizens determined not to die on a cruise ship), I must admit that I have frequently taken advantage of my wife’s domestic presence as a literary professional, seeking her opinion not only on what I am thinking of writing, but also on what I have written; and while her responses occasionally differ from those expressed later by my acknowledged editor, I consider myself more blessed than burdened when I have varying views to choose from, finding this far preferable to the lack of editorial access that many of my writer friends often complain about.”

Gay Talese, A Writer’s Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

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