ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A few moments now to contemplate a few sentences.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The journal The American Scholar has put out a list of the 10 best sentences in fiction and non-fiction, chosen by their editors.
MARGARET FOSTER: In the office, we talk a lot. And we're sometimes struck by, you know, a beautiful sentence or, you know, maybe a lousy sentence and we'll just say, hey, listen to this.
SIEGEL: That's Associate Editor Margaret Foster. Her choice was the last line of Toni Morrison's novel "Sula."
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) It was a fine cry - loud and long - but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
CORNISH: Margaret Foster has thought a lot about what makes a sentence powerful: parallel sentence structures and the use of repetition.
FOSTER: It's hard to describe but it is, in the end, very subjective. I mean, who are we to say what the best sentence in "The Great Gatsby" is?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Reading) Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams, for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
SIEGEL: That sentence from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, "The Great Gatsby." Other writers that make that list: Joan Didion, James Joyce, and Truman Capote.
FOSTER: You know, who doesn't love "In Cold Blood," the introduction when he's setting up the tiny town in Kansas? I just remember being moved by it. That's what we all talked about. What do you remember reading that just blew you away, that just stopped you in your tracks and grabbed you by the lapels?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Reading) Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.
CORNISH: The words of Truman Capote and one of The American Scholar's 10 best sentences. Their whole list is at our website, npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.