While paying far too much for drinks at a swanky bar with a friend and his girlfriend a few nights ago, we discussed their upcoming trip to the land of aloha. The lovely doctor is to serve as the maid of honor at a wedding, and I offered to help her with her speech, so long as she didn’t want it to be mushy. Sentimental I can probably handle, but when I thought I was going to have to say something at my own sister’s wedding I debated whether I should open with a quotation from The Godfather or one from The Princess Bride. Needless to say, I’m never going to be a romance novelist.
In the course of conversation, and partly to prove that I am at least a decent writer who won’t completely screw up the speech, I told them that the opening line to one of my graduate school admission essays was the best sentence I’ve ever written.
I have what I like to call a homo-non-sexual crush on the lead singer on U2, Bono.
Not only did that essay get me into grad school, and thus later admitted into the Fellowship of Educated Men, but it also had nothing to do with Bono. I’m simply used Bono, who I really do admire, as a jumping off point to discuss a book for which he gave an endorsement on the dust jacket. As any reader of this blog knows, it is not an uncommon for me to open with something completely unrelated to the body of the text.
One of the reasons I enjoy the sentence as much as I do is that I think it works as well spoken as it does on the page. I’d like to hope that when the admissions officer in Cambridge read it he was taken a bit aback, or at least found it somewhat original in a sea of papers written by prospective students far smarter than I am.
When I trot it out with friends in bars, it is almost always good for a laugh. Part of the reason is that it also has a cadence when spoken that I think it lacks in print, which only adds to it. Mark Twain, whose worst sentence was undeniable better than the best of my best, made this point to a reporter who interviewed him thusly:
The moment “talk” is put into print you recognize that it is not what it was when you heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from it. That is its soul. You have nothing but a dead carcass left on your hands.
In the grand scheme of things my sentence is perhaps little more than, as Mr. Twain put it, “pure twaddle.” That my sentence has life both in print and on the tongue, I hope, gives it something that ol’ Sam Clemens would be proud of.