Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to improve writing (no. 66)

A partial sentence from a short piece at The New Yorker website:

I stopped by Three Lives & Company, one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for — Zadie Smith, Patti Smith, the late Oliver Sacks, and other luminaries are devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space — to find out that it may have to look for a new home.
There’s a rather odd and awkward problem: the present tense will not work with that sequence of names. A possible revision:
I stopped by Three Lives & Company, one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for — Zadie Smith, Patti Smith, and other luminaries are devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space, as was the late Oliver Sacks — to find out that it may have to look for a new home.
But now the distance between “I stopped by” and “to find out” feels vast. And Three Lives & Company, the antecedent of it , seems lost. A better choice is to recast what’s here as two sentences:
I stopped by the bookstore Three Lives & Company, only to find out that it may have to look for a new home. Three Lives is one of the best bookstores the city has ever made a home for: Zadie Smith and Patti Smith are among the devotees of the small, elegant, intimate space, as was the late Oliver Sacks.
You’ll notice that I’ve omitted luminaries , but that’s just me. I hope that Three Lives doesn’t vanish from New York.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[This post is no. 66 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

comments: 2

The Arthurian said...

'But now the distance between “I stopped by” and “to find out” feels vast.'

I have trouble with things like that. It's good to see that I'm not crazy, and other people actually notice those things too.

Michael Leddy said...

Esp. when those problems show up at The New Yorker . :)