Stanley Fish is certainly an enthusiastic champion of the written word, that comes across clearly. What is less clear is application. Perhaps the fault is my own. I just don’t see the point of doing writing exercises working on structure alone without the intent of using that hard work. I’d much rather try to implement his advice in the course of one of revision drafts. Then my writing is doing double duty and not being tossed away. (yes, yes, I know; no writing is ever wasted so long as we learn something from it.) I only have so many hours in a day to write and I’d rather direct that time towards something publishable.
The author provides a horde of bellowing examples that come at you in a rush. The examples are my favorite parts of the book. I love great writing and Stanley Fish provides examples, some from surprising sources, of great writing.
The author is also a maniac for structure, so much so that the purpose of that structure gets lost a little and I feel like I’m back in grade school, diagramming sentences. I know that’s not the author’s intent but that is how part of the book feels. In addition, there is a feeling, partly due to weight of the examples chosen that complex sentences are worthy of more attention and praise. That’s not the kind of examples I need. I need to learn how to write cleanly, even tersely. My love for compound sentences is a sick, forbidden love and rightly so.
In the end, little from this book seemed to stick with me. It did heighten my attention to my sentence construction, which is all too the good. It didn’t inspire me, though, as great books on writing have. No sparks flew up from the page to land in my mind. I didn’t feel like rushing out and writing. Again, this may be a flaw in the student rather than the teacher. But I feel that the information in this book is too occult. Too hidden. Give credit where it is due, Stanley Fish cares about this subject. I just didn’t, not enough. My way of learning may be more from osmosis. So my advice is to keep reading great writers, especially contemporary writers. Let the beauty and power of their words work their way into your subconscious. Imitate them, even. Learn your own way. Then maybe come back to this book and see if it has anything to teach you.