Category Archives: model paragraphs

The Paragraph Project (5)

The latest paragraph to catch my eye is from Peter Schjeldahl’s article on art fairs:

“It’s like going to a dog pound,” Robert Lehrman, a collector I know, said, raising his voice against the hullabaloo. A sixty-year-old investor, Lehrman lives in Washington, D.C., where he helps to oversee his family’s philanthropic foundation and serves on the board of the Hirshhorn Museum. His own collection includes an extraordinary trove of Joseph Cornells, but it is modest relative to those of the omnivorous acquirers who plan for private museums, like Bernard Arnault, in France, and Eli Broad, in Los Angeles. But Lehrman’s sheer joy in the pursuit of art makes him, for me, a beacon of the new collector class. Our conversation formed a traffic-impeding knot outside a display of new photographs by Andres Serrano. Such knots occurred often in the crowded aisles, as folks who recognized one another, likely from other fairs, exchanged giddy chat. “So many crying puppies!” Lehrman said of the multitudinous works for sale. “You don’t know which one will cuddle up to you.”

I like how this paragraph starts down a path, meanders off it, then finds its way back to finish the quote. Both the paragraph and Schjeldahl within it are taking a walk. Along the way we get a lot of information both about Lehrman and about what it’s like to be at the Armory Show. Having relocated to the West Coast a few years ago, I haven’t been to the Armory Show since 2007, but this sounds about right. Of course there would be “new photographs by Andres Serrano.” Puppies are an odd metaphor for art, but that’s precisely why the metaphor works so well to convey Schjeldahl’s overall point about art fairs: that they’re odd. As he says elsewhere in the piece, “they are about what money likes,” and only incidentally about what art likes; the works sold there tend to be “cute, colorful, bright, and shiny, with attitude.” By the end of the piece Schjeldahl is describing Lehrman himself in almost puppy-like terms: “I always enjoy seeing Lehrman, though I often feel like an inept third baseman, fielding the line drives of his zeal.”

The Paragraph Project (4)

The big challenge in historical writing is how to interweave big-picture themes and explanations with the stuff of day-to-day individual lives. (As vs., say, if you’re an economist, you don’t explicitly need to talk about the latter and if you are a novelist, or anyway a novelist not named Tolstoy, you don’t explicitly need to talk about the former. Historians, most of them anyway, try to at least nod to both. OK, end dramatically oversimplified disciplinary caricatures.) I was recently re-reading Rebirth of a Nation, by Jackson Lears, and here’s a paragraph in which he shuffles his zoom lenses:  Continue reading The Paragraph Project (4)

The Paragraph Project (1)

For the past 17 years or so, I have worried a lot about writing good sentences. To some extent, my college training reinforced that obsession. Not so much in my writing classes themselves — which were mainly fiction and long-form journalism workshops, and taught me to think rigorously about big-picture structural issues like characterization and the shape of a narrative, although there was also some focus on sentence- and even word-level decisions. But in college English classes, when you’re reading Fitzgerald or Shakespeare, what you’re blinded by, what signals “genius writing,” are the sparkling sentences.  Continue reading The Paragraph Project (1)