I got an email from a student today with a link to a buzzfeed article – “51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature.”
The email message read, “saw this and thought of your class :)”
Smiley face indeed – these are the kinds of little things that make me happy in a big way. I put the email out of my mind and turned my attention to more pressing matters, but all day I looked forward to reading the sentences that buzzfeed billed as beautiful. And I wondered, why 51? Why not 10, 50, 100?
Some were expected – Austen’s “What are men to rocks and mountains?” and Forster’s “Only Connect.” Others less so, but because of that, more striking – Hinton’s “Stay gold, Ponyboy,” and Nabokov’s “And the rest is rust and stardust.”
These brief phrases that I agree are beautiful filled me with renewed admiration for the power of literature, and reminded me that when we don’t read deeply, taking time to feel words’ power as we read, we miss out in potentially infinite ways. For example had I never pored over the pages of Forster’s A Passage to India in college, I would likely not have chosen to teach it, and if I had not taught it, I would likely not have remembered it well enough to use it in a personal essay that helped me get into graduate school. And I certainly wouldn’t feel inspired upon reading its epigraph in a buzzfeed article today.
Some people say that technology is destroying our ability to read deeply enough to attach to what we read, and I think that’s possibly true. But on the other hand, social media depends on a social nexus, which depends on shared knowledge and values.
Although I still don’t know what is magic about 51, I’m heartened by the fact that a staffer at buzzfeed took the time to compile such a list, and delighted that my student thought to share it with me.