Niceness: Thank You, Gregory Cowles

By Mike Feinsilber

Once in a while, I come across a sentence that is so clear, clever, or cute (in the best sense of that word) that I feel a need to share it. This blog gives me the chance. So here is the first of short postings calling attention to a nifty sentence or paragraph. This sentence was written by Gregory Cowles in a wonderfully well written obituary of Oliver Sacks, the writing neurologist, in The New York Times of August 30:

“For years, Dr. Sacks lived on City Island in the Bronx, where he liked to take long swims around it.”

The “it” is what makes this sentence so surprising. Most of us, I think, would have said “long swims around the island.” Cowles’ “it” tied the end of the sentence to the earlier mention of where Sacks lived.

Cowles does something else in the obituary that’s always a thrill for a writer when it works—he picks up the last words of one sentence to begin the next. Here he tells how Sacks was asked in a television interview how he would like to be remembered in 100 years:

“’I would like it to be thought that I had listened carefully to what patients and others have told me,’ he said, ‘that I’ve tried to imagine what it was like for them, and that I tried to convey this.’”

“’And, to use a biblical term,’ he added, ‘bore witness.’”

“He also bore witness to how his own dwindling life…”

Nice.

 

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