The Definitive Reading & Listening Guide to Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax” – Part I

Have you ever read through a book that mentions other books, authors, certain music, etc. and thought “I should take note so I can look that up later“? Well, I had just that experience about a chapter into Constance Hale’s Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wicked Good Prose. It’s been roughly two and a half years since one of my writing professors mentioned this book in class, and I’ve been dying to get my hands on it ever since.

I wasn’t going to write a review for Sin and Syntax because, well, I am unworthy. Let’s just say, it’s amazing. Hale’s voice is engaging and her examples of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the drop-dead gorgeous prose that exist in this world are beyond helpful in making her point or explaining a rule. She talks about the rules, then how they’ve been bent, and just how O.K. that is in a creative profession such as writing.

Every example Hale uses throughout the book is drawn directly from another writer, musician, rhetorician, U.S. president, or social leader. So you don’t get too far before you have all these names floating out before you, all (or most) of them hailed as gods in the literary—or at least the writing and syntax—world.

And I’ve collected them all for you here.

As a result of gathering them all (as though they’re treasured Pokémon) it has taken me forever to read Sin and Syntax, and I’ll most likely need to read it again. But it was all worth it to have a multi-part series on all the reading and listening you could possibly do to learn more about writing.

NOTE: I may have missed a few, but, as far as I know, this is the complete list—again, in many parts—of every person, book, song, and more mentioned by Hale.

So, without further ado.

  • Étienne Decroux (20th Century French Mime)
  • Henry Ward Beecher (Brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe [Uncle Tom’s Cabin] and essayist)
  • John Ruskin (essayist)
  • William Carlos Williams (American poet)
  • Prince (Musician, “Little Red Corvette”)
  • Frank Lloyd Wright (American architect)
  • John Updike (Rabbit at Rest book)
  • Walt Whitman (American poet)
  • H.L Mencken (American essayist, journalist, and satirist)
  • Winston Churchill (The Second World War)
  • Djuna Barnes (American writer and artist)
  • William Faulkner (Absalom, Absalom!)
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Russian novelist and poet)
  • Toni Morrison (Sula)
  • Margaret Wise Brown (Goodnight Moon)
  • Dr. Suess (Green Eggs and Ham)
  • Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Harvard professor and literary critic)
  • Jared Diamond (scientist and author)
  • Camille Paglia (professor at University of the Arts Philadelphia and social critic)
  • Noam Chomsky (linguist)
  • Jill Lepore (historian)
  • Annette Gordon-Reed (historian)
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes (legal writer)
  • Clarence Darrow (legal writer)
  • Barbara Jordin (legal writer)
  • Antonin Scalia (legal writer)
  • George Orwell (Politics and the English Language)
  • Schoolhouse Rock! (specifically “Grammar Rock Nouns”)
  • Steven Pinker (linguist)
  • Paul Theroux (The Pillars of Hercules)
  • Raymond Carver (“Cathedral”)
  • Richard Ford (Rock Springs)
  • William Strunk & E.B. White (The Elements of Style)
  • Mark Twain (Pudd’nhead Wilson)
  • Jo Ann Beard (“Cousins”)
  • Ferdinand LeMenthe and the Red Hot Peppers (Jazz musician)
  • J.L. Dillard (American English)
  • Francis X. Clines (New York Times writer)
  • Whitney Balliett (writer for The New Yorker, Dizzy Gillespie)
  • Dave Kehr (New York Times writer, Harrison Ford)
  • James Salter (Burning the Days)
  • Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things)
  • Gregory the Great (Moralia)
  • Bureau of Land Management (Gobbledygook Has Gotta Go)
  • Steve Mirsky (writer for Scientific American)
  • Eric Voeglin (The New Science of Politics)
  • Osip Mandelstam (Russian poet and essayist)
  • Jon Krakausers (Under the Banner of Heaven)
  • Christopher Johnson (Microstyle)
  • Henry David Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers)
  • John McPhee (American writer)
  • The Fugitive (movie)
  • Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow)
  • Shakespeare (anything and everything he’s written)
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
  • Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
  • Bob Dylan (“Corrina, Corrina”, “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “Hurricane”)
  • Hilary Mantel (Bring Up the Bodies)
  • Relman Morin (the Little Rock High School report)
  • Joan Didion (The White Album, “Why I Write”)
  • Anne Sexton (poet)
  • Sharon Olds (poet)
  • Lewis Thomas (The Medusa of the Snail)
  • Suketu Mehta (Gare du Nord)
  • Pauline Kael (film critic)
  • Laura Fraser (An Italian Affair)
  • Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City)
  • Henry James (Portrait of a Lady)

This seems like a good breaking point for Part I, and we’re barely a quarter of the way through the book. There is plenty more to come.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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