I struggle with this in part because the Minnesota culture discourages bragging and getting above your neighbors. The best you can say about anything is "not so bad" or "it could be worse."
Science Fiction, Science, Politics, Economics, Art and Bird Watching
Most of the sentences listed in the article and its comments draw attention to themselves. They are finely wrought, often elaborate, often clever. Which is okay, but a lot of very good writing does not have flashing neon arrows that tell us, "Art! Art! Art."
Sentences belong in the texture of a story, and many sentences in a story are not going to be -- should not be -- examples of tour de force writing. I'm sure it's possible to write entire works of fiction with tour de force sentences. Most likely it has been done. But Jane Austen didn't do it. Yes, she has written some amazing, witty sentences -- the opening to P&P is the most famous. But a lot of her beautiful, clear, precise writing simply describes her characters and their actions. You say, "What beautiful writing." But you don't remember the individual sentences, except the opening to P&P.
The comments to the article gave some good examples of tour de force sentences in SF. But I don't think this kind of writing is necessary for good fiction. I was trying to think of great, memorable sentences in the Icelandic family sagas. Everything I came up with was a line of dialogue, which does not display the skill of the writer, but the personality of the character. When Bergthora says she will go into the house with Njall and die with him, when the family's enemies burn the house to kill Njall and Bergthora's sons, she says, "I was given to Njall young, and I said that our fates would be the same." That does not draw your attention to the writing, but to Bergthora, her toughness and loyalty. You can't pull a line like that out of context and marvel at its beauty. It only works if you know the story.
Or when Grettir and his brother Illugi are making their last stand on the island of Drangey and Grettir says, "Bare is the back with no brother behind it." Sounds lofty and heroic, doesn't it? Well, by this time we know that Grettir has a nasty mouth on him and likes to quote Viking proverbs sarcastically. What he is saying is, "You asshole, someone just got behind me. You get back there and defend me." Which Illugi does and does well. I love that line, because it shows us Grettir's character so well. At this point, he is dying of gangrene and can't even stand up to fight, but has to fight on his knees. He knows he's going to be killed in a few minutes, and he still manages to be sarcastic; and Illugi still manages to be loyal to his difficult, even impossible brother.
The people commenting on the article are right: there are a lot of tour de force sentences in P.G. Wodehouse. The family fight with "aunt calling to aunt like mastodons across a primeval swamp." He was a terrific stylist. I have read him for years looking for serious content and not found any, which may reduce his chances of being called a great writer. But what a stylist!
And my comments on Kevin Drum:
I know I'm being cranky, but I am sick to death of rich people telling us to "follow our passion" or something similar… For most of us, this is a recipe for going broke. That's because, sadly, the world tends to assign a low market value to most of our passions.
Here's some better advice: try to avoid stuff that you hate. I admit that this is less uplifting, but it's generally more achievable and produces reasonable results. You might not ever get your dream job, or your dream house, or your dream partner, because that's just the way the lottery of life works. But with a little bit of effort, you might be able to avoid a soul-crushing job, a two-hour commute, and an empty relationship. Maybe. It's worth a try, anyway.
But honestly, most of us are better off saving our passions for our hobbies. This won't get me invited to give any commencement speeches, but it's still pretty solid advice.
I got MFA vs NYC on my nook and have read 100 pages. It is clear that I am not a writer. I've had none of these experiences. On the other hand, I have worked in a printing plant in Detroit and an art museum in Minneapolis and three different warehouses... I have not been a short order cook, which is fine. I never wanted to work in food service. And the merchant marine was out, because I get seasick. But it would have been nice to be a forest fire lookout...
The printing plant was not like Kinko's. The presses were two stories tall with two stories of shock absorbers below them. They couldn't move the presses, so they turned the plant into a kind of fortress surrounded by tall fences, with security guards at every entrance. I had an office job and got to wear a pretty dress. The guys on the plant floor were covered with ink and got union wages.
I am most of the way through MFA vs. NYC. Interesting book. If you are a writer, your response to the book will be autobiographical. I am up to Fredric Jameson and the workshop rules for writing: Write what you know. Find your own voice. Show, don't tell.
No, no and no.
It's good to know where show, don't tell comes from. (Not from Jameson, from the workshop culture. Jameson does not seem to like show, don't tell much.) I hate it. It is so obviously untrue. And I remember when -- almost 50 years ago -- one of my professors mentioned that many of her former students were writing back to her and saying, "I think I have finally found my own voice." Find your own voice? I thought. What is this crap? As for write what you know, why? Did Homer fight in the Trojan War? Must have been difficult, given that he was blind. How about the author of Beowulf? Met a lot of dragons, did he?
How about tell a story and use whatever techniques are needed to tell the story? The story is primary, not the author. (Lyric poetry may require a personal voice -- or maybe not. Is the voice of "My Last Duchess" Browning's voice? How about "Andrea del Sarto?")