The city…low brick and resigned…

katrina onstad

Word count: 328

Reading time: About 1.5 minutes

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence by Katrina Onstad I read recently that I’d happily imitate.  

I spent my early working life toiling in the field of  journalism (my father owned a struggling community weekly newspaper; when I left, I went to work for a daily). As a result, I’ve long had a fondness for books about journalists. I like serious ones (Personal History by late Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham ) and funny ones as well. Two of my favourites in the latter category are Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop and Mary Breasted’s I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This.

Now, I have a new one to add to the “funny” list — How Happy To Be by Katrina Onstad, a former film critic for the National Post here in Canada. In addition to giving me several hours of entertaining reading, she also gave me my sentence of the week. Here it is:

I get off the phone and look out the window as the city [Toronto] comes into view: low brick and resigned, a meekness that somehow always surprises me even after all this time. 

After reading the sentence I was immediately transported back to my numerous trips to Toronto. As with many cities, the taxi ride  from the airport inevitably features a plethora of grimy low brick buildings before you hit the downtown towers. But I especially like the way Onstad personifies the buildings — making them not just squat, but resigned and meek. (Isn’t that a perfect way to describe short brick buildings?) Those familiar with Toronto might also go so far as to say it describes the city itself, or at least it used to. For me, this little bit of creativity makes the sentence jump to life.

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I’m giving away three free apps, for the Wordflex touch dictionary produced in association with Oxford University Press. Today is your last chance to win one by posting a comment on my blog. Anyone who posted this week is eligible. (Note: You need an iPad to be able to use the dictionary.) If you’re interested, please describe why in your post. I’ll be announcing the winners on Tuesday, June 19.

Posted June 15th, 2012 in Sentence of the week