His mouth opens wide in a soundless laugh…

Word count: 271 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence by another writer that I’d happily imitate. Today’s comes from Calvin Tompkins.

My mother was an artist. Her medium? First, pottery although later — and more memorably — she worked in pastel chalks. And, yes, the talent skipped a generation. I have little interest in and even less talent for drawing or painting (although I have a daughter who likes to create in that way). But I do enjoy reading about art.

A recent New Yorker profile of London’s Tate Gallery director Nicolas Serota by Calvin Tompkins caught my eye. It appeared in the July 2/12 edition. (I just read it now as it had been jammed into the back of my magazine rack and I’d missed it.) I’m afraid the story is not available online, although you can read a summary here.

I found the piece to be well written, as most New Yorker profiles are. But one sentence stood out:

He keeps his watch set ten minutes fast, to avoid being late for appointments, and when he hears or says something funny, as he does quite often, his mouth opens wide in a soundless laugh. 

Have you ever known anyone with the reflexive habit of silent laughter? I’ve known several and funnily enough, most of them have been British. I’m not sure whether this is a cultural tendency, or what. But it’s exactly the picayune kind of meaningful detail that brings a story to life. Good for Calvin Tompkins for capturing it.

Scroll to Top