“Two or Three Sentences That Go Together”

In the latest episode of This American Life, devoted to 2010 predictions, a sixth-grade teacher says she would like one of her students to become a better writer. His essays are disorganized. “I would like Lewis to write two or three sentences that go together and make sense,” she said.

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, a profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Lauren Collins contains this paragraph:

Perhaps in an effort to absorb quickly the mores of the Court, Sotomayor has hired experienced clerks, including one who spent the past year clerking for Justice Stevens and another who clerked for Justice Ginsburg. Near her desk is a framed cartoon by the Mexican-American illustrator Lalo Alcaraz. Against a lavender background, a girl with a pink bow in her dark hair sits at a desk, banging a gavel. A nameplate in front of her reads “Judge Lopez.” To her right is a makeshift witness box, inhabited by a Teddy bear. The jury box is full of stuffed animals. Taped to the wall behind her is a photograph of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The first sentence (“Perhaps in an effort . . . “) and the rest of the paragraph (“Near her desk . . . “) don’t go together. I suppose Collins or her editor liked the cartoon detail but didn’t have a good place to put it. So they put it here, at the end of a section.

The whole profile is more great work from Lauren Collins. The impressive thing about Sotomayor, someone tells Collins, isn’t that she’s the first Latina Justice, it’s that she’s the first Justice to grow up in a housing project. To good writing based on lots of work, Collins adds interesting observations:

In a profession that values the illusion of infallibility, Sotomayor has been unusually willing to acknowledge murky areas.

We want stories with heroes and villains. We want moralizing, in other words. In this sentence, Collins calls the legal profession bad and Sotomayor good.