Friday, February 13, 2009

Quotable Quotes ... Books

saws, gags, aperçus & other ephemera

“GOOD BOOKS are your friends, not your masters. Take one out for a drink every now and again.” Dave Morris

“THEY WERE SO LONELY and silent, these flat acres stretching to the rim of the sky, single men and small family groups working alone on their own banks, their voices carrying clear and far, the tiny purple bloom sprinkled on the dull heather, long acres of sedge as pale as wheat and taller, the stunted sally and birch trees rising bright as green flowers.” John McGahern, in The Barracks

“FOR ME, death is the one appalling fact which defines life; unless you are constantly aware of it, you cannot begin to understand what life is about; unless you know and feel that the days of wine and roses are limited, that the wine will madeirize and the roses turn brown in their stinking water before all are thrown out for ever—including the jug—there is no context to such pleasures and interests as come your way on the road to the grave. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I?” Julian Barnes, in Nothing to Be Frightened Of

“THEY WERE SO LONELY AND SILENT, these flat acres stretching to the rim of the sky, single men and small family groups working alone on their own banks, their voices carrying clear and far, the tiny purple bloom sprinkled on the dull heather, long acres of sedge as pale as wheat and taller, the stunted sally and birch trees rising bright as green flowers.” John McGahern, in The Barracks

“READING, after all, is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a matter of emotional connection, a place where art reflects our lives. We change, and our relationships with the books we’ve read change also; ‘If a book read when young is a lover,’ Fadiman writes in Rereadings, ‘that same book, reread later on, is a friend.’ ” David L. Ulin

“WHAT SAVED ME as a schoolchild in Arizona, waiting to grow up, waiting to escape into a larger reality, was reading books ... To have access to literature, world literature, was to escape the prison of national vanity, of philistinism, of compulsory provincialism, of inane schooling, of imperfect destinies and bad luck.” Susan Sontag

“A WRITER is first of all a reader. It is from reading that I derive the standards by which I measure my own work and according to which I fall lamentably short. It is from reading, even before writing, that I became part of a community—the community of literature—which includes more dead than living writers.” Susan Sontag

“A CLASSIC is simply a book that people read generation after generation, because it continues to speak to us.” Michael Dirda

“A SHORT STORY is like an egg: when the beginning comes to me, I have the end. It’s complete. It’s got its white and it’s got its yolk and it’s got its shell containing it. I have it there complete, as if in the palm of my hand.” Nadine Gordimer

“THE CRUNCH OF THE GRAVEL, the buzz of the bees, the scratch of the hoe or rake in the garden—since those summers at my grandparents’ these have been summer sounds; the bitter scent of the sun-drenched boxwood, the rank odour of the compost, summer smells; and the stillness of the early afternoon, when no child calls, no dog barks, no wind blows, summer stillness.” Bernhard Schlink, in Homecoming (trans. from the German by Michael Henry Heim)

“WRITING is like magic tricks; it isn’t enough to pull rabbits from a hat, you have to do it with elegance and in a convincing manner.” Isabel Allende

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything.” Joseph Conrad

“WITHOUT WORDS, without writing and without books there would be no history, there would be no concept of humanity.” Hermann Hesse

“THE HISTORIAN can tell you what happened. The novelist will tell you what it felt like.” E.L. Doctorow

“BOOKS are the carriers of civilization.” Barbara W. Tuchman

“BOOKS are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“BUT in my opinion, literature does something much more important—it changes us. It makes us more human, more tolerant and less judgmental.” Alaa Al Aswany

“... BUT the essential excitement of a book—its curious, inimitable and irreplaceable mystery—is its capacity to enchant. Look at the thing you take down from the shelf and begin to read. Consider the enigma. It is, of course, physically present. But its words may take you anywhere, across the room, the city, across continents, centuries and worlds. It is a form of magic. And you cannot kill magic.” Jeremy Paxman

“LITERATURE, like magic, has always been about the handling of secrets, about the pain, the destruction, and the marvelous liberation that can result when they are revealed. If a writer doesn’t give away secrets, his own or those of the people he loves, if he doesn’t court disapproval, reproach and general wrath, whether of friends, family or party apparatchiks... the result is pallid, inanimate, a lump of earth.” Michael Chabon

“DIXON woke up. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again.” Kingsley Amis, in Lucky Jim

“A BOOK is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.” John Steinbeck

“IT’S like fish. Fish swim about all day finding food to give them energy to swim about all day. It makes me laugh. These people who hurry about all day making money to sell each other things. Anyone with eyes to see could tell them their lives are meaningless and they aren't getting any happier.” William Nicholson, in The Society of Others

“WHAT interests me as a writer is ambivalence and uncertainty—they’re rewarding for readers too, I think. If a writer withholds answers, the attentive reader seeks them out. That provokes a form of dialogue with a book—it's what true reading is about.” Sally Beauman

“IF any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“THE final purpose of art is to intensify, even, if necessary, to exacerbate, the moral consciousness of people.” Norman Mailer

“A GOOD book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.” John Milton, in Areopagitica

“BOOKS are our only beacons, our imaginative guides through the labyrinths of human experience.” Edward Hirsch

“ON a spiritual level it's as though with my sighted eye I see what's before me, and with my unsighted eye I see what's hidden. It's illuminated life more than darkened it.” Alice Walker, on her blind right eye

“IT’S a bit like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You can look at the same scene but find it different every time you turn the viewer. Writing is what I’m talking about. Writing as a way of life. It's a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A requirement to keep trying different ways to describe something that urgently needs describing even if you aren't entirely sure what it is.” Jenny Diski

“A NAME is the first story that attaches itself to a life.” Michelle de Kretser, in The Hamilton Case (2003)

“REAL literature is about something else entirely .... [I]t’s not about information, although you may gather information along the way. It's not even about storytelling, although sometimes that is one of its greatest pleasures. Imaginative literature is about listening to a voice. When you read a novel the voice is telling you a story; when you read a poem it’s usually talking about what its owner is feeling; but neither the medium nor the message is the point. The point is that the voice is unlike any other voice you have ever heard and it is speaking directly to you.” A. Alvarez, in The Writer’s Voice (2004)

“ORIGINALITY is like charisma. It’s hard to define, but we know it when we find it. In literature, it’s often associated with obsession. Books that are written out of the author’s unquenchable desire to communicate his or her subject are the ones that stand out. Originality plus obsession equals that little touch of madness that can make a book truly outstanding.” Robert McCrum, in The Observer

“I’M beginning to see that our appetite for books is the same as our appetite for food, that our brain tells us when we need the literary equivalent of salads, or chocolate, or meat and potatoes.” Nick Hornby, in The Polysyllabic Spree (2004)

“IF history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Rudyard Kipling

“ONE reason the human race has such a low opinion of itself is that it gets so much of its wisdom from writers.” Wilfrid Sheed

“ARE you really a Roman Catholic?’ I asked my aunt with interest. She replied promptly and seriously, ‘Yes, my dear, only I just don’t believe in all the things they believe in.’ ” Aunt Augusta, in Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt (1969)

“ONLY two classes of books are of universal appeal: the very best and the very worst.” Ford Madox Ford

“FUNNY how some people think libraries are obsolete. To me, they are places pulsing with passion and life. The past comes leaping back, leaping up out of books. Dead writers aren't really dead; just pretending. They talk to us and we talk back.” Michèle Roberts

“YOU will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

“... WRITING is like coal mining. You work in the shadows, aided only by instinct and the dim lamplight of technique. Some days (or so my father told me) when the coal refused to come out, you’d hack at it and swear. Other days you might tug at a little straw in the wall and the lovely stuff would come clattering down, gleaming where it fell, ready for the shovel. And so with writing.” Graham Joyce

“THERE is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” Oscar Wilde, in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)

“WRITING is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.” Graham Greene, in Ways of Escape (1980)

“I FOUND that while I prefer writing, I see all work as pretty much the same, and approach it with the same ethic: come early, stay late, and focus on the details.” Mark Spragg

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.” Charlotte Brontë, in Jane Eyre (1847)

“AS one ages one acquires the ability to perceive the world with an increased sense of perspective. It becomes increasingly evident that one is not, after all, the centre of the universe. It's quite a liberation actually, when one's own ego no longer blocks the view.” Anne Stevenson

“THERE is a story to it the way there is a story to all, never visible while it is happening. Only after, when an old man sits dreaming and talking in his chair, the design springs clear. There was so much we never saw and never knew.” Nanapush, in Louise Erdrich’s Tracks (1988)

“I LONG for a day of judgment when the plot lines of our lives will be neatly tied, and all puzzles explained, and the meaning of events made clear. We take to fiction, I suppose, because no such thing is going to happen, and at least on the printed page we can observe beginnings, middles, and ends ...” Fay Weldon, in Auto Da Fay (2002)

“TO go in the dark with a light is to know the light. To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” Wendell Berry

“I ALWAYS think of an apple tree—a stock and a graft. The stock—the bit with the roots, the bit that draws water and nutrients from the soil—is my life; and the graft—the sections that produces flowers, fruit, that is home to birds and insects—that is the novel. Both bits are dependent on each other.” Nadeem Aslam, author of Maps for Lost Lovers (2004)

“HOUSES are like books, split into chapters, filled with stories that are linked by setting. When you live in an old house, you are not just living with plaster and floorboards, but with stories. Histories you know nothing of occurred in the rooms in which you live. Someone fell in love in your kitchen, died in the spot where your bed is placed; someone did cartwheels across your lawn, had her heart broken one night; someone survived smallpox, influenza, childbirth. Someone else lived here.” Alice Hoffman, writing about her collection of stories, Blackbird House (2004), in the New York Times Book Review

“DOCTRINAIRE opinions are anathema to art, and history has shown us that any artist who bows to pressure, political or otherwise, is a lost soul.” Edna O'Brien

“I WRITE because I have to and want to. It's as simple, or as complicated, as that. And I write novels specifically because I am curious about my fellow creatures. There is no end to their mystery. I share Isaac Babel's lifelong ambition to write with simplicity, brevity and precision. It was he who said `No steel can pierce the human heart so chillingly as a period at the right moment.' I hope one or two of my fullstops have done, and will do, just that.” Paul Bailey

“THERE are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” W. Somerset Maugham

“DON'T tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

“THINK of the novel as lover: Let's stay home tonight and have a great time. Just because you're touched where you want to be touched, it doesn't mean you're cheap; before a book can change you, you have to love it.” Jonathan Franzen

“A NOVEL is in its broadest sense a personal, a direct impression of life: that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression.” Henry James, in The Art of Fiction (1885)

“READING is a conversation. All books talk. But a good book listens as well.” Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003)

“IS the purpose of fiction to engage with or escape from the here and now? It's surprising so little fiction takes up the challenge of the former. A novel can't change the world. But a great novel opens the mind like nothing else. And when the mind opens, so too does the future.” Tim Pears, author of In the Place of Fallen Leaves (1993), In a Land of Plenty (1997), A Revolution of the Sun (2000) and Wake Up (2002)

“THE novelist's task is to make his readers so intimately acquainted with his characters that the creations of his brain should be to them speaking, moving, living human creatures. This he can never do unless he know these fictitious personages himself, and he can never know them well unless he can live with them in the full reality of established intimacy.” Anthony Trollope

“MY task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, above all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything.” Joseph Conrad, in his Preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897)

“WORDS, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.” Joseph Conrad

“READING may be the last secretive behavior that is neither pathological nor prosecutable. It is certainly the last refuge from the real-time epidemic. For the stream of a narrative overflows the banks of the real. Story strips its reader, holding her in a place time can’t reach. A book’s power lies in its ability to erase us, to expand or contract without limit, to circle inside itself without beginning or end, to defy our imaginary timetables and lay us bare to a more basic ticking.” Richard Powers, from the Introduction to The Paris Review Book of Planes, Trains, Elevators, and Waiting Rooms (2004)

“WELL, it’s bread and it’s food, and if I spend a day where activities of various kinds have impeded my ability to read, I feel enormously melancholy and will ... instead of going to bed, just stay and read in order to make up for that sense of loss and waste or, I guess, sheer hunger. I can't go without reading. I can’t live without reading. And I suppose one of the problems with being a writer is that you have to write and that means you have to stop reading.” Cynthia Ozick, on describing her relationship with a book in City Arts (1997)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Literature is news that stays news".

Ezra Pound.

Saturday, March 21, 2009 10:49:00 PM  

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