Quotes I like

A running collection of book quotes and excerpts that stuck with me. Where relevant, reviews are linked.

Underground Airlines
Ben Winters

“Create a pen like that, give people no choice but to live like animals, and then people get to point at them and say Will you look at those animals? That’s what kind of people those people are. And that idea drifts up and out of freedman Town like chimney smoke, black gets to mean poor and poor to mean dangerous and all the words get murked together and become one dark idea, a cloud of smoke, the smokestack fumes drifting like filthy air across the rest of the nation.”

“Sometimes it’s possible, just barely possible, to imagine a version of this world different from the existing one, a world in which there is true justice, heroic honesty, a clear perception possessed by each individual about how to treat all the others. Sometimes I swear I could see it, glittering in the pavement, glowing between the words in a stranger’s sentences, a green, impossible vision—the world as it was meant to be, like a mist around the world as it is.”

“In the buried parts of me are good things.”

“It got thicker the farther south you went, that coefficient of difficulty involved in doing even the simplest tasks. I think of it sometimes as a pressure in the atmosphere, like walking under water: the extra effort required to get served at a restaurant, make a purchase at a store. Check in to a motel.”

“Maybe being put back together just hurt less than coming apart.”

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047
Lionel Shriver

“It was staggering how the enmity over who-would-get-what could survive beyond the point at which there was nothing to get.”

“Boomers considered old age one more conspiracy to expose, like the Pentagon Papers.”

The Girls
Emma Cline

“Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed.”

“That was part of being a girl—you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”

“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

A Little Life
Hanya Yanagihara

“New York was populated by the ambitious. It was often the only thing that everyone here had in common.”

“He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.”

“The trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”

“If you love home—and even if you don’t—there is nothing quite as cozy, as comfortable, as delightful, as that first week back. That week, even the things that would irritate you—the alarm waahing from some car at three in the morning, the pigeons who come to clutter and cluck on the windowsill behind your bed when you’re trying to sleep in—seem instead reminders of your own permanence, of how life, your life, will always graciously allow you to step back inside of it, no matter how far you have gone away from it or how long you have left it.”

“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it. We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.”

John Williams

“[He] came to his task of teaching with a seeming disdain and contempt, as if he perceived between his knowledge and what he could say a gulf so profound that he would make no effort to close it.”

“So Stoner began where he had started, a tall, thin, stooped man in the same room in which he had sat as a tall, thin, stooped boy listening to the words that had led him to where he had come. He never went into that room that he did not glance at the seat he had once occupied, and he was always slightly surprised to discover that he was not there.”

“Edith moved into the apartment as if it were an enemy to be conquered.”

“He suspected that he was beginning, ten years late, to discover who he was; and the figure he saw was both more and less than he had once imagined it to be.”

“He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been.”

“And she grew fat. It was as if something inside her had gone loose and soft and hopeless, as if at last a shapelessness within her had struggled and burst loose and now persuaded her flesh to specify that dark and secret existence.”

The Argonauts
Maggie Nelson

“There are people out there who get annoyed at the story that Djuna Barnes, rather than identify as a lesbian, preferred to say that she “just loved Thelma.” Gertrude Stein reputedly made similar claims, albeit not in those exact terms, about Alice. I get why it’s politically maddening, but I’ve also always thought it a little romantic—the romance of letting an individual experience of desire take precedence over a categorical one.”

“I was so happy renting in New York City for so long because renting—or at least the way I rented, which involved never lifting a finger to better my surroundings—allows you to let things literally fall apart all around you. Then, when it gets to be too much, you just move on.”

“How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy? I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if I behave in the right way.* I don’t want any of it. How to explain that for some, or for some at some times, this irresolution is OK—desirable, even (e.g., ‘gender hackers’)—whereas for others, or for others at some times, it stays a source of conflict or grief? How does one get across the fact that the best way to find out how people feel about their gender or their sexuality—or anything else, really—is to listen to what they tell you, and to try to treat them accordingly without shellacking over their version of reality with yours?”

“There’s something truly strange about living in a historical moment in which the conservative anxiety and despair about queers bringing down civilization and its institutions (marriage, most notably) is met by the anxiety and despair so many queers feel about the failure or incapacity of queerness to bring down civilization and its institutions, and their frustration with the assimilationist, unthinkingly neoliberal bent of the mainstream GLBTQ+ movement, which has spent fine coin begging entrance into two historically repressive structures: marriage and the military.”

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
Meghan Daum

“This was an incredible evening. And the best part was that it was over now. The entire time, all I had thought was that I couldn’t wait for it to end so I could go home and talk about it for the rest of my life.”

Dept. of Speculation
Jenny Offill

“But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.”

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James

“Living people wait and see because they fool themselves that they have time. Dead people see and wait.”

“Heart condition, diabetes, slow-killing diseases with slow-sounding names. This is the body going over to death with impatience, one part at a time.”

“Woman breed baby, but man can only make Frankenstein.”

“Up is everything and down just means all the white people want to party on your street on Sunday night to feel realness.”

“I didn’t tell him that to be on top is to worry. Once you climb to the peak of the mountain, the whole world can take a shot.”

“My mother is so afraid of trouble that trouble sticks to her close just because he never gets tired of proving a point.”

“All man is fuckery. Yes every woman know this, but we forget it every day. But leave it to providence, sooner or later in the stretch of a day some man will remind you.”

“Sometimes I have to remind even him that three feet north of this vagina is a brain.”

“I used to think old was the first time you bent over and grunted ugh when you straightened back up. Now old is running into enemies too old to fight, where all you got left from an old war is fucking nostalgia. And any kind of nostalgia is something to drink not shoot over.”

On The Road
Jack Kerouac

“I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..” [8]

“We lay on our backs, looking at the ceiling and wondering what God had wrought when He made life so sad.” [57]

“LA is the loneliest and most brutal of American cities; New York gets god-awful cold in the winter but there’s a feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets. LA is a jungle.” [85]

“Americans are always drinking in crossroads saloons on Sunday afternoon; they bring their kids; they gabble and brawl over brews; everything’s fine.” [92]

The American police are involved in psychological warfare against those Americans who don’t frighten them with imposing papers and threats. It’s a Victorian police force; it peers out of musty windows and wants to inquire about everything, and can make crimes if the crimes don’t exist to its satisfaction.” [136]

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?–it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” [156]

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt

“A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

“What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted–? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?”

“But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding into the playground with no idea what future Hells awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and traveled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten top to bottom. Putting your time in at the office; dutifully spawning your two point-five; smiling politely at your retirement party; then chewing on your bedsheet and choking on your canned peaches at the nursing home.”

“And, increasingly, I find myself fixing on that refusal to pull back. Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence — of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do — is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me — and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly until I did, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool.”

“That life — whatever else it is — is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.”

The Woman Upstairs
Claire Messud

“The second graders at Appleton Elementary, sometimes the first graders even, and by the time they get to my classroom, to the third grade, they’re well and truly gone—they’re full of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and French manicures and cute outfits and they care how their hair looks! In the third grade. They care more about their hair or their shoes than about galaxies or caterpillars or hieroglyphics. How did all that revolutionary talk of the seventies land us in a place where being female means playing dumb and looking good? Even worse on your tombstone than “dutiful daughter” is “looked good”; everyone used to know that. But we’re lost in a world of appearances now.” [4]

“He says that children live on the edge of madness, that their behavior, apparently unmotivated, shares the same dream logic as crazy people’s. I see what he means, and because I’ve learned to be patient with children, to tease out the logic that’s always somewhere there, and irrefutable once explained, I’ve come to understand that grown-ups, mad or sane, ought really to be accorded the same respect. In this sense, nobody is actually crazy, just not understood. When Brianna’s mom says that I get kids, part of me puffs up like a peacock, but another part thinks she is calling me crazy. Or that, at the very least, she’s separating me from the tribe of the fully adult. And then this, in turn, will explain—if not to me then to someone who is, seerlike, in charge of explanations—why I don’t have children of my own.” [16]

“Obviously what strength was all along was the ability to say ‘Fuck off’ to the lot of it, to turn your back on all the suffering and contemplate, unmolested, your own desires above all. Men have generations of practice at this. Men have figured out how to spawn children and leave them to others to raise, how to placate their mothers with a mere phone call from afar, how to insist, as calmly as if insisting that the sun is in the sky, as if any other possibility were madness, that their work, of all things, is what must—and must first—be done. Such a strength has, in its youthful vision, no dogs or gardens or picnics, no children, no sky: it is focused only on one thing, whether it’s on money, or on power, or on a paintbrush and a canvas. It’s a failure of vision, in fact, anyone with half a brain can see that. It’s myopia. But it’s what it takes. You need to see everything else—everyone else—as expendable, as less than yourself.” [18]

“It makes sense that if you stand almost daily in the middle of a perfect crescent of shore, with a vista open to eternity, you’ll conceive of possibility differently from someone raised in a wooded valley or among the canyons of a big city.” [19]

“And it explains much about me, too, about the limits of my experience, about the fact that the person I am in my head is so far from the person I am in the world. Nobody would know me from my own description of myself; which is why, when called upon (rarely, I grant) to provide an account, I tailor it, I adapt it, I try to provide an outline that can, in some way, correlate to the outline that people understand me to have—that, I suppose, I actually have, at this point. But who I am in my head, very few people really get to see that. Almost none. It’s the most precious gift I can give, to bring her out of hiding. Maybe I’ve learned it’s a mistake to reveal her at all.” [21]

“I was funny—ha-ha, not peculiar. It was a modest currency, like pennies: pedestrian, somewhat laborious, but a currency nonetheless. I was funny, in public, most often at my own expense.” [21-22]

“When you’re a girl, you never let on that you are proud, or that you know you’re better at history, or biology, or French, than the girl who sits beside you and is eighteen months older. Instead you gush about how good she is at putting on nail polish or at talking to boys, and you roll your eyes at the vaunted difficulty of the history/biology/French test and say, ‘Oh my God, it’s going to be such a disaster! I’m so scared!’ and you put yourself down whenever you can so that people won’t feel threatened by you, so they’ll like you, because you wouldn’t want them to know that in your heart, you are proud, and maybe even haughty, and are riven by thoughts the revelation of which would show everyone how deeply Not Nice you are. You learn a whole other polite way of speaking to the people who mustn’t see you clearly, and you know—you get told by others—that they think you’re really sweet, and you feel a thrill of triumph: ‘Yes, I’m good at history/biology/French, and I’m good at this, too.’ It doesn’t ever occur to you, as you fashion your mask so carefully, that it will grow into your skin and graft itself, come to seem irremovable.” [22-3]

“..the age of thirty-seven…is a time of reckoning, the time at which you have to acknowledge once and for all that your life has a shape and a horizon, and that you’ll probably never be president, or a millionaire, and that if you’re a childless woman, you will quite possibly remain that way. Then there’s a period of accommodation before you are formally and officially old.” [39]

“When, as a woman, you make yourself the work of art, and when you are then what everyone else looks at, then whatever else, you aren’t alone.” [174]

“I coveted her very imagination, and wished it were mine.” [236]

“When you’re the Woman Upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you best of all. It’s a small thing, you might think; and maybe it depends upon your temperament; maybe for some people it’s a small thing. But for me, in that cul-de-sac outside Aunt Baby’s, with my father and aunt done dissecting death and shuffling off to bed behind the crimson farmhouse door, preparing for morning mass as blameless as lambs and as lifeless as the slaughtered—I felt forsaken by hope. I felt I’d been seen, and seen clearly, and discarded, dropped back into the undiscriminated pile like a shell upon the shore..” [257]

The Braindead Megaphone
George Saunders

“Working with language is a means by which we can identify the bullshit within ourselves (and others).”

“Humor is what happens when we’re told the truth quicker and more directly than we’re used to.”

“The era of the jackboot is over: the forces that come for our decency, humor, and freedom will be extolling, in beautiful smooth voices, the virtue of decency, humor, and freedom.”

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

“I began to like New york, the racy adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye.”

The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides

“It took courage to let things fall apart so beautifully.”

Mary Shelley

“None but those who have experienced them can conceive of the enticements of science.”

“As a child I scribbled; and my favorite pastime during the hours given me for recreation was to ‘write stories’. Still, I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air – the indulging in waking dreams – the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents.”

“‘Alas! I regret that I am taken from you; and, happy and beloved as I have been, is it not hard to quit you all? But these are not thoughts befitting me; I will endeavor to resign myself cheerfully to death, and will indulge a hope of meeting you in another world.”

“Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”

“The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always the effect of solemnising my mind and causing me to forget the passing cares of life.”

The Tiger’s Wife
Téa Obreht

“When your fight has a purpose—to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent—it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling—when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event—there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it.”

This is How
Augusten Burroughs

“The reason I live in Manhattan is not because I ‘enjoy taking advantage of everything the city has to offer’ like a dubious personal ad; it’s because I’m both wasteful and a glutton. I like knowing I have everything right here beside me so I can let it all spoil in the refrigerator next to the broccoli.”

“Loss is not a subtraction. As an experience, it is an addition.”

“Miracles do happen. You must believe this. No matter what else you believe about life, you must believe in miracles. Because we are all, every one of us, living on a round rock that spins around and around at almost a quarter of a million miles per hour in an unthinkably vast blackness called space. There is nothing else like us for as far as our telescopic eyes can see. In a universe filled with spinning, barren rocks, frozen gas, ice, dust, and radiation, we live on a planet filled with soft, green leaves and salty oceans and honey made from bees, which themselves live within geometrically complex and perfect structures of their own architecture and creation. In our trees are birds whose songs are as complex and nuanced as Beethoven’s greatest sonatas. And despite the wild, endless spinning of our planet and its never-ending orbit around the sun–itself a star on fire–when we pour water into a glass, the water stays in the glass. All of these are miracles.”

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door
Etgar Keret

“There were lots of lies along the way in life. Lies without arms, lies that were ill, lies that did harm, lies that could kill. Lies on foot, or behind the wheel, black-tie lies, and lies that could steal.”

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green

“Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer.  But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Jonathan Safran Foer

“It took me as long as I had known him to get rid of all of his words.  Like turning an hourglass over.”

Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What it Means to Be Black Now

“I knew there was a minefield ahead of me and no way to avoid the bombs, and even if you didn’t actually step on the bombs, you were already transformed by constantly looking out for them.”

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Lionel Shriver

“I always prefer socializing at night—it is implicitly more wanton.”

“Only a country that feels invulernable can afford political turmoil as entertainment. ”

“Hitherto, I had always regarded the United States as a place to leave. After you brazenly asked me out—an executive with whom you had a business relationship—you goaded me to admit that had I been born elsewhere, the U.S. of A. was perhaps the first country I would make a beeline to visit: whatever else I might think of it, the place that called the shots and pulled the strings, that made the movies and sold the Coca-Cola and shipped Star Trek all the way to Java; the center of the action, a country that you needed a relationship with even if that relationship was hostile; a country that demanded if not acceptance at least rejection—anything but neglect. The country in every other country’s face, that would visit you whether you liked it or not almost anywhere on the planet.”

“An honest list of all that I did not want to nurture, from the garden-variety moron to the grotesquely overweight, might run damningly to a second page. ”

“The gap between most people’s capacity to conjure beauty from scratch and to merely recognize it when they see it is the width of the Atlantic Ocean.”

“Tragedy seems to bring out all varieties of unexpected qualities in people. It was as if some folks got dunked in plastic, vacuum-sealed like backpacking dinners, and could do nothing but sweat in their private hell. And others seemed to have just the opposite problem, as if disaster had dipped them in acid instead, stripping off the outside layer of skin that once protected them from the slings and arrows of other people’s outrageous fortunes. For these sorts, just walking down the street in the wake of every stranger’s ill wind became an agony, an aching slog through this man’s fresh divorce and this woman’s throat cancer. They were in hell, too, but it was everybody’s hell, this big, shoreless, sloshing sea of toxic waste.”

“The vanity of protective parents goes beyond look-at-us-we’re-such-responsible-guardians. Our prohibitions also bulwark our self-importance. They fortify the construct that we adults are all initiates. By conceit, we have earned access to an unwritten Talmud whose soul-shattering content we are sworn to conceal from ‘innocents’ for their own good. By pandering to this myth of the naif, we service our own legend. Presumably we have looked the horror in the face, like staring into the naked eye of the sun, blistering into turbulent, corrupted creatures, enigmas even to ourselves. Gross with revelation, we would turn back the clock if we could, but there is no unknowing of this awful canon, no return to the blissfully insipid world of childhood, no choice but to shoulder this weighty black sagacity, whose finest purpose is to shelter our air-headed midgets from a glimpse of the abyss. The sacrifice is flatteringly tragic.”

“In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable.”

“People around here can’t just go for a walk, they have to be getting with some kind of program. And you know, this may be at the heart of it, what’s my beef. All those intangibles of life, the really good but really elusive stuff that makes life worth living—Americans seem to believe they can all be obtained by joining a group, or signing up to a subscription, or going on a special diet, or undergoing aromatherapy. It’s not just that Americans think they can buy everything; they think that if you follow the instructions on the label, the product has to work. Then when the product doesn’t work and they’re still unhappy even though the right to happiness is enshrined in the Constitution, they sue the bejesus out of each other.”

The Fran Lebowitz Reader
Fran Lebowitz

“I love sleep because it is both pleasant and safe to use. Pleasant because one is in the best possible company and safe because sleep is the consummate protection against the unseemliness that is the invariable consequence of being awake. What you don’t know won’t hurt you. Sleep is death without the responsibility.”

“It is pointless to assume that the earth alone is afflicted with the phenomenon of life.”

“A salad is not a meal. It is a style.”

“The servant problem being what it is, one would think it apparent that a society that provides a Helper for tuna but compels a writer to pack her own suitcases desperately needs to reorder its priorities.”

“Chocolate is an excellent flavor for ice cream but both unreasonable and disconcerting in chewing gum.”

“Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans.”

“Perhaps the least cheering statement ever made on the subject of art is that life imitates it.”

“Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publication.”

“If you are of the opinion that the contemplation of suicide is sufficient evidence of a poetic nature, do not forget that actions speak louder than words.”

“Original thought is like original sin: both happened before you were born to people you could not possibly have met.”

“If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater … suggest that he wear a tail.”

“A great many people in Los Angeles are on special diets that restrict their intake of synthetic foods. The reason for this appears to be a widely held belief that organically grown fruits and vegetables make the cocaine work faster.”

Super Sad True Love Story
Gary Shteyngart

“For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for Jesus. Sorry that the miracles ascribed to him hadn’t actually made a difference.  Sorry that we were all alone in a universe where even our fathers would get us nailed to a tree if they were so inclined, or cut our throats if so commanded—see under Isaac, another unfortunate Jewish shmuck.”

Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

“When into the womb of time everything is again withdrawn, chaos will be restored and chaos is the score upon which reality is written.”

“For a hundred years or more the world, our world, has been dying. And not one man, in these last hundred years or so, has been crazy enough to put a bomb up the asshole of creation and set it off.”

“New York makes even a rich man feel his unimportance. New York is cold, glittering, malign.  The buildings dominate.  There is a sort of atomic frenzy to the activity going on; the more furious the pace, the more diminished the spirit.  A constant ferment, but it might just as well be going on in a test tube.  Nobody knows what it’s all about.  Nobody directs the energy.  Stupendous. Bizarre.  Baffling.  A tremendous reactive urge, but absolutely uncoordinated.”

“On the meridian of time there is no injustice: there is only the poetry of motion creating the illusion of truth and drama.  If at any moment anywhere one comes face to face with the absolute, that great sympathy which makes men like Gautama and Jesus seem divine freezes away; the monstrous thing is not that men have created roses out of this dung heap, but that, for some reason or other, they should want roses.  For some reason or other man looks for the miracle, and to accomplish it he will wade through blood.  He will debauch himself with ideas, he will reduce himself to a shadow if for only one second of his life he can close his eyes to the hideousness of reality.  Everything is endured—disgrace, humiliation, poverty, war, crime, ennui—in the belief that overnight something will occur, a miracle, which will render life tolerable.”

“The cradles of civilization are the putrid sinks of the world, the charnel houses to which the stinking wombs confide their bloody packages of flesh and bone.”

“It’s best to keep America always in the background, a sort of picture post card which you look at in a weak moment. Like that, you imagine it’s always there waiting for you, unchanged, unspoiled, a big patriotic open space with cows and sheep and tenderhearted men ready to bugger everything in sight, man, woman or beast.  It doesn’t exist, America.  It’s a name you give to an abstract idea…”

“When I see the figures of men and women moving listlessly behind their prison walls, sheltered, secluded for a few brief hours, I am appalled by the potentialities for drama that are still contained in these feeble bodies.”

“There’s something obscene in this love of the past which ends in breadlines and dugouts.  Something obscene about this spiritual racket which permits an idiot to sprinkle holy water over Big Berthas and dreadnoughts and high explosives. Every man with a bellyful of the classics is an enemy to the human race.”

A Separate Peace
John Knowles

“Unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence. Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a very important undertaking: I must have made my escape from it.”

“I think we reminded them of what peace was like, we boys of sixteen.  We were registered with no draft board, we had taken no physical examinations.  No one had ever tested us for hernia or color blindness.  Trick knees and punctured eardrums were minor complaints and not yet disabilities which could separate a few from the fate of the rest.  We were careless and wild, and I suppose we could be thought of as a sign of the life the war was being fought to preserve.  Anyway, they were more indulgent toward us than at any other time; they snapped at the heels of the seniors, driving and molding and arming them for the war.  They noticed our games tolerantly.  We reminded them of what peace was like, of lives which were not bound up with destruction.”

“It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”

José Saramago

“I have yet to hear a single idea that was worth considering for longer than it took us to listen to it.”

“The president of the republic turned pale, he looked like an old rag that someone had distractedly left behind on the back of the chair, I never thought I would live to see the face of treachery, he said, and felt that history was sure to record the phrase, and should there be any risk of history forgetting, he would make a point of reminding it.”

“Sir, I may only be a police inspector who may never make it as far as superintendent, but I’ve learned from my experience in this job that things half-spoken exist in order to say what can’t be fully expressed.”

“He did all this with great concentration in order to keep his thoughts at bay, in order to let them in only one at a time, having first asked them what they contained, because you can’t be too careful with thoughts, some present themselves to us with a cloying air of of false innocence and then, when it’s too late, reveal their true wicked selves.”

“You know very well that the minister finds it highly suspicious that you didn’t go blind when everyone else was losing their sight, and now that fact has become more than sufficient, from his point of view, for him to find you responsible, either wholly or in part, for what is happening now, Do you mean the blank votes, Yes, the blank votes, But that’s absurd, utterly absurd, As I’ve learned in this job, not only are the people in government never put off by what we judge to be absurd, they make use of absurdities to dull consciences and to destroy reason.”

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

“He looks tired, like someone walked on his skin and left footprints.”
[read excerpt]

The Ask
Sam Lipsyte

“They weren’t like dolls, because dolls had no feelings. Kids had feelings, just not any remotely related to yours.”

The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen

“Alfred believed that the real and the true were a minority that the world was bent on exterminating. ”

Brave New World
Aldous Huxley

“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
[more quotes]

Faithful Place
Tana French

“I had him hauled up off his chair by his shirtfront and I had my fist pulled back for the punch when the others swung into action, with that instant, clenched efficiency that only drunks’ kids have.”

Home Safe
Elizabeth Berg

“She thinks of the time Tessa was six and so ill with a violent flu she would not eat for days, and the pediatrician who called to check on her said that if she didn’t eat today, he was going to have to hospitalize her. Helen sat at the bed beside her feverish daughter and held up a spoonful of red Jell-O and told Tessa that her bear, Snugs, had come in the middle of the night to speak to Helen, and he had said he felt really bad that Tessa wouldn’t eat and in fact had had bad dreams on account of it, and he really hoped Tessa would eat some Jell-O so he wouldn’t have bad dreams like that again tonight, they were dreams of those flying monkeys that Tessa also once feared. Tessa looked closely into the face of the bear lying next to her and then picked him up and put him in her lap. And then she ate some Jell-O, one shuddering bite and then another and one more, and Helen thought, I will never know such gladness and relief again.  But of course she did, because that’s what children are capable of: creating freight train feelings in their parents with a bite of Jell-O, with a single glance, with a sigh that they make in sleep.  Helen stands in the darkened classroom and sees Tessa stirring mud puddles with a branch of blooming forsythia, pointing to a setting sun and saying, “The sky’s coming down.” She sees her posing in her first high school dance dress, her braces glinting, her corsage wildly off-kilter.

On a few occasions in her life, Helen has felt deep happiness as a kind of pain. The day she married Dan.  The day Tessa was born. Now comes another such time.  She sits down and puts her hand to her chest and rocks.  Thinks of all she has lost and will lose. All she has had and will have.  It seems to her that life is like gathering berries into an apron with a hole.  Why do we keep on? Because the berries are beautiful, and we must eat to survive.  We catch what we can. We walk past what we lose for the promise of more, just ahead.”

The Imperfectionists
Tom Rachman

“Once at the boarding gate, Abbey falls into her customary travel coma, a torpor that infuses her brain like pickling fluid during long trips. In this state, she nibbles any snack in reach, grows mesmerized by strangers’ footwear, turns philosophical, ends up weepy. She gazes at the banks of seats around the departure lounge: young couples nestling, old husbands reading books about old wars, lovers sharing headphones, whispered words about duty-free and delays.
She boards the plane, praying it won’t be full. The flight from Rome to Atlanta is elven hours, and she intends to stretch out–she’ll work and sleep, in that order. From the corner of her eye, she spots a man pausing at her row, consulting his ticket. She glares out the window, imploring him away. (Once, she allowed a fellow passenger to engage her in conversation and it became the longest flight of her life. He made her play Scrabble and insisted that ‘ug’ was a word. Since then, her rule has been to never talk on planes).”

“What is wrong with guys? Half are molting; half are nothing but undergrowth.”

“‘I got myself into a tangle. I tied myself in knots. I built and I built–heaven knows I have done that well.  Those skyscrapers, full of tenants, floor after floor, and not a single room containing you.'”

By Nightfall
Michael Cunningham

“He’s one of those smart, drifty young people who, after certain deliberations, decides he wants to do Something in the Arts but won’t, possibly can’t, think in terms of an actual job; who seems to imagine that youth and brains and willingness will simply summon an occupation, the precise and perfect nature of which will reveal itself in its own time.”
[more quotes]

Marilynne Robinson

“A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.”

“I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books.”

“Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.”

“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.”

“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Steven Chbosky

“So this is my life.  And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

“’Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.’”

“I guess what I’m saying is that this all feels very familiar.  But it’s not mine to be familiar about.  I just know that another kid has felt this.  This one time when it’s peaceful outside, and you’re seeing things move, and you don’t want to, and everyone is asleep.  And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people.  And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people.  And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people.  And you know that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing ‘unity.’
It’s like when you are excited about a girl and you see a couple holding hands, and you feel so happy for them.  And other times you see the same couple, and they make you so mad.  And all you want is to always feel happy for them because you know that if you do, then it means you’re happy, too.”

“I don’t know how much longer I can keep going without a friend.  I used to be able to do it very easily, but that was before I knew what having a friend was like.  It’s much easier not to know things sometimes.  And to have French fries with your mom be enough.”

“There’s nothing like the deep breaths after laughing that hard.  Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.”

Benjamin Kunkel

“What solitary people my family were!  It amazed me that two of its members had ever gotten together to produce the others.  But then solitary people pretending not to be – that must be how families start up, and how the race of the lonely has grown so numerous.”

“There is no worse preparation for adulthood than having been a child.”

“As you grow up, and you’ll find this, you keep getting involved with larger and larger illusions that take longer and longer to fall away.  The great hope is eventually to find a delusion that will outlast your life.”

“Everyone always moves so insouciantly into the future, one foot in front of the next, that it seems as if they’ve already been there and liked it enough to go back for more.  Only their total confidence permits me to follow without undue terror.  Yet sometimes – such as when you read in the Times of certain weird and bad events, like the guy who heard a noise outside his sister’s house, ran out the door to inspect, and then plunged into an old abandoned chalk quarry, just caved in, from which his body has never yet been recovered – you realize how the future is a place where no has been, and from which you don’t come back.”

“‘The reason you have this idea is that I’m the one girl you actually got to know in the right way.  It was gradual, it was inevitable – obviously we didn’t have any choice in the matter.  There wasn’t all this deformingly distinctive and abrupt self-presentation that constitutes contemporary dating, where you always have to give your stunted personality the hard sell – the hooks, the slogans, the shtick.  Where right away you always try to imply Me, me, I belong to your demographic – and no one else ever will.’
‘Hey Alice, wait –‘
’I mean, why do you think Nurse and Soldier are so popular with people like us?’
‘You mean the band Nurse and Soldier?’
‘Of course I mean the band. Go onto urge.com, look at the personals, everybody’s like, “Really into Nurse and Soldier.” That’s how they describe themselves.’
‘But hold on-‘
‘Just bear with an adjunct professor for a second, would you?  The characteristic feeling of Nurse and Soldier – like I’m alone and full of dread and all I want is a tiny, tiny house to be safe in for a little while – everyone feels that way all the time.  But it’s a feeling you don’t cop to.  So when you do it’s a guaranteed huge relief to find that someone else feels the same way.  The response is, “Oh, you too?” – when actually all you’ve discovered is that this other person feels the one thing that they’re bound to feel.’
‘Al, you listen to Nurse and Soldier.  More than me I bet.  You’ve got bootlegs.’
‘Nurse and Soldier are great.  I listen to them constantly.  But if I met some guy who felt the same way – meaningless.  So we happen to share the basic feeling-tone of all anxious young white over-slash-undereducated people who happen to live in first-world cities?  So what?’

“Do you know about Baudelaire?  He’s said to have torn the hands from a clock and scrawled across its face It’s always later than you think.”

“I continue to study with fascination the diverse hydraulics of things sucking.”

“Currently the party line I give myself, and do in part believe, is that what’s the happiest is just to be alive and sensitive when it comes to feeling the world, and if what your senses, honed beyond usefulness, end up registering is so much suffering out there that you become light-headed with it at times – well, those senses can still be used for extracting pleasures from fruits, nuts, beverages of all kinds, words on a page, a loved mammal in your arms, music (including sad kinds), and anyway this is only the tip of a list anyone could assemble.  I know my list is basic but maybe to utter banalities is a type of solidarity in these lonelifying times?”

Killing Yourself to Live
Chuck Klosterman

“We’re all tourists, sort of.  Life is tourism, sort of.  As far as I’m concerned, the dinosaurs still hold the lease on this godforsaken rock.”

Don’t Get Too Comfortable
David Rakoff

“I’d turn down an invitation to Nero’s orgy as a guest, but the judgmental voyeur in me would jump at the chance to man the coat check at same.”

“…there are many things in this world that are an outrage, to be sure, but death at our current life expectancy doesn’t strike me as one of them. Maybe I sound like some Victorian who felt that forty years ought to be enough for any man, but one of the marks of a life well lived has to be reaching a state of finally getting it, of not needing more, and of being able to sign off with something approaching peace of mind.”

Any Place I Hang My Hat
Susan Isaacs

“I cradled the phone in my left hand and did that staring-at-keypad thing, trying to decide whom to call. I’d noticed that people like me, who lived alone, tended to fondle cell phones in those tough moments when it hit them that not only did they live alone, they were alone. Any human voice would do at such a moment – a friend, a relative, a Time Warner Cable rep.”

“Still, I couldn’t get past the need to display what a splendid worker I was, just the way I had in elementary school, when I walked around with a backpack twice as heavy as it needed to be to impress my teachers with my willingness to cripple myself for knowledge.”

Magical Thinking
Augusten Burroughs

“Let the people who want to have kids, have them. And let the rest of us spend the extra money on ourselves. Being gay doesn’t make you a bad person. Not wanting kids doesn’t make you a bad person. Perhaps crushing the bones in one little girl’s hand makes you a bad person, but that was an accident.”

Werewolves in Their Youth
Michael Chabon

“The local drunks – there must have been about sixty-five or seventy of them, many related by blood or sexual history – were a close-knit population, involved in an ongoing collective enterprise: the building, over several generations, of a basilica of failure, on whose crowded friezes they figured in vivid depictions of bankruptcy, drug rehabilitation, softball, and arrest. There was no role in this communal endeavor for the summer islander, on leave, as it were, from work on the cathedral of his or her own bad decisions.”

Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Marisha Pessl

“The view made me sad, but I suppose everyone, when happening upon a sprawling expanse of earth, all light and mist, all breathlessness and infinity, felt sad – ‘the enduring gloom of man,’ Dad called it. You couldn’t help but think, not only about shortages of food, safe water, shockingly low averages of adult literacy and life expectancy in various developing nations, but also that shopworn thought about how many people were, at this precise moment, being born, and how many were dying, and that you, like some 6.2 billion others, were simply between these two ho-hum milestones, milestones that felt earth shattering while they were happening, but in the context of Hichraker’s 2003 edition of the World Geographical Factbook or M.C. Howard’s Finding the Cosmos in a Grain of Sand: The Nativity of the Universe (2004), they were ordinary, run-of-the-mill. It made one feel as if one’s life was no more imperative than a pine needle.”

“Dad said at the end of his Musical Chair Survival: The Quintessence of Predicaments seminar at the University of Oklahoma at Flitch that one or two individuals in times of crisis turn into Heroes, a handful into Villains, the rest into Fools.”

“’L’Avventura,’ Dad said, ‘ has the sort of ellipsis ending most American audiences would rather undergo a root canal than be left with, not only because they loathe anything left to the imagination – we’re talking about a country that invented spandex – but also because they are a confident, self-assured nation. They know family. They know Right from Wrong. They know God – many of them attest to daily chats with the man. And the idea that none of us can truly know anything at all – not the lives of our friends or family, not even ourselves – is a thought they’d rather be shot in the arm with their own semiautomatic rifle than face head-on.”

The Futurist
James Othmer

“What’s weird is that our parents, my parents, sacrificed so much and worked so hard doing what they didn’t love so we could get an education and do what we love. Now that I think of it, it was almost evil, giving us that kind of freedom, mandating that we try to identify something we love.”

“Once, when he first started in the business, he quoted the writer Max Dublin in a speech at a venture capitalist gathering in San Jose: ‘It is myopic and evasive to forget that most questions that can be posed about the future can more meaningfully and forcefully be posed about the present. If we used only the knowledge we now have, and used it only for the good, we could have heaven on earth, without one further innovation or discovery, and thereby create a better world than any of our false prophets are capable of envisioning. It is a matter not of ingenuity but of character, and it is the key to any and all possible good futures.’”

The Seven Days of Peter Crumb
Jonny Glynn

“Yesterday’s apologies for tomorrow’s mistakes.”

“The unassuming inconspicuous halfway time between tomorrow and today, those slow frozen hours in-between, they’re something of a comfort to the drunk rolling home.”

I Was Told There’d Be Cake
Sloane Crosley

“I feel I would be remiss not to mention the prevalence of a specific kind of person who enters the field of book publishing. This is the English lit major who never should have left academia, a genius who has read all of V.S. Naipaul but can’t photocopy title pages right side up. This person is very thin, possibly vegan, probably Ivy League. He or she feels as if answering the phone in a chipper voice is a form of legalized prostitution. He or she has a single quirky and defining fashion piece, usually red or black, and waxes poetic about typewriters and the British, having never truly known either. Regardless of sex, they all want to be David Foster Wallace when they grow up.”

“I thought I’d had another few decades before my noise complaint years. All this postcollegiate getting up early and not wearing jeans every day was starting to wear on my temperament. I thought, what if the city makes me hate the world? I thought of that expression about leaving New York before it makes you hard.”

“The side effects of growing up ‘just outside of [insert major urban center here] are many but practically intangible. This is logical given the fact that suburbia itself is a side effect and practically intangible.”

“Suburbia is too close to the country to have anything real to do and too close to the city to admit you have nothing real to do. Its purpose it to make it so you can identify with everything. We obviously grew up identifying with nothing.”

“My senior year of high school there was a fight in the boys’ locker room and some kid got his ear Van Goghed with a pocketknife. This wasn’t particularly shocking at the time but in college it recycled itself into a story. It’s not like I had been ‘knifed.’ Nor did I know anyone who was a good candidate for knifing. I hadn’t even been in the appropriate wing of the school to witness it. But I clung to the fact that I could have witnessed it as a way to make me feel as if I came from someplace I could point to, someplace where I could say, ‘This is where I come from. This is who I am.’”

“I am not globally conscious by nature, and find people who publicly strive to make the world a better place to be moderately annoying. I resent it when they laud their worthwhile hobbies over me. I resent them opening mountain climbing supply stores in urban areas. I resent them brandishing clipboards and petitions on the sidewalk and the not-kicking of puppies.”

“If remembering you had to be somewhere could take the shape of a person, it would be a mugger in an alley. There I was walking along the street, on my way to pick up my dry-cleaning, and a man in a black mask would pop out of nowhere with a gun made of guilt.”

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