‘If one has not the imagination to create characters, to knit plots, it does no good to jot down fragments of life and conversation, for alone they are disjointed and meaningless’
Sylvia Plath | The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962
For a long time when reading a book, I would just underline quotes I enjoyed and savour them for a few moments before moving on. Once at university I realised this was a real shame, I had taken to writing out the quotes I needed for essays and seminars from books I had taken out of the library, so why not the words of the writers I loved? And, since I never need an excuse to buy a new notebook, I decided to begin my book of other people’s words.
To begin I returned to my bookshelves and searched through the great and good for the passages I had underlined. I was surprised by how few I could find, in my mind I had underlined and savoured hundreds of jaw dropping sentences, but the reality was slap-dash and showed me to be not quite as diligent a reader as I was in my literary imagination. To make up for this I became somewhat too diligent for a while, copying out any passage or poem I deemed to be ‘rather good’. I have endless pages of passages by George Eliot and Dorothy Parker, all spectacularly formed, of course, but not passages I will treasure or that take my breath away.
Now I keep the book out of reach, so that each entry becomes more considered and intentional, it has improved the quality and relevance of the quotes that I save and record. In some ways the book feels as personal as a journal. Whilst a single choice may not give away much, there are subjects and feelings that appear over and over and would, I suppose, make me as easy to read as the books themselves. But, being careful to not give too much away, I thought I would record a few of my favourites here.
Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain unnoticed.
Leo Tolstoy | Anna Karenina
Naturally I shan’t break through the wall with my head, if I’m really not strong enough, but I won’t be reconciled to it simply because it’s a stone wall and I haven’t strength enough to break it down.
Fyodor Dostoevsky | Notes from the Underground
We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with out previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.
Milan Kundera | The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The longer your mother and I lived together, the more we took each others’ assumptions for granted, the less we said, the more we misunderstood.
Jonathan Safran Foer | Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
Haruki Murakami | Norwegian Wood
Most people would have found it grotesque, but when you’re in love nothing is so abstract or horrible that it can’t be thought cute.
David Sedaris | When You Were Engulfed in Flames
If you looked for things to make you feel hurt and wretched and unnecessary, you were certain to find them, more easily each time, so easily, soon, that you did not even realize you had gone out searching.
Dorothy Parker | The Lovely Leave
I’d love to read some of your favourite quotes and passages from books, I’m always looking to add to my collection.