“Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched—criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led—this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.”
Archive for the ‘Quotes from this week’s reading’ Category
There’s never any knowing—(how am I to put it?)—which of our actions, which of our idlenesses won’t have things hanging on it for ever.
—E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread
“I’ve never met a really good writer who lives in high style. I think a stylish life is unsuitable to the writer, and very often in the house where there’s a mild disorder one finds the writer with the best powers of organising his work. Order where order is due.”
Muriel Spark— “The Poet’s House”
(I’m counting the days until this book comes out!)
“No doubt it has happened to many of you to pick up in a happy moment some book or pamphlet or copy of verse which just says the word you have unconsciously been listening for, almost craving to speak for yourself, and so sends you off hot-foot on the trail. And if you have had that experience, it may also have happened to you that, after ranging, you returned on the track ‘like faithful hound returning,’ in gratitude, or to refresh the scent; and that, picking up the book again, you found it no such wonderful book after all, or that some of the magic had faded by process of the change in yourself which itself had originated. But the word was spoken.”
—from The Art of Reading by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having—a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point needless to say…
More Baths, Less Talking by Nick Hornby
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
On William, a highly intelligent medical student with an impoverished background:
“What moved and astonished me most was that he knew no nursery rhymes and fairy stories. He had read Dostoevsky, Proust, he read Aristotle and Sophocles in Gree. He had read Chaucer and Spenser. He was musical. He could analyse Shostakovich and Bartok. He quoted Schopenhauer. But he didn’t know Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet, the Three Bears, Red Riding-Hood. He knew the story of Cinderella only through Rossini’s opera. And all that sweet lyricism of our Anglo-Saxon childhood, a whole culture with rings on its fingers and bells on its toes, had been lost to him in that infancy of slums and smelly drains, rats and pawnshops, street prostitutes, curses, rags and hacking coughs, freezing bare feet and no Prince Charmings, which had still been the lot of the really poor in the years between the first and second world wars. I had never before realized how the very poor people of the cities had inevitably been deprived of their own simple folklore of childhood.”
On why writers should have cats:
“Alone with the cat in the room where you work, I explained, the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk-lamp…will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration and give your mind back the self-command it has lost. You need noto watch the cat all the time. Its presence alone is enough. The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.”
“‘You are writing a letter to a friend,’ was the sort of thing I used to say. ‘And this is a dear and close friend, real—or better—invented in your mind like a fixation. Write privately, not publicly; without fear or timidity, right to the end of the letter, as if it was never going to be published, so that your true friend will read it over and over, and then want more enchanting letters from you. Now, you are not writing about the relationship between your friend and yourself; you take that for granted. You are only confiding an experience that you think only he will enjoy reading. What you have to say will come out more spontaneously and honestly than if you are thinking of numerous readers. Before starting the letter rehearse in your mind what you are going to tell; something interesting, your story. But don’t rehearse too much, the story will develop as you go along, especially if you write to a special friend, man or woman, to make them smile or laugh or cry, or anything you like so long as you know it will interest. Remember not to think of the reading public, it will put you off.”
—from A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
An SS noncommissioned officer came to meet us, a truncheon in his hand. He gave the order:
“Men to the left! Women to the right!”
Eight words spoken quietly, indifferently, without emotion. Eight short, simple words. Yet that was the moment when I parted from my mother. I had not had time to think, but already I felt the pressure of my father’s hand: we were alone. For a part of a second I glimpsed my mother and my sisters moving away to the right. Tzipora held Mother’s hand. I saw them disappear into the distance: my mother was stroking my sister’s fair hair, as though to protect her, while I walked on with my father and the other men. And I did not know that in that place, at that moment, I was parting from my mother and Tzipora forever. I went on walking. My father held onto my hand.
—from Night by Elie Wiesel, on his family’s arrival at Auschwitz in 1944
“During the tour I became separated from the group, and, searching blindly through the corridors of the Galleria dell’Accademia, I came upon the statue from the wrong direction. Suddenly there it was. My first glimpse of it was from the reverse. It is normally viewed from the front, and from that direction one sees a powerful body firmly planted on the earth, poised, balanced, muscular, set in its essential form, like the triumph of the will.
“But I saw it first from an entirely different vantage point: viewed from behind, the figure appeared to be glancing back over his shoulder. The image of the noble torso was dominated by David’s facial expression. The eyes, the mouth, the brows, and the sinews of the face were taut with an emotion that is so quintessentially human: a split second of uncertainty and a groping for faith, the moment when courage overcomes terror—not as animal instinct but as a spiritual decision. From the front it appears as an embodiment of confident resolve; from the rear it is about doubt. That was the artist’s intention, and that is its word. It is concerned above all with the struggle of the human spirit.”
—from Strangers and Sojourners, Michael D. O’Brien