Tag Archives: best quotes about reading

Reading Teaches that the Things that Torment Us Are the Things that Connect Us

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive. Only if we face these open wounds in ourselves can we understand them in other people. An artist is a sort of emotional or spiritual historian. His role is to make you realize the doom and glory of knowing who you are and what you are. He has to tell, because nobody else can tell, what it is like to be alive.”

Excerpt from an interview with James Baldwin, titled “Doom and Glory of Knowing Who You Are” by Jane Howard, that appeared in LIFE magazine on May 24, 1963. Baldwin’s quotation is often paraphrased as “It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

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The Comfort of Reading During Difficult Times

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s not easy living in the age of coronavirus. These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. How do we get through it? My thoughts drift to a young boy, dirty, destitute, and tired from working in a miserable factory job because his father was imprisoned in a debtor’s prison. That period of desperation and poverty motivated him to eventually achieve great artistic and financial success as a world-renown author. His name? Charles Dickens. However, the memories that misery and humiliation haunted him his entire life. At the peak of his success, Dickens confessed, “My whole nature was so penetrated with grief and humiliation of such considerations, that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time in my life.” In David Copperfield, his favorite and most autobiographical novel, we get a glimpse of how a young boy survived that dark period — he found comfort and escape in literature:

“I believe I should have been almost stupefied but for one circumstance. It was this. My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, — they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, — and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favourite characters in them — as I did — and by putting Mr. and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones – which I did too. I have been Tom Jones (a child’s Tom Jones, a harmless creature) for a week together. I have sustained my own idea of Roderick Random for a month at a stretch, I verily believe. I had a greedy relish for a few volumes of Voyages and Travels — I forget what, now — that were on those shelves; and for days and days I can remember to have gone about my region of our house, armed with the centre-piece out of an old set of boot-trees – the perfect realization of Captain Somebody, of the Royal British Navy, in danger of being beset by savages, and resolved to sell his life at a great price. The Captain never lost dignity, from having his ears boxed with the Latin Grammar. I did; but the Captain was a Captain and a hero, in despite of all the grammars of all the languages in the world, dead or alive.

This was my only and my constant comfort. When I think of it, the picture always rises in my mind, of a summer evening, the boys at play in the churchyard, and I sitting on my bed, reading as if for life. Every barn in the neighbourhood, every stone in the church, and every foot of the churchyard, had some association of its own, in my mind, connected with these books, and stood for some locality made famous in them. I have seen Tom Pipes go climbing up the church-steeple; I have watched Strap, with the knapsack on his back, stopping to rest himself upon the wicket-gate; and I know that Commodore Trunnion held that club with Mr. Pickle, in the parlour of our little village alehouse.” (Excerpt from chapter 4 of David Copperfield.)

Let us hope that the image of a scruffy young boy, huddled in the corner, reading a book inspires us to find the comfort of reading during the worst of times. Let us seek the wisdom of literature that reaffirms our shared humanity — however fragile and imperfect — and inspires empathy and understanding that will eventually lead to the best of times.

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Reading is Love in Action

alex atkins bookshelf books“In a world that can get too much, a world where we are running out of min space, fictional worlds are essential. They can be an escape from reality, yes, but not an escape from truth… A truth that can keep you sane, or at least keep you you… So often, reading is seen as important because of its social value. It is tied to education and the economy and so on. But that misses the whole point of reading. Reading isn’t important because it helps you get a job. It’s important because it gives you too to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action.”

From the essay Fiction is Freedom from the book Notes on a Nervous Planet by English novelist and journalist Matt Haig. He has published 20 books, including the best-selling nonfiction book, Reasons to Stay Alive (2015). The inspiration for the book came about when Haig pondered how we live in a modern world that is so fast-paced, consumer-driven, and stressful, where our physical health and mental health are intertwined. A review of all the sensational headlines in the news prompted the question: how can we live in a mad world without going mad ourselves?

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Reading Gives Us Someplace to Go When We Have to Stay Where We Are

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

This is a perfectly apt quotation about reading while we shelter in place during the coronavirus pandemic by Mason Cooley (1927-2002) an American aphorist. After earning his BA from San Diego State University and his Ph.D. from Oxford University, Colley was professor emeritus of world literature and French at the College of Staten Island at The City University of New York, an assistant professor of English (1959-1967) and an adjunct professor (1980-1980) at Columbia University. He is the author of The Comic Art of Barbara Pym (1980),  Aphorisms of the All-Too-Human (2002) and the City Aphorisms series. Here are some other Cooley aphorisms related to reading:

What I eat turns into my body. What I read turns into my mind.

Readers transform a library from a mausoleum into many theaters.

Reading more than life teaches us to recognize ethos and pathos.

Avid readers are enchanted by meaning, which available chiefly in books.

While we are reading, we are all Don Quixote.

If you do not throw in a few promises of better things to come, gloomy one, I am going to take you back to the library.

If I found the words I was looking for, I would not have read so much.

Reading civilized the inner life.

There are different rules for reading, for thinking, and for talking. Writing blends all three of them.

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A Book Can Be Lost But Its Truth and Poetry Remain With You Forever

alex atkins bookshelf booksIn My Life in Paris and Rome, James Arbuthnot (1799-1880) discussed a dedicated book lover that lived in his apartment building in Paris, France. “There was a very ancient man, who had a room above my apartment. His was a sad story; he had been tutor to a noble family but he had been abandoned by his employers in the upheavals of the Revolution. Fearing that their castle would be looted, he had fled, taking with him some of the rarest volumes in their library. Now, in distressed circumstances he was selling off his little hoard book by book. ‘But, do not pity me’ he said, ‘all I sell is the [leather] binding; the truth and poetry remain with me‘; and he would tap his dry, old pate.” (Emphasis added.)

What a beautiful sentiment: the truth and poetry remain with me. In the context of today’s world, we can rephrase it this way: books can disappear — they can be lost, banned, or burned — but once read, their truth and poetry remain with you for a lifetime, providing a wellspring of inspiration and insight. And no one can ever take that away from you. Share this story with a book lover you know.

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My Best Friend is a Person Who Will Give Me a Book I Have Not Read

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.”

The quotation is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Although the phrase is not found in any of his writings, most likely it is a paraphrase of something he said. There are two sources that confirm this and both reveal a rather hayseed diction, inconsistent with the eloquence we expect from Lincoln. The first, is from Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926): “The next thing Abe would be reading between the plow handles, it seems to them. And once trying to speak a last word, Dennis Hanks [Lincoln’s cousin] said, “There’s suthin’ peculairsome about Abe.” Maybe in books he would find the answers to dark questions pushing around in the pools of this thoughts and the drifts of his mind. He told Dennis and other people, ‘The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll git me a book I ain’t read.” The second is a variation of that first source, found in the essay “Abe Lincoln and His Books” by Frances Cavanah included in the Wilson Library Bulletin (Volume 28, 1953): “For he was one of that fortunate group to whom a book could open a new world. ‘My best friend,’ he told his cousin, Dennis Hanks, ‘is a man who can give me a book I ain’t read.'”

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I’ve Gone to the End of the World on the Wings of Words

alex atkins bookshelf quotations[Mrs. Merrett gives a book to American Dr. William Chester Minor, a patient at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum] Dr. Minor (the madman) responds: “You read? I will guess which one it is [if you provide me with] a paragraph, a sentence. [She turns and walks away, looking downward, ashamed]. Mrs. Merrett… What did I do? You cannot read. Forgive me, I should not have presumed. I do not need you to bring books Mrs. Merrett. It is your visits… I can teach you [to read]. Oh please, let me teach you. You can teach your children. It’s freedom, Mrs. Merrett. I can fly out of this place on the backs of books. I’ve gone to the end of the world on the wings of words. When I read, no one is after me. When I read, I am the one who is chasing, chasing after God. Please I beg you… join the chase.”

From the film, The Professor and the Madman (2019), by John Boorman and Todd Komarnicki based on the book The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. To set up the historical context, at the time that Shakespeare was writing his plays and sonnets, there were no English dictionaries. The first English dictionaries only began being published around the time of Shakespeare’s death (1616). Winchester writes: “The English language was spoken and written — but at the time of Shakespeare it was not defined, not fixed. It was like the air — it was taken for granted, the medium that enveloped and defined all Britons. But as to exactly what it was, what its components were — who knew?” Thus, it was very important to academics to develop the first, definitive English dictionary. When James Murray, a Scottish philologist and lexicographer (by trade, a former schoolmaster and bank clerk) began compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1879 (although work had begun as early as 1857 but stalled), he sought the public’s assistance in providing entries (word with quotations from notable sources) for the dictionary. Dr. Minor contributed more than 10,000 entries in a period of 20 years. Throughout that period, Murray, grateful for Minor’s enormous contribution, invited him to Oxford so that he could visit the Scriptorium and meet the team. Finally, Murray travels to Crowthorne to visit Minor only to discover that he was incarcerated for life at a criminal lunatic asylum. After serving in the American Civil War, Minor suffered delusions that militant Irishmen were coming to kill him; one night, he ran out pursuing one of his imagined assassins, George Merrett, a brewery worker on his way to work (sadly, at the wrong place at the wrong time), and shot him several times. Minor’s army pension allowed him to live in Broadmoor and maintain a vast personal library of classic works; Minor also directed a portion of his resources to support the Merrett’s widow. Writing those dictionary entry slips, was perhaps, the madman’s therapy as well as his attempt at redemption. That activity also formed the foundation for a very profound, respectful friendship with a fellow word lover. When Murray first began work on the OED he told the delegates of the Oxford University Press that it would take seven to ten years. He was wildly optimistic. The first edition was completed, 13 years after he died. The first edition was published in 1928 — 50 years after Murray had begun; the dictionary, published in ten volumes, contained 414,825 words and 1.8 million citations to illustrate the keywords.

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A Reader Lives a Thousand Lives Before He Dies

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

From George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in the sprawling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, the source of HBO’s highly acclaimed series, Game of Thrones. The quotation appears in chapter 34, when Jojen Reed is talking to Bran Strark. Jojen, a member of the House Reed, possesses greensight, the power of prophetic green dreams. Although Jojen has greensight, he is not a greenseer, as he explains to Bran: “No, [I am not a greenseer] only a boy who dreams. The greenseers were more than that. They were wargs [a skinchanger, a person with the ability to enter the mind of an animal and control its actions] as well, as you are, and the greatest of them could wear the skins of any beast that flies or swims or crawls, and could look through the eyes of the weirwoods [deciduous trees of Westerns that have blood red leaves and bone white trunks] as well, and see the truth that lies beneath the world.”

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Why Reading and Diction are Critical to the Writer


Serendipitous Discoveries in Used Bookstores

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Still, anyone with a taste for wonder — not all, apparently, have it — should learn to haunt used bookstores, even more than stores that sell new books… Each person should take pains to scout his own city on this score… The used bookstore, unlike the catalogue or even the library, puts us in a place where we can come across and buy some unsuspected title that turns out to get at the essence of what is.

From Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education by James Schall, S.J.

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I Am the Culmination of a Lifetime of Reading

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Who I am, what I am, is the culmination of a lifetime of reading, a lifetime of stories. And there are still so many more books to read. I’m a work in progress.”

American author Sarah Addison Allen, the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon.


The 300 Book Vacation

alex atkins bookshelf booksMeet Hope Faith Wiggins — a sweet and precocious 8-year-old girl from Aldine, Texas who is a real inspiration for book lovers around the world. Her family could not afford a summer vacation, so Hope used her imagination and took a different kind a vacation — a voyage through the world of books. Specifically, she pledged to read 300 books before school began on August 19. Her proud mother reflected on the 300-book vacation: “The library opened up so many worlds. It was like a vacation, but inside our house.” Hope made dozens of trips to the library, collecting books by the armful, to exceed her goal. By mid-August, she had read 302 books. Hope’s profound love of books is infectious; she explains: “I like reading a lot because it’s fun. It’s like being inside of a whole other world. You can imagine that you’re the character, and for me, one thing that happens when I read a book or watch a video is I dream about it.”

One of her favorite books is Our Enduring Spirit: President Barack Obama’s First Words to America. Hope recently experienced something very tragic: she lost a close childhood friend to cancer. Each day she wears a yellow bow in her hair to keep the memory of her friend alive. It is that profound loss that inspired her dream career: to be a pediatric oncologist. She is certainly well on her way — the best education, as many philosophers and writers know so well, is self-education motivated by the insatiable thirst for knowledge. Moreover, at such a young age, Hope understands the importance of having a good heart as well as a good head; in the words of another inspirational and remarkable human being, Nelson Mendala: “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” Indeed, the world is a better place because of Hope.

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For further reading: www.bookstr.com/8-year-old-girl-has-already-read-more-300-books-achieve-her-summer-goal


The Wisdom of Marcel Proust

atkins bookshelf quotationsMarcel Proust (born Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust, 1871; died in 1922) was a French novelist considered by many literary critics as one of the greatest authors of all time. Proust is best known for his brilliant and imaginative magnum opus,  À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Thing Past) published between 1913 to 1927. But don’t expect to find In Search of Lost Time on many campus syllabi — the novel spanning 7 volumes  3,031 pages, containing more than 1,267,069 words, and more than 2,000 characters — is a daunting read; not surprisingly, it is one of the longest novels of all time. At best, during a semester, a college course can focus on a particular book or excerpts from the seven books.

The semi-autobiographical novel explores the narrator’s life (M, a young man who wants to be a writer) through very nuanced (and often melancholic) memories and reflections, that are often triggered by a sensory experiences (eg., eating a madeleine). In short, the novel is like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that gradually comes together, piece by piece. If you could summarize the book in one sentence, this quote from the book comes close: “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” Here are some of the most beautifully-written, insightful reflections from Proust’s literary works.

“Reading is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.”

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book.”

“Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.”

“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. The lives that you admire, the attitudes that seem noble to you, have not been shaped by a paterfamilias or a schoolmaster, they have sprung from very different beginnings, having been influenced by evil or commonplace that prevailed round them. They represent a struggle and a victory.”

At times the reading of a novel that was at all sad carried me suddenly back, for certain novels are like great but temporary bereavements, abolishing habit, bringing us once more into contact with the reality of life, but for a few hours only, like a nightmare, since the force of habit, the oblivion it creates, the gaiety it restores to us because of the powerlessness of the brain to fight against it and to re-create the truth, infinitely outweigh the almost hypnotic suggestion of a good book which, like all such influences, has very transient effects.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

“My destination is no longer a place, rather a new way of seeing.”

“Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world only, our own, we see that world multiply itself and we have at our disposal as many worlds as there are original artists, worlds more different one from the other than those which revolve in infinite space, worlds which, centuries after the extinction of the fire from which their light first emanated, whether it is called Rembrandt or Vermeer, send us still each one its special radiance.”

“There is no one, no matter how wise he is, who has not in his youth said things or done things that are so unpleasant to recall in later life that he would expunge them entirely from his memory if that were possible.”

“It is often hard to bear the tears that we ourselves have caused.”

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.”

“We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”

“Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.”

“Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade.”

“Love is not vain because it is frustrated, but because it is fulfilled. The people we love turn to ashes when we posess them.”

“The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.”

“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.”

“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have of them.”

“The thirst for something other than what we have… to bring something new, even if it is worse, some emotion, some sorrow; when our sensibility, which happiness has silenced like an idle harp, wants to resonate under some hand, even a rough one, and even if it might be broken by it.”

READ THE WORKS OF PROUST
               

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Why Reading and Diction are Critical to the Writer

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“The greatest symbol of what writing is about is the full text version of the Oxford English Dictionary… the physical enormity of the printed text gives a writer a sense of humility (if that is still possible), because the mountain to be scaled is the language. Auden used to sit on the first volume while at the dinner table, the better to stay even with language and with dinner. Any good teacher I’ve ever had—and the best was John McPhee—stressed the enormity of choice English provides, its capacity for clarity and ambiguity, dullness and thrill. It is the greatest invention ever devised (and re-devised). And, of course, the only way to get anywhere as a writer is to have read ceaselessly and then read some more. [Ezra] Pound says somewhere that it is incredible to him that so many [so-called] poets simply pick up a pen and start writing verse and call it poetry, while a would-be pianist knows full well how necessary it is to master scales and thousands of exercises before making music worthy of the name. Playing scales, for a writer, means reading. Is there any real writing that has no reading behind it? I don’t think so.”

David Remnick, journalist, writer and editor of The New Yorker magazine.

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For further reading: Advice to Writers by Jon Winokur (1999)

 


We Read to Find Out Who We Are

atkins-bookshelf-quotations“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, American author and poet, best known for her fantasy and science fiction novels, most notably the Earthsea fantasy series. In 2001, Le Guin was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. A short time later, in 2014, she was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a lifetime achievement award, by the National Book Foundation.


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