POPSCRATCH
READING


Til death did end their grief

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How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

“When the music was done, I shrieked at Julian Castle, who was transfixed, too, ‘My God — life! Who can understand even one little minute of it?’

‘Don’t try,’ he said. ‘Just pretend you understand.’

‘That’s — that’s very good advice,’ I went limp.”

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not.”

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
The Black House by Patricia Highsmith

“Diane felt that she had lost herself. Since repairing that basked, she wasn’t any longer Diane Clarke, not completely, anyway. Neither was she anybody else, of course. It wasn’t that she felt she had assumed the identity, even partially, of some remote ancestor. How remote, anyway? No. She felt rather that she was living with a great many people from the past, that they were in her brain or mind (Diane did not believe in a soul, and found the idea of a collective unconscious too vague to be of importance), and that people from human antecedents were bound up with her, influencing her, controlling her every bit as much as, up to now, she had been controlling herself.” (From “The Terrors of Basket-Weaving”)

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
Mary by Vladimir Nabokov

“He spent about an hour drinking coffee, staring at a picture window and watching the passers-by. Back in his room he tried to read, but he found the contents of his book so alien and inappropriate that he abandoned it in the middle of a subordinate clause. He was in the kind of mood that he called ‘dispersion of the will.’ He sat motionless at his table unable to decide what to do: to shift the position of his body, to get up and wash his hands, or to open the window, outside which the bleak day was fading into twilight. It was a dreadful, agonizing state rather like that dull sense of unease when we wake up but at first cannot open our eyelids, as though they were stuck together for good. Ganin felt that the murky twilight which was gradually seeping into the room was also slowly penetrating his body, transforming his blood into fog, and that he was powerless to stop the spell that was being cast on him by the twilight.

“He was powerless because he had no precise desire, and this tortured him because he was vainly seeking something to desire. He could not even make himself stretch out his hand to switch on the light. The simple transition from intention to action seemed an unimaginable miracle. Nothing relieved his depression, his thoughts slithered aimlessly, his heartbeat was faint, his underclothes stuck unpleasantly to his body.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“Notice: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

“According to the book, the Fool card has always been fundamental: the Fool’s number, 0, is a whole, a world, a circle; it is the non-existence that allows and precedes all other existence. The Fool card may therefore represent the basic nature of all of us: someone in an original state of being or enlightenment who is wandering around with few cares or possessions, uncorrupted by culture. This person seems foolish only to those who are unenlightened. The card also shows the innocent, natural wonder of stepping out into the unknown. We may assume that stepping over a cliff is dangerous, but perhaps the Fool knows he is simply stepping onto the next ledge down. We can’t see what’s beyond the card: it might be safety; it might be death. But he can see what we can’t.”

“The whole point of a storyless story, she said, is the subtle rejection of story within its own structure. In this sense, the storyless story is almost what we would recognize as metafiction, but more delicate. Rather than being similar to a snake swallowing its own tail (or tale) the storyless story is closer to a snake letting go of itself. … The storyless story has no moral centre. It is not something from which a reader should strive to learn something, but rather a puzzle or a paradox with no ‘answer’ or ‘solution,’ except for false ones. The reader is not encouraged to ‘get into’ the storyless story but to stay outside. … Characters in storyless stories, she said, didn’t worry about what they wore or said or did. They were Fools stepping over the edge of the cliff on all our behalves, so that we can also step out of the restrictive frame of contemporary Western narrative. Surely, she argued, we should have stories not to tell us how to live and turn our lives into copies of stories, but to prevent us from having to fictionalise ourselves.”

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

“Then to my morning work. First I take an axe and pail and go in search of water, if that be not a dream. After a cold and snowy night it needed a divining-rod to find it. Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half, so that it will support the heaviest teams, and perchance the snow covers it to an equal depth, and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more. Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet is well as over our heads.”

Bone: Dying into Life by Marion Woodman
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

“As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma, — literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger: while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulence, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.

“Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say, — Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

“Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.”

Intoxicated by My Illness and Other Writings on Life and Death by Anatole Broyard
The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown
The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics by Arthur W. Frank
Coming & Crying by Melissa Gira Grant and Meaghan O'Connell (eds.)
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne
This All Happened by Michael Winter

“When you describe an experience, what you are recounting is your memory of the act, not the act itself. Experiencing a moment is an inarticulate act. There are no words. It is in the sensory world. To recall it and to put words to it is to illustrate how one remembers the past, rather than actually experiencing the past. Keep this in mind as you read to words of others as they remember an incident.”

“Catholics rehearse their stories. They tell stories over and over. The same story, torquing it a little, realizing a certain detail is not working, adding stuff. I’ve heard the same two dozen stories out of Lydia about thirty times. And then there are the daily stories. Events that happen that she recounts. She’ll tell me, and then she’ll call Daphne, and then her brother phones and she tells her brother. The thing I find interesting about this story-telling thing is that if you heard only one of these stories, you’d think she was telling it for the first time. The enthusiasm behind it. That’s definitely a Catholic thing. Protestants tell a story once and it’s over with. They feel self-conscious to tell the story again. They are aware of who has already heard the story. Protestants tell a story best the first time; Catholics, the last time.”

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence

“‘If we go on at our present rate then in a hundred years’ time there won’t be ten thousand people in this island: there may not be ten. They’ll have lovingly wiped each other out.’ The thunder was rolling further away.

“‘How nice!’ she said.

“‘Quite nice! To contemplate the extermination of the human species and the long pause that follows before some other species crops up, it calms you more than anything else. And if we go on in this way, with everybody, intellectuals, artists, government, industrialists and workers all frantically killing off the last human feeling, the last bit of their intuition, the last healthy instinct; if it goes on in algebraical progression, as it is going on: then ta-tah! to the human species! Goodbye! darling! the serpent swallows itself and leaves a void, considerably messed up, but not hopeless.’”

Nine Ways to Disappear by Lilli Carré
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (trans. Katherine Woods)

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

“Grace thought to herself how different all this was going to look in a few weeks, when it had become familiar. Houses are entirely different when you know them well, she thought, and on first acquaintance even more different from their real selves, more deceptive about their real character than human beings. As with human beings, you can have an impression, that is all. Her impression of Bellandargues was entirely favourable, one of hot, sleepy, beautiful magnitude. She longed to be on everyday terms with it, to know the rooms that lay behind the vast windows of the first floor, to know what happened around the corner of the terrace, and where the staircase led to, just visible in the interior darkness. It is a funny feeling to visit your home for the first time and have to be taken about step by step like a blind person.”

You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

“‘You know, eating’s much more important than most people think. There comes a time in your life when you’ve just got to have something super-delicious. And when you’re standing at that crossroads your whole life can change, depending on which one you go into — the good restaurant or the awful one. It’s like — do you fall on this side of the fence, or the other side.” (From “Crabs”)

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

“‘But, before we can go any further, you’ve got to make up your minds what this novel actually is about.’

“They spend the rest of the hour making up their minds.

“At first, as always, there is a blank silence. The class sits staring, as it were, at the semantically prodigious word. About. What is it about? Well, what does George want them to say it’s about? They’ll say it’s about anything he likes, anything at all. For nearly all of them, despite their academic training, deep, deep down still regard this about business as a tiresomely sophisticated game. As for the minority who have cultivated the about approach until it has become second nature, who dream of writing an about book of their own one day, on Faulkner, James or Conrad, proving definitively that all previous about books on that subject are about nothing — they aren’t going to say anything yet awhile. They are waiting for the moment when they can come forward like star detectives with the solution to Huxley’s crime. Meanwhile, let the little ones flounder. Let the mud be stirred up, first.”

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

“If the earth were one unified island, a smooth ball, we would all be one species, a tremulous muck. The fact is that when you get down to the business of species formation, you eventually hit some form of reproductive isolation. Cells tend to fuse. Cells tend to engulf each other; primitive creatures tend to move in on each other and on us, to colonize, aggregate, blur. … As much of the world’s energy seems to be devoted to keeping us apart as it was directed to bringing us here in the first place. … Geography is the key, the crucial accident of birth.” (From “Life on the Rocks: The Galápagos”)

The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

“Staring out through the window, off into the horizon, Abby began to think that all the beauty and ugliness and turbulence one found scattered through nature, one could also find in people themselves, all collected there, all together in a single place. No matter what terror or loveliness the earth could produce — winds, seas — a person could produce the same, lived with the same, lived with all that mixed-up nature swirling inside, every bit. There was nothing as complex in the world — no flower or stone — as a single hello from a human being.” (From “Which Is More Than I Can Say About Some People”)

“It seemed to her that everything she had ever needed to know in her life she had known at one time or another, but she just hadn’t known all those things at once, at the same time, at a single moment. They were scattered through and she had had to leave and forget one in order to get to another. A shadow fell across her, inside her, and she could feel herself retreat to that place in her bones where death was and you greeted it like an acquaintance in a room; you said hello and were then ready for whatever was next — which might be a guide, the guide that might be sent to you, the guide to lead you back out into your life again.” (From “Terrific Mother”)

The Man of Mode, or Sir Fopling Flutter by Sir George Etherege
The Old English Baron by Clara Reeve
Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (Vol. 6) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
Shamela by Henry Fielding
Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson

Re-read for an eighteenth-century British literature course.

Roxana by Daniel Defoe
The History of the Nun; or the Fair Vow-Breaker by Aphra Behn
The Country Wife by William Wycherley
Inkle and Yarico: An Opera in Three Acts by George Colman
The Convent of Pleasure by Margaret Cavendish
Hearing Secret Harmonies by Anthony Powell

“Two compensations for growing old are worth putting on record as the condition asserts itself. The first is a vantage point gained for acquiring embellishments to narratives that have been unfolding for years beside one’s own, trimmings that can even appear to supply the conclusion of a given story, though finality is never certain, a dimension always possible to add. The other mild advantage endorses a keener perception for the authenticities of mythology, not only of the traditional sort, but — when such are any good — the latterday mythologies of poetry and the novel.”

Trapnel: “People think because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel’s invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can’t include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding. The biographer, even at his highest and best, can be only tentative, empirical. The autobiographer, for his part, is imprisoned in his own egotism. He must always be suspect. In contrast with the other two, the novelist is a god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk. The man, created in his own image, provides information about the god. In a sense you know more about Balzac and Dickens from their novels, than Rousseau and Casanova from their Confessions.”

Temporary Kings by Anthony Powell

“The Venetian trip, contrary to the promises of Mark Members, had not renewed energies for writing. All the same, established priorities, personal continuities, the confused scheme of things making up everyday life, all revived, routines proceeding much as before. The Conference settled down in the mind as a kind of dream, one of those dreams laden with the stuff of real life, stopping just the right side of nightmare, yet leaving disturbing undercurrents to haunt the daytime, clogging sources of imagination — whatever those may be — causing their enigmatic flow to ooze more sluggishly than ever, periodically to cease entirely.”

Books Do Furnish a Room by Anthony Powell

“The General, speaking one felt with authority, always insisted that, if you bring off adequate preservation of your personal myth, nothing much else in life matters. It is not what happens to people that is significant, but what they think happens to them.”

The Military Philosophers by Anthony Powell

“As I uttered the last letter, scales fell from my eyes. Everything was transformed. It all came back — like the tea-soaked madeleine itself — in a torrent of memory … Cabourg … We had just driven out of Cabourg … out of Proust’s Balbec. [……]

“Proustian musings still hung in the air when we came down to the edge of the water. It had been a notable adventure. True, an actual night passed in one of the bedrooms of the Grand Hotel itself — especially, like Finn’s, an appropriately sleepless one — might have crowned the magic of the happening. At the same time, a faint sense of disappointment superimposed on an otherwise absorbing inner experience was in its way suitably Proustian too: a reminder of the eternal failure of human life to respond a hundred per cent; to rise to the greatest heights without allowing at the same time some suggestion, however slight, to take shape in indication that things could have been even better.”

The Soldier's Art by Anthony Powell

“Friendship, popularly represented as something simple and straightforward — in contrast with love — is perhaps no less complicated, requiring equally mysterious nourishment; like love, too, bearing also within its embryo inherent seeds of dissolution, something more fundamentally destructive, perhaps, than the mere passing of time, the all-obliterating march of events.”

Obasan by Joy Kagawa

“Where do any of us come from in this cold country? … We come from the country that plucks its people out like weeds and flings them into the roadside. … We grow where we are not seen, we flourish where we are not heard, the thick undergrowth of unlikely planting. … We come from cemeteries full of skeletons with wild roses in their grinning teeth. We come from our untold tales that wait for their telling. We come from Canada, this land that is like every land, filled with the wise, the fearful, the compassionate, the corrupt.”

What We All Long For by Dionne Brand
The Valley of Bones by Anthony Powell
A Walk in the Night and Other Stories by Alex La Guma

“The pub, like pubs all over the world, was a place for debate and discussion, for the exchange of views and opinions, for argument and for the working out of problems. It was a forum, a parliament, a fountain of wisdom and a cesspool of nonsense, it was a center for the lost and the despairing, where cowards absorbed dutch courage out of small glasses and leaned against the shiny, scratched and polished mahogany counter for support against the crushing burdens of insignificant lives. Where the disillusioned gained temporary hope, where acts of kindness were considered and murders planned.”

What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin
The Kindly Ones by Anthony Powell

“Bracey certainly had a high regard for my father. Verbal description of everything, however, must remain infinitely distant from the thing itself, overstatement and understatement sometimes hitting off the truth better than a flat assertion of bare fact. Bearing in mind, therefore, the all but hopeless task of attempting to express accurately the devious involutions of human character and emotions, you might equally have said with some authenticity that Billson was loved by Bracey, while Billson herself loved Albert. […] To make these clumsy statements about an immensely tenuous complex of relationships without hedging them in with every kind of limitation of meaning would be to give a very wrong impression of the kitchen at Stonehurst. At the same time, the situation must basically have resolved itself to something very like these uncompromising terms: a triangular connexion which, by its own awful, eternal infelicity, could almost be regarded by those most concerned as absolutely in the nature of things.”

Casanova's Chinese Restaurant by Anthony Powell

“A future marriage, or a past one, may be investigated and explained in terms of writing by one of its parties, but it is doubtful whether an existing marriage can ever be described directly in the first person and convey a sense of reality. Even those writers who suggest some of the substance of married life best, stylise heavily, losing the subtlety of the relationship at the price of a few accurately recorded, but isolated, aspects. To think at all objectively about one’s own marriage is impossible, while a balanced view of other people’s marriage is almost equally hard to achieve with so much information available, so little to be believed. Objectivity is not, of course, everything in writing; but if one has cast objectivity aside, the difficulties of presenting marriage are inordinate. Its forms are at once so varied, yet so constant, providing a kaleidoscope, the colours of which are always changing, always the same. The moods of a love affair, the contradictions of friendship, the jealously of business partners, the fellow feeling of opposed commanders in total war, these are all in their way to be charted. Marriage, partaking of such — and a thousand more — dual antagonisms and participations, finally defies definition.”

“Probability is the bane of the age … Every Tom, Dick, and Harry thinks he knows what is probable. The fact is most people have not the smallest idea what is going on round them. Their conclusions about life are based on utterly irrelevant — and usually inaccurate — premises.”

At Lady Molly’s by Anthony Powell
The Acceptance World by Anthony Powell

“But, in a sense, nothing in life is planned — or everything is — because in the dance every step is ultimately the corollary of the step before; the consequence of being the type of person one chances to be.”

“One could not help thinking how extraordinarily unlike “the real thing” was this particular representation of a pair of lovers; indeed, how indifferently, at almost every level except the highest, the ecstasies and bitterness of love are at once conveyed in art. So much of the truth remains finally unnegotiable; in spite of the fact that most persons in love go through remarkably similar experiences. … The matter was presented as all too easy, the twin flames of dual egotism reduced almost to nothing, so that there was no pain; and, for that matter, almost no pleasure.
……
“The fact remained that an infinity of relevant material had been deliberately omitted from that vignette of love in action. These two supposedly good-looking persons were, in effect, going through the motions of love in such a manner as to convince others, perhaps less well equipped for the struggle than themselves, that they, too, the spectators, could be easily identified with some comparable tableau. They, too, could sit embracing on crimson chairs. Although hard to define with precision the exact point at which a breach of honesty had occurred, there could be no doubt that this performance included an element of the confidence-trick.
……
“Perhaps, in spite of everything, the couple on the postcard could not be dismissed so easily. It was in their world that I seemed now to find myself.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

“The aim is to warm up your glands with a series of jolts. The worst thing in the world for the body is to settle down and lead a quiet little life of regular habits; if you do that it soon resigns itself to old age and death. Shock your glands, force them to react, startle them back into youth, keep them on tip-toe so that they never know what to expect next, and they have to keep young and healthy to deal with all the surprises.”

“A wife must always be on the look-out, men are so lazy by nature, for example, Montdore is for ever trying to have a little nap in the afternoon, but I won’t hear of it, once you begin that, I tell him, you are old, and people who are old find themselves losing interest, dropping out of things and then they might as well be dead.”

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

“She saw him arguing with himself, calculating the most noble thing to do. The thing that would require the most sacrifice. Weighing his guilt against his desire to go. He must be picturing her along in the house, with only Maya as her silent companion. And then himself in an army uniform. Which would be worse? He would choose that.”

Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Submerged by A. L. Barker
Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen
Dracula by Bram Stoker
JPod by Douglas Coupland
Magic for Beginners (Stories) by Kelly Link

“The ants have marched away, through the woods, and down into town, and they have built a nest on your yard, out of the bits of Time. And if you hold magnifying glass over their nest, to see the ants dance and burn, Time will catch fire and you will be sorry.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (trans. Alison Anderson)

“The death of a concierge leaves a slight indentation on everyday life, belongs to a biological certainty that has nothing tragic about it and, for the apartment owners who encountered him every day in the stairs or at the door to our loge, Lucien was a non-entity who was merely returning to a nothingness from which he had never fully emerged, a creature who, because he had lived only half a life, with neither luxury or artifice, must at the moment of his death have felt no more than half a shudder of revolt.”

The Camel by Lord Berners
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

“I didn’t know whether this was interesting — that we were both thinking the same gruesome thing — or even whether it was actually the case. Perhaps it was just rhetorical ESP: Kreskin’s Guide to Etiquette. But even if it was true, that we were about to say the same thing, did this connect us in some deep, private way? Or was it just a random obviousness shared between strangers? The deeper life between two people I had yet to read with confidence. It seemed a kind of vaporous text that kept revising its very alphabet.”

“I was like every kid who had grown up in the country, allowing the weather — good or bad — to describe life for me: its mocking, its magic, its contradictions, its moody grip. Why not? One was helpless before everything.”

Mother and Son by Ivy Compton-Burnett

“‘Perhaps we are sound at heart. That is said of people who are unusually unpleasant.’
  ‘Why is it said of them?’
  ‘Well, they are clearly sound nowhere else, and we cannot see the heart.’”’

“‘There is probably nothing like living together for blinding people to each other,’ said Francis.
  ‘In the case of Mrs. Pettigrew and myself time has added to our mutual understanding. But I must not adduce my own experience as typical.’
  ‘Everything adds to understanding,’ said Alice. ‘That is why people seem better when you don’t really know them, and why new friendships are often best.’
  ‘Now that is an attempt to be cynical,’ said Mr. Pettigrew.
  ‘And a successful one,’ said Francis.”

The Tent by Margaret Atwood

“At this the dictionaries began to untwist,
and time stalled and reversed;
the sweaters wound back into their balls of wool,
which rolled bleating out into the meadows;

Squashed mice were shot backwards out of traps,
brides and grooms uncoupled like shunting trains,
tins of sardines exploded, releasing their wiggling shoals;
dinosaur bones whizzed like missiles
out of museums back to the badlands,
and bullets flew sizzling into their guns.

and everywhere
the children shrank and began to
drop teeth and grow hair.”

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham

“When the thing of beauty has given me the magic of its sensation my mind quickly wanders; I listen with incredulity to the persons who tell me that they can look with rapture for hours at a view or a picture. Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. … But people add other qualities to beauty — sublimity, human interest, tenderness, love — because beauty does not long content them. Beauty is perfect, and perfection (such is human nature) holds our attention but for a little while. … Too much has been written about beauty. That is why I have written a little more. Beauty is that which satisfies the aesthetic instinct. But who wants to be satisfied? It is only to the dullard that enough is as good as a feast. Let us face it: beauty is a bit of a bore.”

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

“The accumulation of consecutive rooms in his memory now resembled those displays of grouped elbow chairs on show, and beds, and lamps, and inglenooks which, ignoring all space-time distinctions, commingle in the soft light of a furniture store beyond which it snows, and the dusk deepens, and nobody really loves anybody.”

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

“The state liquor stamps over the tops of tequila bottles in the stores were coming unstuck, is how dry the air was. Liquor-store owners could be filling those bottles with anything anymore. Jets were taking off the wrong way from the airport, the engine sounds were not passing across the sky where they should have, so everybody’s dreams got disarranged, when people could get to sleep at all. In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there’d only be the same hot cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight.”

Mere Anarchy by Woody Allen

“The existential catastrophe for Schopenhauer was not so much eating as munching. Schopenhauer railed against the aimless nibbling of peanuts and potato chips while one engaged in other activities. Once munching has begun, Schopenhauer held, the human will cannot resist further munching, and the result is a universe with crumbs over everything.” — from “Thus Ate Zarathustra”

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
King Lear by William Shakespeare
Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym

“And so it came about that, like many other well-meaning people, they worried not so much about the dreadful things themselves as about their own inability to worry about them.”

“She had imagined that the presence of what she thought of as clever people would bring about some subtle change in the usual small talk. The sentences would be like bright jugglers’ balls, spinning through the air and being deftly caught and thrown up again. But she saw now that conversation could also be compared to a series of incongruous objects, scrubbing-brushes, dish-cloths, knives, being flung or hurtling rather than spinning, which were sometimes not caught at all but fell to the ground with resounding thuds.”

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
The Location Scout by Kevin Fanning
Richard III by William Shakespeare
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
A Buyer's Market by Anthony Powell

“I was aware of an unexpected drift towards intimacy, although this sudden sense of knowing her all at once much better was not simultaneously accompanied by any clear portrayal in my own mind of the kind of person she might really be. Perhaps intimacy of any sort, love or friendship, impedes all exactness of definition. … In short, the persons we see most clearly are not necessarily those we know best. In any case, to attempt to describe a woman in the broad terms employable for a man is perhaps irrational.”

“For reasons not always explicable, there are specific occasions when events begin suddenly to take on a significance previously unsuspected, so that, before we really know where we are, life seems to have begun in earnest at last, and we ourselves, scarcely aware that any change has taken place, are careering uncontrollably down the slippery avenues of eternity.”

Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe (Vol. 5) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Vol. 4) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Vol. 3) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Blankets by Craig Thompson

“Sometimes upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing than reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream. But the act of waking is dependent on remembering. We use ritual as a mnemonic device — holiday as a ritual with meaning — and the seasons as increments of measurement. … How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement — no matter how temporary.”

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World (Vol. 2) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life (Vol. 1) by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

“After this long together, both of our heads are filled with such minor admonitions, helpful hints about the other person — likes and dislikes, preferences and taboos. Don’t come up behind me like that when I’m reading. Don’t use my kitchen knives. Don’t just stew things. Each believes the other should respect this frequently reiterated set of how-to instructions, but they cancel each other out: if Tig must respect my need to wallow mindlessly, free of bad news, before the first cup of coffee, shouldn’t I respect his need to spew out catastrophe so he himself will be rid of it?”

This Will All End in Tears by Joe Ollmann
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

“After a simple dinner I go out on the porch and gaze up at the stars twinkling above, the random scattering of millions of stars. Even in a planetarium you wouldn’t find this many. Some of them look really big and distinct, like if you reached your hand out intently you could touch them. The whole thing is breathtaking.

“Not just beautiful, though — the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. What I’ve done up till now, what I’m going to do — they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than a passing thought before. Not just stars — how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about? I suddenly feel helpless, completely powerless. And I know I’ll never outrun that awful feeling.”

House Thinking by Winifred Gallagher
The History of Sexuality (Volume 1) by Michel Foucault
Reader's Block by David Markson

“Thomas Mann’s definition of a writer. Someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

Ticknor by Sheila Heti

“I knew I was not as important as Claire, so returning after the funeral I just stood around, wanting to let him know I was there — standing there with everyone else rushing about. I am not good at those sorts of arrangements, pouring drinks or holding out a hand to a woman to help her from her chair; even sitting in the corner of the parlour with the men, smoking and talking in appropriate ways. I had nothing to say in the appropriate ways. I could not help out because I no longer knew the house, not as some of the others did, or what was needed, or what they might have wanted from me. Several times, though perhaps as few as one or two, he did give me a direct, tired look, but I didn’t know what it meant, whether it was mostly incriminating or not. I cannot go to his house. I can tell he doesn’t see inside me or even care to anymore.”

“Exhausted and near tears, I went to the mirror. I often go to the mirror when crying, to see how I might look. I wonder whether I’d have any sympathy for a man such as myself. Sometimes I feel I would, and it makes me cry even harder; other times I do not and it fills me with despair — well, then I weep more pitifully than before. In these ways I find I am able to enjoy myself. The pure times I spend alone are rare.”

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray

“The best of women (I have heard my grandmother say) are hypocrites. We don’t know how much they hide from us; how watchful they are when they seem most artless and confidential; how often those frank smiles, which they wear so easily, are traps to cajole or elude or disarm — I don’t mean in your mere coquettes, but your domestic models, and paragons of female virtue. Who has not seen a woman hide the dullness of a stupid husband, or coax the fury of a savage one? We accept this amiable slavishness, and praise a woman for it; we call this pretty treachery truth.”

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

Really too similar to A. L. Barker and Barbara Pym to be reading right on their heels, though with oodles more emotion (in the manipulative sense; cancer and small sweet children and such), so it’s time to break away from the women with their epiphanies and weeping and read some dudes from a different era.

The Haunt by A. L. Barker

“She had a way of quizzing him from time to time: he could actually see her weighing his pros and cons and reaching some conclusion which she never imparted. As a young husband, ardent and unsure, he used to beg her to tell him what she was thinking: nowadays he was truly thankful that she wouldn’t. He believed they had achieved the right degree of ignorance to sustain a happy marriage.”

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
Vineland by Thomas Pynchon

A surprise; I did not expect it to be so awesome.

“Prairie tried bringing her hair forward in long bangs, brushing the rest down in front of her shoulders, the surest way she knew, her eyes now burning so blue through the fringes and shadows, to creep herself out, no matter what time of day or night, by imagining that what she saw was her mother’s ghost. And that if she looked half a second too long, it would begin to blink while her own eyes stayed open, its lips would start to move, and then speak to her stuff she was sure she’d rather not hear …. / Or maybe that you’ve ached all your life to hear but you’re still scared of? the other face seemed to ask, lifting one eyebrow a fraction more than Prairie could feel in her own face.”

“Frenesi had thought for a while that her need to talk would build out of control, till she was helpless to hold it in and she ended up as a crazy woman on a bus bench, along an endless flatland boulevard, talking out loud without rest, like an astronomer seeking life out in space, on a brave slender hope that somebody might begin to listen. But in practice she’d only kept getting up one morning after another till at some point she found she’d adapted well enough to what she was becoming.”

Dubliners by James Joyce
W, or, the Memory of Childhood by Georges Perec (trans. David Bellos)
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker

“I drink milk very rarely now; in fact, the half-pint carton I bought at Papa Gino’s to go with the cookie was one of the very last times: it was a sort of test to see whether I still could drink it with the old pleasure. (You have to spot-check your likes and dislikes every so often in this way to see whether your reactions have altered, I think.)”

“Used with care, substances that harm neural tissues, such as alcohol, can aid intelligence: you corrode the chromium, giggly, crossword puzzle–solving parts of your mind with pain and poison, forcing the neurons to take responsibility for themselves and those around them, toughening themselves against the accelerated wear of these artificial solvents. After a night of poison, your brain wakes up in the morning saying, ‘No, I don’t give a shit who introduced the sweet potato into North America.’ The damage that you have inflicted heals over, and the scarred places left behind have unusual surface areas, roughnesses enough to become the nodes around which wisdom weaves its fibrils.”

The Unexamined Wife by Sherril Jaffe

“In the morning, when she did finally get up, Ann went around the house turning off each lamp. Somehow, the lamps burning in the daylight made her feel sad. For they burned, but they shed no light.”

A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers
Personal Days by Ed Park
Atonement by Ian McEwan

“At the age of eleven she wrote her first story — a foolish affair, imitative of half a dozen folktales and lacking, she realized later, that vital knowingness about the ways of the world which compels a reader’s respect. But this first clumsy attempt showed her that the imagination itself was a source of secrets: once she had begun a story, no one could be told. Pretending in words was too tentative, too vulnerable, too embarrassing to let anyone know. Even writing out the she saids, the and thens, made her wince, and she felt foolish, appearing the know about the emotions of an imaginary being. Self-exposure was inevitable the moment she described a character’s weakness; the reader was bound to speculate that she was describing herself. What other authority could she have? Only when a story was finished, all fates resolved and the whole matter sealed off at both ends so it resembled, at least in this one respect, every other finished story in the world, could she feel immune ….”

Scars Make Your Body More Interesting by Sherril Jaffe

“Most of the time, however, she wallowed in the guilt, shoving it back when she was awake, and awakening it when she was asleep, dreaming. She found that she was growing sleepy earlier and earlier. If she was asleep she couldn’t be expected to be doing that which she was avoiding, and she knew sleep was a good way of avoiding it. But she also made herself sleep so that she could let the guilt come forward. It was always pressuring to come out, and it found easy access in her dreams.”

Jane Austen by Harold Bloom (ed.)
Sir Charles Grandison: The Compleat Conduct Book by Sylvia Kasey Marks
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers

“To Lord Peter Wimsey, the few weeks of his life spent in unravelling the Problem of the Iron Staircase possessed an odd dreamlike quality, noticeable at the time and still more insistent in retrospect. The very work that engaged him — or rather, the shadowy simulacrum of himself that signed itself on every morning in the name of Death Bredon — wafted him into a sphere of dim platonic archtypes, bearing a scarcely recognizable relationship to anything in the living world. Here those strange entities, the Thrifty Housewife, the Man of Discrimination, the Keen Buyer and the Good Judge, for ever young, for ever handsome, for ever virtuous, economical and inquisitive, moved to and fro upon their complicated orbits, comparing prices and values, making tests of purity, asking indiscreet questions about each other’s ailments, household expenses, bed-springs, shaving cream, diet, laundry work and boots, perpetually spending to save and saving to spend, cutting out coupons and collecting cartons, surprising husbands with margarine and wives with patent washers and vacuum-cleaners, occupied from morning to night in washing, cooking, dusting, filling, saving their children from germs, their complexions from wind and weather, their teeth from decay and their stomachs from indigestion, and yet adding so many hours to the day by labour-saving appliances that they had always leisure for visiting the talkies, sprawling on the beach to picnic upon Potted Meats and Tinned Fruit, and (when adorned by So-and-so’s Silks, Blank’s Gloves, Dash’s Footwear, Whatnot’s Weatherproof Complexion Cream and Thingummy’s Beautifying Shampoos), even attending Ranelagh, Cowes, the Grand Stand at Ascot, Monte Carlo and the Queen’s Drawing-Rooms.”

Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson

“… I can now, methinks (for the first time) a little account for those dark spirits who may be too much obliged; and who, despairing to be able ever to return the obligation, are ready to quarrel with the obliger.”

“Are we not taught, that this world is a state of trial, and of mortification? And is not calamity necessary to wean our vain hearts from it?”

“The happiness of human Life … is at best but comparative. The utmost we should hope for here, is such a situation, as, with a self-approving mind, will carry us best through this present scene of trial: Such a situation, as, all circumstances considered, is, upon the whole, most eligible for us, tho’ some of its circumstances may be disagreeable. Young people set out with false notions of happiness; gay, fairyland imaginations; and when these schemes prove unattainable, sit down in disappointment and dejection.”

“You look upon Love as a blind irresistable Deity, whose darts fly at random, and admit neither defence nor cure. Consider the matter, my dear, in a more reasonable light. The passions are intended for our servants, not our masters, and we have, within us, a power of controuling them, which it is the duty and the business of our lives to exert. You will allow this readily in the case of any passion that poets and romance-writers have not set off with their false colourings. To instance in anger; Will my Henrietta own, that she thinks it probable, anger should ever transport her beyond the bounds of duty?”

Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

“… Schmidt had a quick vision of them all in the conference room as like icebergs and/or floes, only the sharp caps showing, unknown and -knowable to one another, and he imagined that it was probably only in marriage (and a good marriage, not the decorous dance of loneliness he’d watched his mother and father do for seventeen years but rather true conjugal intimacy) that partners allowed each other to see below the berg’s cap’s public mask and consented to be truly known, maybe even to the extent of not only letting the partner see the repulsive nest of moles under their left arm or the way after any sort of cold or viral infection the toenails on both both feet turned a weird deep yellow for several weeks but even perhaps every once in a while sobbing in each other’s arms late at night and pouring out the most ghastly private fears and thoughts of failure and impotence and terrible and thoroughgoing smallness …”

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

“It needed this voice from the past to recall me; the indiscriminate chatter of praise all that crowded day had worked on me like a succession of advertisement hoardings on a long road, kilometre after kilometre between the poplars, commanding one to stay at some new hotel, so that when at the end of the drive, stiff and dusty, one arrives at the destination, it seems inevitable to turn into the yard under the name that had first bored, then angered one, and finally become an inseparable part of one’s fatigue.”

“He simply wasn’t all there. He wasn’t a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a sort of primitive savage, but he was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending he was the whole.”

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

“We, all of us, read more in the faces of those with whom we hold converse, than we are aware of doing. Of the truth, or want of truth in every word spoken to us, we judge, in great part, by the face of the speaker. By the face of every man and woman seen by us, whether they speak or are silent, we form a judgment, — and in nine cases out of ten our judgment is true. It is because our tenth judgment, — that judgment which has been wrong, — comes back upon us always with the effects of its error, that we teach ourselves to say that appearances cannot be trusted. If we did not trust them we should be walking ever in doubt, in darkness, and in ignorance.”

A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell
Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen by E. Copeland and J. McMaster (ed.)
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

“There are even those whose sang-froid is such that they throw themselves out of the window. No one asks him to go to those lengths. But simply to discover, without further assistance from without, the alleviations of flight from self, that’s all, he won’t go far, he needn’t go far. Simply to find within himself a palliative for what he is, through no fault of his own.”

“Oh I know, I know, attention please, this may mean something, I know, there’s nothing new there, it’s all part of the same old irresistible boloney, namely, But my dear man, come, be reasonable, look, this is you, look at this photograph, and here’s your file, no convictions, I assure you, come now, make an effort, at your age, to have no identity, it’s a scandal, I assure you, look at this photograph, what ….”

Cecilia by Fanny Burney

“O yes, he will make the prettiest husband in the world; you may fly about yourself as wild as a lark, and keep him the whole time as tame as a jack-daw: and though he may complain of you to your friends, he will never have the courage to find fault to your face. But as to Mortimer, you will not be able to govern him as long as you live; for the moment you have put him upon the fret, you’ll fall into the dumps yourself, hold out your hand to him, and, losing the opportunity of gaining some material point, make up at the first soft word. … [F]or while you are quarrelling, you may say any thing, and demand any thing, but when you are reconciled, you ought to behave pretty, and seem contented. … [N]ot a creature thinks of our principles, till they find them out by our conduct: and nobody can possibly do that till we are married, for they give us no power beforehand. The men know nothing of us in the world while we are single, but how we can dance a minuet, or play a lesson upon the harpsichord.”

Contemporary Canadian Women's Short Stories by Lisa Moore (ed.)

The Penguin Book of.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration by ed. Alzina Stone Dale
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

“I am baffled, Watson (said he, his hawk-like eyes gleaming angrily from under the half-closed lids). Even I am baffled. But not for long! (he cried, with a magnificent burst of self-confidence). My Honour (capital H) is concerned to track this Human Fiend (capitals) to its hidden source, and nail the whited sepulchre to the mast even though it crush me in the attempt! Loud applause. His chin sank broodingly upon his dressing-gown, and he breathed a few guttural notes into the bass saxophone which was the cherished companion of his solitary hours in the bathroom.”

Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis

“It is not what you want to be doing. It is that you are passing the time. You are waiting until it is a certain hour and you are in a certain condition so that you can go to sleep.”

Manservants and Maidservants by Ivy Compton-Burnett

“But I will tell you something that I could breathe to no one else. She is not as much the meaning of my life as I thought. Separation has estranged us, or shown us the truth, or done some other shameful thing. I am so glad to have the word to breathe to you; I should not have liked to part without one. And now our parting is quite a success. I do not think my life has any meaning. And I find I do not want it to have any. I am one of those creatures who drag out a meaningless existence, and they are not so much to be pitied as people think.”

“Thank you very much for your letter. It has broken my heart, but that is the natural result of the use of words. When human speech developed, it was a foregone thing. It allowed people to communicate their thoughts, and what else could come of that? And putting them on paper renders it a certainty. People can keep on returning to them. … You are wondering how I spend my time, which is kind of you, considering everything. I just wait for it to pass, and I find it is true that all things come to those who wait. Five weeks have gone beyond recall, which seems very nice and thorough. I cannot understand why people want to recall the hours. I could not bear to have my time back again.”

Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh

“The first thing that happened was the realization that the new story was going to be a tragedy. Previous books, written while their author was struggling through a black slough of misery and frustration, had all been intellectual comedies. The immediate effect of physical and emotional satisfaction seemed to be to lift the lid off hell. Harriet, peering inquisitively over the edge of her own imagination, saw a drama of agonised souls arrange itself with odd and alluring completeness. She had only to lift a finger to make the puppets move and live. She was a little startled, and (rather apologetically) brought this interesting psychological paradox to Peter for treatment. His only comment was: ‘You relieve my mind unspeakably.’”

Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers

“‘What I like about your evidence, Miss Kohn, is that it adds the final touch of utter and impenetrable obscurity to the problem which the Inspector and I have undertaken to solve. It reduces it to the complete quintessence of imcomprehensible nonsense. Therefore, by the second law of thermo-dynamics, which lays down that we are hourly and momently progressing to a state of more and more randomness, we receive positive assurance that we are moving happily and securely in the right direction. You may not believe me,’ added Wimsey, now merrily launched on a flight of fantasy, ‘but I have got to the point now at which the slightest glimmer of common-sense imported into this preposterous case would not merely disconcert me but cut me to the heart. I have seen unpleasant cases, difficult cases, complicated cases and even contradictory cases, but a case founded on stark unreason I have never met before. It is a new experience and, blasé as I am, I confess that I am thrilled to the marrow.’”

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

“Miss Brodie’s brown eyes were fixed on the clouds, she looked quite beautiful and frail, and it occurred to Sandy that she had possibly renounced Teddy Lloyd only because she was aware that she could not keep up this beauty; it was a quality in her that came and went.”

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (trans. William Weaver)

“The wares, too, which the vendors display on their stalls are valuable not in themselves but as signs of other things …. Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts.”

“Marco enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man’s place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had taken the opposite one, and after long wandering he had come to be in the place of that man in that square. By now, from that real of hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else’s present. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.”

“I thought: ‘You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.’”

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July

“I hated my job, but I liked that I could do it. I had once believed in a precious inner self, but now I didn’t. I had thought that I was fragile, but I wasn’t.”

“We grew still and stared at each other. It seemed incredibly dangerous to look into each other’s eyes, but we were doing it. For how long can you behold another person? Before you have to think of yourself again, like dipping the brush back in for more ink. For a very long time; you didn’t need to get more ink, there was no reason to get anything else, because she was as good as me, she lived on earth like me, she suffered as I did. It was she who looked away and pulled the sheet to her chin.”

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
The Effect of Living Backwards by Heidi Julavits
Paper Trail by Arleen Paré

“in North America when women finally entered the workplace in large numbers, as though they now stood equal, the women approached the work seriously. in the offices before the women arrived in large numbers, the men maintained an understanding that work was not so serious, that work should not overwhelm the pleasant state of camaraderie that the men had taken pains to cultivate. … when the women were permitted, the work became more serious. during the war, which was serious, the women worked. after the baby boom, the women, who had been sent back to their kitchens after the men returned from war, wanted to be permitted even though they had no war to permit them. they had more to prove. they had to be serious. when they entered the workplace they picked up the pace. and most of the men stopped launching paper airplanes from their desks.”

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir

“Anyone looking at this whole scene in a mirror could well imagine that it was an old dream come true. When she was twenty, in her dreary little bedroom, she used to prepare mincemeat sandwiches and bottles of cheap red wine for Pierre, pretending that it was a choice supper with foie gras and old Burgundy. Now the foie gras was on the table, together with caviar canapes, and there was sherry and vodka in the bottles; now she had money, any number of connections, and a dawning reputation. And yet, she continued to feel herself on the fringe of society; this supper was only a counterfeit supper in a pseudo-elegant studio, and she was only a living caricature of the woman she pretended to be. … The pretense used to be fun in the old days; it was the anticipation of a brilliant future. … She knew that in no way would she ever reach the authentic ideal of which her present self was only a copy.”

“People managed to surround themselves with an impervious world in which their lives had meaning, but there was always a little cheating at the bottom of it all. If you looked carefully, without trying to deceive yourself, you would find beneath all these imposing appearances nothing but a sprinkling of small, futile impressions …. it couldn’t be caught in words, it had to be borne in silence and then it disappeared without leaving any trace, and something else, equally elusive, took its place. Nothing but sand and water, and it was silly to try to build anything on it. Even death did not deserve all the fuss that was made over it. Of course it was terrifying, but only because you couldn’t imagine how you would feel.”

The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust (trans. Mark Treharne)

“The actors’ gestures said to their arms, to their robes: ‘Be majestic.’ But their insubmissive limbs allowed a biceps which knew nothing of the part they were playing to flaunt itself between shoulder and elbow; their bodies continued to express the trivialities of everyday life and to emphasize not the subtlety of Racine but the related functions of their muscles; and the hanging robes that they held up fell back into a vertical drop in which the laws governing falling bodies were challenged solely by the tame movement of textiles.”

“It occurred to me that our social life, like an artist’s studio, is filled with abandoned sketches depicting our momentary attemps to capture our need for a great love, but what did not occur to me was that sometimes, if the sketch is not too old, we may return to it and transform it into a completely different work, possibly more important than the one we had originally planned.”

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Accidental by Ali Smith
Frail Vessels: Woman's Role in Women's Novels by Hazel Mews

From Fanny Burney to George Eliot. Dull, predictably, and old-fashioned, but still.

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

Confessions of a Common Reader. One of those books about books.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

“And so it happened again, the daily miracle whereby interiority opens out and bring to bloom the million-petalled flower of being here, in the world, with other people. Neither as hard as she had thought it might be nor as easy as it appeared.”

All This Heavenly Glory by Elizabeth Crane
Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens — that letting go — you let go because you can. The world will always be there — while you sleep it will be there – when you wake it will be there as well. So you can sleep and there is reason to wake. A dead hydrangea is as intricate and lovely as one in bloom. Bleak sky is as seductive as sunshine, miniature orange trees without blossom or fruit are not defective; they are that. So the windows of the greenhouse can be opened and the weather let in. The latch on the door can be left unhooked, the muslin removed, for the soldier ants are beautiful too and whatever they do will be part of it.”

The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader by Ann J. Lane (ed.)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” and other fiction. Kind of bad, but, you know, interesting, in a crazy feminist utopian-dreaming way.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence
In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust (trans. James Grieve)

“Pleasures are like photographs: in the presence of the person we love, we take only negatives, which we develop later, at home, when we have at our disposal once more our inner dark-room, the door of which is strictly forbidden to open while others are present.”

Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig (trans. Thomas Colchie)
Pale Fire by Vladmir Nabokov
Maus I and II: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman

For a class, read on the way to and in Florida. Depressing.

The Way By Swann's by Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis)

“But even with respect to the most insignificant things in life, none of us constitutes a material whole, identical for everyone, which a person has only to go to look up as though we were a book of specifications or a last testament; our social personality is a creation of the minds of others. … We fill the physical appearance of the individual we see with all the notions we have about him, and in the total picture that we form for ourselves, these notions certainly have the greater part.”

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Painfully incomplete.

Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse

“Psmith looked about him thoughtfully. He picked up one of the dead bats and covered it with his handkerchief. ‘Somebody’s mother,’ he murmured reverently.”

Open: Stories by Lisa Moore
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
The End of the Story by Lydia Davis

“I used to try to study what it meant to love someone. I would write down quotations from the works of famous writers, writers who did not interest me otherwise, like Hippolyte Taine or Alfred de Musset. For instance, Taine said that to love is to make one’s goal the happiness of another person. I would try to apply this to my own situation. But if loving a person meant putting him before myself, how could I do that? There seemed to be three choices: to give up trying to love anyone, to stop being selfish, or to learn how to love a person while continuing to be selfish. I did not think I could manage the first two, but I thought I could learn how to be just unselfish enough to love someone at least part of the time.”

My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl
Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
The Insanity Defense by Woody Allen

“Could Hitler beat Churchill to sideburns? Himmler said Churchill had a head start and that it might be impossible to catch him. Goring, the vacuous optimist, said the Fuhrer could probably grow sideburns quicker, particularly if we marshalled all of Germany’s might in a concentrated effort. Von Rundstedt, at a meeting of the General Staff, said it was a mistake to try to grow sideburns on two fronts at once and advised that it would be wiser to concentrate all efforts on one good sideburn. Hitler said he could do it on both cheeks simultaneously. Rommel agreed with von Rundstedt. ‘They will never come out even, mein Fuhrer,’ he said. ‘Not if you rush them.’”

Bear v. Shark by Chris Bachelder
The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

“Scenes like this, when painted at large, afford, as we have observed, very little entertainment to the reader. Here, therefore, we shall strictly adhere to a rule of Horace; by which writers are directed to pass over all those matters which they despair of placing in a shining light;— a rule, we conceive, of excellent use as well to the historian as to the poet; and which, if followed, must at least have this good effect, that many a great evil (for so all great books are called) would thus be reduced to a small one.”

“We would bestow some pains here in minutely describing all the mad pranks which Jones played on this occasion, could we be well assured that the reader would take the same pains in perusing them; but as we are apprehensive that, after all the labour which we should employ in painting this scene, the said reader would be very apt to skip it entirely over, we have saved ourselves that trouble. To say the truth, we have, from this reason alone, often done great violence to the luxuriance of our genius, and have left many excellent descriptions out of our work, which would otherwise have been in it. And this suspicion, to be honest, arises, as is generally the case, from our own wicked heart; for we have, ourselves, been very often most horridly given to jumping, as we have run through the pages of voluminous historians.”

Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen by Fay Weldon

“I look at the small, round table in the house at Chawton at which she wrote Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion and am told that when people came into the room she covered her work and put it aside. They deduce from this (a) that she was ashamed of her work and (b) that it was criminal that she should be disturbed in this way. Most writers choose to cover their work when someone else comes into the room. They know it does not appear to best advantage out of context. They fear that, taken line by line, it sounds plain foolish. They do not want to answer questions. … So the work is covered. It isn’t shame, merely prudence. As for disturbances, some writers thrive on them. For many, if life provides uninterrupted leisure for writing, the urge to write shrivels up. Writing, after all, is part of life, an overflow from it. Take away life and you take away writing.”

Jane Austen: A Life by Carol Shields

The first “biographies” of Jane Austen I’ve read, but already I’m chafed by the assumptions and dubious deductions. I have my own idea of what Austen was like from what I’ve read so far, and I’m still working on perfecting it — so yes I did learn a little.

A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery. However many of life’s large, captivating principles and small, captivating details we may explore, unpuzzle, and learn by heart, there will still be vast unknown realms to lure us.”

Catharine and Other Stories by Jane Austen

Otherwise known as the juvenalia, more or less.

Laughing Feminism by Audrey Bilger

Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. Totally academic, yet somehow riveting. Although perhaps the author referring to the character Wickham in Pride & Prejudice as “Wickfield” may throw all her arguments into question.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman)

Sancho: “I only understand that while I’m sleeping I have no fear, or hope, or trouble, or glory; blessed be whoever invented sleep, the mantle that covers all human thought, the food that satisfies hunger, the water that quenches thirst, the fire that warms the cold, the cold that cools down ardor, and, finally, the general coin with which all things are bought, the scale and balance that make the shepherd equal to the king, and the simple man equal to the wise. There is only one defect in sleep, or so I’ve heard, and it is that it resembles death, for there is very little difference between a man who is sleeping and a man who is dead.”

The Museum of Useless Efforts by Cristina Peri Rossi (trans. Tobias Hecht)
Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
This Is My Country, What's Yours? by Noah Richler
Samuel Johnson is Indignant by Lydia Davis
Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

“There’s nothing I can remember till we reach the border, marked by a sign that says BIENVENUE on one side and WELCOME on the other. The sign has bullet holes in it, rusting red around the edges. It always did, in the fall the hunters use it for target practice; no matter how many times they replace it or paint it the bullet holes reappear, as though they aren’t put there but grow by a kind of inner logic or infection, like mould or boils. Joe wants to film the sign but David says ‘Naaa, what for?’”

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
For the Time Being by Annie Dillard

“Seeing the open pits in the open air, among farms, is the wonder, and seeing the bodies twist free from the soil. The sight of a cleaned clay soldier upright in a museum case is unremarkable, and this is all that future generations will see. No one will display those men crushed beyond repair; no one will display their loose parts; no one will display them crawling from the walls. Future generations will miss the crucial sight of ourselves as rammed earth.”

“Then before me in the near distance I saw the earth itself walking, the earth walking dark and aerated as it always does in every season, peeling the light back: The earth was plowing the men under, and the spade, and the plow. No one sees us go under. No one sees generations churn, or civilizations. The green fields grow up forgetting.”

Across the Bridge by Mavis Gallant
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Slow Learner by Thomas Pynchon
Philip and the Others by Cees Nooteboom

“It is as if I had spent one life with myself and one with him. You collect so many lives in the long run that they seem to sit on your shoulders and press down and stifle you until you start talking in order to get rid of them. But they stay nevertheless and slowly put their mark on you.”

What is the What by Dave Eggers
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

“If one wanted to depict the whole thing graphically, every episode, with its climax, would require a three-dimensional model, perhaps four-dimensional, or, rather, no model: every experience is unrepeatable. What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.”

“At times it seems to me that the distance between my writing and her reading is unbridgeable, that whatever I read bears a stamp of artifice and incongruity; if what I am writing were to appear on the polished surface of the page she is reading, it would rasp like a fingernail on a pane, and she would fling the book away with horror.”

“Between the book to be written and things that already exist there can be only a kind of complementary relationship: the book should be the written counterpart of the unwritten world; its subject should be what does not exist except when written, but whose absence is obscurely felt by that which exists, in its own incompleteness.”

Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett

“Sapo dropped his jaw and breathed through his mouth. It is not easy to see in virtue of what this expression is incompatible with erotic thoughts, but indeed his dream was less of girls than of himself, his own life, his life to be. That is more than enough to stop up the nose of a lucid and sensitive boy, and cause his jaw temporarily to sag.”

“It was summer. The room was dark in spite of the door and window open on the great outer light. Through these narrow openings, far apart, the light poured, lit up a little space, then died, undiffused. It had no steadfastness, no assurance of lasting as long as day lasted. But it entered at every moment, renewed from without, entered and died at every moment, devoured by the dark. And at the least abatement of the inflow the room grew darker and darker until nothing in it was visible any more. For the dark had triumphed. And Sapo, his face turned towards an earth so resplendent that it hurt his eyes, felt at his back and all about him the unconquerable dark, and it licked the light on his face.”

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

“And you receivers — and you are all receivers — assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives. Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings.”

What We Believe But Cannot Prove by John Brockman (ed.)

“Rather than saying that every possible universe exists, I’d say that there is a sequence of possible universes, akin to the drafts of a novel. We’re living in a draft version of the universe, and there is no final version. The revisions never stop. / From time to time, it is possible to be aware of this. In particular, when you relax and stop naming things and forming opinions, your consciousness spreads out across several drafts of the universe. Things don’t need to be particularly one way or the other until you pin them down. … The start of a novel matches its ending; the past matches the future. Changing one thing changes everything. If we know everything about the Now moment, we know the entire past and future.” — Rudy Rucker

“We have been told by wise men, lamas, and maharishis that it is supposedly all about moments — to cherish the moment and never mind the continuance of time. But ever since childhood I have realized somehow that the beauty lies in the time before, the hope for, the waiting for, the imaginary picture painted in perfection of that instant in time. And then once it passes, in the blink of an eye, it will be the memory that stays with you, the reflection, the remembrance of that time.” — Kai Krause

The Bloody Chamber and Other Adult Tales by Angela Carter

“At night, those huge, inconsolable, rapacious eyes of his are eaten up by swollen, gleaming pupils. His eyes see only appetite. These eyes open to devour the world in which he sees, nowhere, a reflection of himself; he passed through the mirror and now, henceforward, lives as if upon the other side of things.” … “As she continued her ministrations, this glass, with infinite slowness, yielded to the reflexive strength of its own material construction. Little by little, there appeared within it, like the image on photographic paper that emerges, first, a formless web of tracery, the prey caught in its own fishing net, then in firmer yet still shadowed outline until at last as vivid as real life itself, as if brought into being by her soft, moist, gentle tongue, finally, the face of the Duke.”

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish

The real but tedious title: The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World.

“Whether they did ever square the circle, I cannot exactly tell, nor whether they could make imaginary points and lines; but this I dare say, That their points and lines were so slender, small and thin, that they seem’d next to Imaginary.”

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas

“Sometimes I like to think that I live with ghosts. Not from my own past — I don’t believe in those sorts of ghosts — but wispy bits of ideas and books that hang in the air like silk puppets. Sometimes I think I see my own ideas floating around, too, but they usually don’t last long. … Some of the most friendly ghosts I live with are those of my favorite nineteenth-century science writers. Most of them were wrong, of course, but who cares? It’s not like this is the end of history. We’re all wrong.”

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

In preparation for the film, mostly because it was a quick read. I am now cured of any curiosity I might have had for Maugham’s other work.

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

“No one is around and I leap from flat rock to flat rock whooping like a cowgirl. God, you devil you, moments like these I do believe are you, are gods that hold you and love you happy that’s what a god should do hold you and love you happy someone is stealing my wallet.”

Evelina by Frances Burney

Or, a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World. In a Series of Letters.
From the Preface: “In the republic of letters, there is no member of such inferior rank, or who is so much disdained by his brethren of the quill, as the humble Novelist: nor is his fate less hard in the world at large, since, among the whole class of writers, perhaps not one can be named, of whom the votaries are more numerous, but less respectable. / Yet, while in the annals of those few of our predecessors, to whom this species of writing is indebted for being saved from contempt, and rescued from depravity, we can trace such names as Rousseau, Johnson, Marivaux, Fielding, Richardson, and Smollet, no man need blush at starting from the same post, though many, nay, most men, may sigh at finding themselves distanced.”

Possession by A. S. Byatt

“Roland was so used to the pervasive sense of failure that he was unprepared for the blood-rush of success. He breathed differently. The dingy little room humped around in his vision briefly and settled at a different distance, an object of interest, not of choking confinement. He reread his letters. The world opened. … How true it was that one needed to be seen by others to be sure of one’s own existence. Nothing in what he had written had changed and everything had changed.”

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy

“My hands are full of grace, I don’t know if I forgot to say that, like the [N?]ovember waves on the pond, because I know the names of the months, too, all my friends are words. I’m always surprised to note that once the first gust has passed I can be so indifferent to what might happen to men here below, it’s my nature.”

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

“As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility, and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.”

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch

“Was everything possible and could anything be done, since it would one day irrevocably be cast aside? Even in heaven eternal bliss would be possible only by the grace of a criminal loss of memory. Should the blessed not be punished with hell for this? Everything had been wrecked for all eternity — not only here, but by thousands of earlier and later occasions, which no one remembered. Heaven was impossible; only hell might perhaps exist.”

“When I see your pitiful appearance, I have to think back to the dreadful time when I was still a bachelor. What a nightmare! In my mind’s eye I see a desolate landscape with a single bare tree in the biting wind, into the teeth of which a lonely, stooping pilgrim dressed in rags, with a long staff, is laboring on his way to his mournful end. And now look at me … I have just attained the highest state of human self-fulfillment: marriage!”

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

“If San Narciso and the estate were really no different from any other town, any other estate, then by that continuity she might have found The Tristero anywhere in her Republic, through any of a hundred lightly-concealed entranceways, a hundred alienations, if only she’d looked. She stopped a minute between the steel rails, raising her head as if to sniff the air. Becoming conscious of the hard, strung presence she stood on — knowing as if maps had been flashed for her on the sky how these tracks ran on into others, others, knowing they laced, deepened, authenticated the great night around her. If only she’d looked.”

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren
The Hippopotamus by Stephen Fry

I felt it was about time I read some Fry, and I found it the weirdest book I’ve read in a long time. I read just about the entire thing in one day, though, so that might have something to do with it, but really. Entertaining, but really.

Home: A History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski

“The notion that what is artless must be better than what is not requires a precarious leap in reasoning, but for all that it carries great weight … It is a shallow conceit. A little reflection shows that all human culture is artificial, cooking no less than music, furniture no less than painting. Why prepare time-consuming sauces when a raw fruit would suffice? Why bother with musical instruments when the voice is pleasant enough? Why paint pictures when looking at nature is satisfying? Why sit up when you can squat? The answer is that it makes life richer, more interesting, and more pleasurable.”

“Imagine yourself on a winter afternoon with a pot of tea, a book, a reading light, and two or three huge pillows to lean back against. Now make yourself comfortable. Not in some way which you can show to other people, and say how much you like it. I mean so that you really like it, for yourself. You put the tea where you can reach it: but in a place where you can’t possibly knock it over. You pull the light down, to shine on the book, but not too brightly, and so that you can’tsee the naked bulb. You put the cushions behind you, and place them, carefully, one by one, just where you want them, to support your back, your neck, your arm: so that you are supported just comfortably, just as you want to sip your tea, and read, and dream.” (Quoted from Christopher Alexander)

Bittersweet Pieces by Gerrit Bussink (ed.)

A (tiny) collection of translated Dutch short stories. Only one story really grabbed me; some were okay, others were ehhh. The quote following is the first paragraph of my favourite.

“As she switches off the alarm, can I hear it ringing in reverse? Once absorbed by the dreamer into his dream, even the briefest, most insignificant bedroom event appears complete with a history of its own, and so quickly that cause and effect seem to have changed places. Or was I just hearing the alarm ring the whole time? Sometimes the question only dawns on you a few minutes later.” — Nicolaas Matsier, “Indefinite Delay”

Selected Letters (1796-1817) by Jane Austen (ed. R. W. Chapman)

“What fine weather this is! Not very becoming perhaps early in the morning, but very pleasant out of doors at noon, and very wholesome — at least everyone fancies so, and imagination is everything.”

“I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.”

Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers by Jane Robinson (ed.)

“I envy the easy peace of mind of a ruddy milkmaid, who, undisturbed by doubt, hears the sermon, with humility, every Sunday, not having confounded the sentiments of natural duty in her head by the vain-enquiries of the schoools, who may be more learned, yet, after all, must remain as ignorant.” — Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Letters … Written, during her Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa

“Everything seems unreal or unnecessary, everything is dressed up. / All these people moving about, sitting still, in a hurry, catching trains, eating long dinners, dressing themselves, looking at each other dressed — what does it all mean? Was all this going on when we were in that other world which we have just left, that great silent world where everything was itself and big, and not confused by accessories? Was all this din and bustle going on? It is strange that we should have had no inkling of it, for it seems of so much importance to all these people, idle with a great restlessness; it seems essential to them.” — Louisa Jebb, By Desert Ways to Baghdad

Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston

I can appreciate a lot of what she writes, and she articulates what I already believed without thinking much about it, but the actual rituals and her attitude about “oriental gobbledegook” I do not dig.

Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn
The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard
A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright

“We have the tools and the means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones. If we don’t do these things now, while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard. Our fate will twist out of our hands. And this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past.” Yeehaw!

Wabi Sabi Style by James and Sandra Crowley

Yes, this book is categorized under Home Reference, and it has a lot of pictures in it, but dammit it counts.

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

Not exactly the kind of book one is eager to read before and after the day of their wedding; however, be that as it may.

“Photography is the only major art in which professional training and years of experience do not confer an insuperable advantage over the untrained and inexperienced — this for many reasons, among them the large role that chance (or luck) plays in the taking of pictures, and the bias toward the spontaneous, the rough, the imperfect. (There is no comparable level playing field in literature, where virtually nothing owes to chance or luck and where refinement of language usually incurs no penalty.)”

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

“Something he knew he missed: the flower of life. But he thought of it now as a thing so unattainable and improbable that to have repined would have been like despairing because one had not drawn the first prize in a lottery. There were a hundred million tickets in his lottery, and there was only one prize; the chances had been too decidedly against him.”

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

“You can’t keep it up forever, though. You’re going to burn out sooner or later. Everybody does. It’s the way people are made. In terms of evolutionary history, it was only yesterday that men learned to walk around on two legs and get in trouble thinking complicated thoughts. So don’t worry, you’ll burn out.”

On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction by Karl Iagnemma
V. by Thomas Pynchon

“Short of examining the entire history of each individual participating; … short of anatomizing each soul, what hope has anyone of understanding a Situation?”

“My own unlucky boy, didn’t you ever think maybe ours is an act too? We’re older than you, we lived inside you once: the fifth rib, closest to the heart. We learned all about it then. After that it had to become our game to nourish a heart you all believe is hollow though we know different. Now you all live inside us, for nine months, and when ever you decide to come back after that.”

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

“The sun, on account of the mist, had a curious sentient, personal look, demanding the masculine pronoun for its adequate expression. His present aspect, coupled with the lack of all human forms in the scene, explained the old-time heliolateries in a moment. One could feel that a saner religion had never prevailed under the sky. The luminary was golden-haired, beaming-faced, mild-eyed, God-like creature, gazing down in the vigour and intentness of youth upon an earth that was brimming with interest for him.”

“The past was past; whatever it had been it was no more at hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close over them; they would all in a few years be as if they had never been, and she herself grassed down and forgotten. Meanwhile the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, nor sickened because of her pain.”

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
The World of Mr Mulliner by P. G. Wodehouse
Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle by Monique Proulx
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Christmas break is the perfect time to read this sort of thing (especially since I also had to re-read the fifth book to refresh my memory). These terrible obsessions can’t possibly be quenched somewhat and then put to rest during regular working days, oh no. Holidays are the only time for it, and only if you don’t have much else planned.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

“The most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.”

Indelible Acts by A. L. Kennedy
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I saw it at the library and decided that I should read it, just because I should, so I knew. Ah well. It didn’t take very long. (It wasn’t that bad.)

Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis
Oxygen by Annabel Lyon

“My friend is an archaeologist. He likes bones. Dinosaur bones, Neanderthal bones, ribs from the Chinese takeaway. When I am Egyptian he brushes me with his brushes, my flesh his dust. When I am Siberian he ladles warm water over me, thawing me slowly. I open my eyes. My mother says, Just remember: if it’s pink inside, it isn’t done.”

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

“Alex tries to imagine his defence if his life were on trial, that is, if he had to prove its worth. It is a kind of imaginary text he carries around with him … because somewhere in Alex’s head he is the greatest, most famous person you never heard of. And as such must defend himself from both slander and obscurity. Who else is going to do it? After all, he has no fans.”

Adam Bede by George Eliot

“Imagination is a licensed trespasser: it has no fear of dogs, but may climb over walls and peep in at windows with impunity.”

“Long dark lashes, now—what can be more exquisite? I find it impossible not to expect some depth of soul behind a deep grey eye with a long dark eyelash, in spite of an experience which has shown me that they may go along with deceit, peculation, and stupidity. But if, in the reaction of disgust, I have betaken myself to a fishy eye, there has been a surprising similarity of result. One begins to suspect at length that there is no direct correlation between eyelashes and morals; or else, that the eyelashes express the disposition of the fair one’s grandmother, which is on the whole less important to us.”

The most engaging book I’ve read in a while. It seems that it shouldn’t be that way, with lengthy passages of descriptions and contemplations that I shouldn’t enjoy, but yet still it is ridiculously good.

Molloy by Samuel Beckett
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden. But if it’s a story, even in my head, I must be telling it to someone. You don’t tell a story only to yourself. There’s always someone else.”
I must confess that I was annoyed by the frequent use of comma splices. I longed for semicolons and dashes.

N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto

“You know how they say that if you’re sitting around a bonfire on a hot summer night, telling one ghost story after another, something mysterious is bound to happen once you’ve reached the one-hundredth. Well, last summer, that happened to me.”

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Cripple and His Talismans by Anosh Irani

“When in doubt, suspend all logic. Slit common sense by the throat. Travel to the nearest newsstand and ask for elephants. Walk to the bakery and show complete disbelief when they inform you they do not stock piranha.”

“I do not know if it is with courage or with a lack of spine that I confess my love of Hindi movies. It is like loving a brother everybody hates. Even though you know your brother has faults, he is still your brother. When an outside person says bad things about him, you will kill that person. You are allowed to complain because he is yours. You can tell him that he is sad and good for nothing, but let anyone else say that and you will drink their khoon straight from the heart.”

The Rainbow Stories by William T. Vollmann
The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl

One of my favourite stories: “Georgy Porgy”, which sent me into a fit of laughter:
“The mouth kept getting larger and larger, and then all at once it was right on top of me, huge and wet and cavernous, and the next second—I was inside it. / I was right inside this enormous mouth, lying on my stomach along the length of the tongue, with my feet somewhere around the back of the throat.”

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

“‘You must get up very early in the morning, to win against the Dodger.’ / ‘Morning!’ said Charley Bates; ‘you must put your boots on over-night, and have a telescope at each eye, and a opera-glass between your shoulders, if you want to come over him.’”

“Thus, a strain of gentle music, or the rippling of water in a silent place, or the odour of a flower, or the mention of a familiar word, will sometimes call up sudden dim remembrances of scenes that never were, in this life; which vanish like a breath; which some brief memory of a happier existance, long gone by, would seem to have awakened; which no voluntary exertion of the mind can ever recall.”

More Pricks Than Kicks by Samuel Beckett

“Mrs bboggs was utterly nonplussed. How was it possible to name a woman without thinking? The thing was psychologically impossible. With mouth ajar and nostrils dilated she goggled psychological impossibilities at the offender.”

Remember: Blue-eyed cats are always deaf; the burrowing tucutucu is occasionally blind, but the mole is never sober.

Stories of similar/identical material to Dream of Fair to Middling Women, but published years before that book, which publication was not until after Beckett’s death, at his request. Thus not that much easier to understand, thus that much more interesting to me.

Louis Riel by Chester Brown

A comic-strip biography of a figure in Canadian history. I was surprised to remember some of his story as depicted in history class in grade school.

Of Water and Wine by Robert Bell

And so it was that* I found my instinct to be correct back in 2000 that this novel is not very good. There is a long story behind my finally reading it, and I could write essays on why I think it is not good, but never mind that.

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

By god, what an accomplishment, finishing this book. It was easier to finish off than it was to sludge through the middle. I could not tell you how many times I had to fight the urge to just drop it and never look at it again.

Things my girlfriend and I have argued about by Mil Millington

I find some of trends in contemporary British literature to be sort of depressing, despite the sense of humour. However—and however much I failed to identify with the main character—I enjoyed this book. I didn’t find out about this dude and book the way most people did, i.e. through the website of the same title or at a bookstore, but through The Weekly, in which the author was (is?) involved, and which I admire to nearly no end anywhere. I was meaning to read the book for a long time, and then I saw it at the library the other day and what do you know, now it’s on the “ready to go back to the library now” pile.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Recommended to me by my conjugal partner’s mom.

An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender
Naked by David Sedaris
Write Across Canada by Michael Winter et al

Total crap. Interesting idea, but crap. Well, but still a quote:
“She stepped towards the plastic bag dispenser. A man in a suit tore off a bag and handed it to her. ‘Oh my God, they’re so polite here. Watch.’ / She reached for another bag, but an elderly lady, head clad in curlers, ripped one off and offered it to Olivia. / ‘We better get out,’ Bruce said, ‘It’s immoral to be so polite. They want something. They’ll expect us to join the NDP.’”

Son of a Smaller Hero by Mordecai Richler

I knew I would like Richler.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

All right, so I did skip parts of a couple of essays, but I was going cross-eyed.

“Devoting lots of productive time to studying closely how people come across to them, fiction writers also spend lots of less productive time wondering nervously how they come across to other people. … A majority of fiction writers, born watchers, tend to dislike being objects of people’s attention.” — In any group, I’d rather watch and listen than participate, and since I was a kid and to this day I tend, in any company, to get hot and red-faced and stuttery if more than one pair of eyes is focused on me. Born to write fiction, pals.

Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith

Uh, yes, well, Professor Dr von Igelfield has my blessing to go on with his entertainments without me.

Home by Mark Macdonald

I picked up this book of stories on a whim at the university bookstore after flipping through it, and it’s not bad, but eh, I was feeling picky when I read it—it didn’t impress me. Maybe I’ll read it again (another hour or two of my life? not such a sacrifice) when I’m feeling more generous.

Norman Bray, in the Performance of his Life by Trevor Cole

All right, I confess, I purchased and have now read this book partly because the writer is a Hamiltonian, but also because it was up for the Governor General’s award. You know.

As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross

I know this is supposed to be classic Canadian literature and all, and it wasn’t bad, but good Christ, suicide really should’ve been considered as an option, what with all that tension and misery.

Dream of Fair to Middling Women by Samuel Beckett

“Let it be said now without further ado, they were just pleasantly drunk. That is, we think, being more, becoming and unbecoming less, than usual. Not so far gone as to be rapt in that disgraceful apotheosis of immediacy from which yesterday and to-morrow are banished and the off dawn into the mire of coma taken; and yet at the same time phony and contrapanic-stuck, than usual. Not, needless to say, melting in that shameless ecstasy of disintegration justly quenched in the mire and pain of reassemblage; no, immediacy, it was merely an innocent and agreeable awareness of being and that less clocklaboriously than was their habit. Pleasantly drunk.” — And so with this you see a sample of what I had to deal with, reading this book, not really understanding most of it.

And Smeraldina-Rima, upon hearing big words: “What’s that? Something to eat?”

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro

It’s an interesting concept, right, of the dedicated and loving wife finding an idea of passion or happiness or something in a man other than her husband, but the positive proliferation of the idea in this book made me uncomfortable, as though I should expect shortly to become silently obsessed with a man other than my boyfriend.

Roughing It by Mark Twain

“… and so we concluded to build a ‘brush’ house. We devoted the next day to this work, but we did so much ‘sitting around’ and discussing, that by the middle of the afternoon we had achieved only a half-way sort of affair which one of us had to watch while the other cut brush, lest if both turned our backs we might not be able to find it again, it had such a strong family resemblance to the surrounding vegetation.”

How Insensitive by Russell Smith

Against my expectations, I liked it, especially the bit about how Louise was struggling to hold the romantic attention of guy who beats her up.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Being There by Jerzy Kosinski

I read this one because I saw the movie, which has this great Shirley MacLaine self-diddling scene!

The Joy of Writing by Pierre Berton

A guide for writers [of non-fiction], disguised as a literary memoir …

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.”

Happiness by Will Ferguson

Not bad at all. I think I may even go on to pay full price for his Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw.

The Concubine's Children by Denise Chong
July's People by Nadine Gordimer
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
Endgame by Samuel Beckett
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

This book had almost all the appearance of being new when I first borrowed it from my mom, but now it is quite worn and torn; and it should be, as it has been with me most places for god knows how many months (six?).

Klee Wyck by Emily Carr
Moonbeams from the Larger Lunacy by Stephen Leacock

“‘Take your soup over to the window,’ she said, ‘and eat it there.’”

Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Life After God by Douglas Coupland

“Mom said people are interested in birds only inasmuch as they exhibit human behaviour—greed and stupidity and anger—and by doing so they free us from the unique sorrow of being human. She thinks humans are tired of having to take the blame all my themselves for all the badness in the world.

“I told Mom my own theory of why we like birds—of how birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.”

I started reading the part about nuclear explosions at the airport while waiting for my delayed flight, and from that point on I had not quite a lump in my throat or a stinging in my eyes, but a strange desire to weep for sadness about the world.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Read in the course of one rainy Saturday.

The Whore's Child and Other Stories by Richard Russo

I read most of this book on the flights to and from Charlottesville the second-last weekend of April; it provided good company. Squeezed in tightly beside a woman scribbling notes on a scrap of paper on the way to CHO, I quietly and briefly cried at the part about the dog in “Joy Ride”; I actually put down the book and wiped my eyes with my air-dirty fingers.

Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis
Middlemarch by George Eliot

“(Every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the consciousness that she was being looked at. She was by nature an actress of parts that entered into her physique: she even acted her own character, and so well, that she did not know it precisely to be her own.)”

“Young folks may get fond of each other before they know what life is, and they may think it all a holiday if they can only get together; but it soon turns into working day, my dear. However, you have more sense than most ….”

“Mary was fond of her own thoughts, and could amuse herself well sitting in twilight with her hands in her lap; for, having early had strong reason to believe that things were not likely to be arranged for her peculiar satisfaction, she wasted no time in astonishment and annoyance at that fact. And she had already come to take life very much as a comedy in which she had a proud, nay, a generous resolution not to act the mean or trecacherous part.”

“The cubic feet of oxygen yearly swallowed by a full-grown man—what a shudder they might have created in some Middlemarch circles! ‘Oxygen! nobody knows what that may be—is it any wonder the cholera has got to Dantzic? And yet there are people who say quarantine is no good!’”

“She did not know then that it was Love who had come to her briefly as in a dream before awaking, with the hues of morning on his wings—that it was Love to whom she was sobbing her farewell as his image was banished by the blameless rigour of irresistible day. She only felt that there was something irrevocably amiss and lost in her lot, and her thoughts about the future were the more readily shapen into resolve.”

Another one to add to my list of favourite novels.

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace
Choke by Chuck Palahniuk

Okay, I think I’ve had enough now.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

“…the uniform legend Complete Works of George Deasey.*
“* This legendary library of self-mortification was lost, and widely considered apocryphal, until 1993, when one of its volumes, Racy Attorney #23, turned up at an IKEA store in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where it was mutely serving as a dignified-looking stage property on a floor-model “Hjorp” wall unit. It is signed by the author and bears the probably spurious but fascinating inscription To my pal Dick Nixon.”

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

“Here was a torture that the Greek inventors of the Feast and the Stone had omitted from their Hades: the Blanket of Self-Deception. A lovely warm blanket as far as it covered the soul in torment, but it never quite covered everything. And the nights were getting cold now.”

& that whole thing between Denise and Don Armour.

“Her heart was full and her senses were sharp, but her head felt liable to burst in the vacuum of her solitude.”

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Uh, I liked the movie more.

Syrup by Maxx Barry

“The problem, as I see it, is that a sad percentage of gorgeous women just settle for being gorgeous. They get to sixteen, go, ‘Well, I’m gorgeous, people like me, that’s it,’ and just stop. I mean, they’ve got nothing on the girls who struggle onward with zits and bad dates, the girls who fight life every step of the way so by the time they’re twenty they’re funny and smart and cynical and utterly, utterly desirable.”

That quote makes me think of a million different contrary thoughts, but, in it essence, it is a good quote.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

“Or else, just possibly, the principal is aware how big a favor it is that he’s asking. He’s been trying to pretend it’s a small, good thing, but they both know better. He’s asking someone on one of the lowest rungs of the high school’s social ladder—a person nearly as friendless as the boy she’s to befriend—to descend to the very bottom of the ladder itself, into the damp darkness where those dwell who have no hope or recourse but to wait patiently for their eventual rescue in the form of graduation (if applicable), college (ditto), a job (in Empire Falls?), marriage (implausible) or death (finally).”

Jennifer Government by Max Barry
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

“‘Curious circumstance about those initials, sir,’ said Mr. Magnus. ‘You will observe—P.M.—post meridian. In hasty notes to intimate acquaintance, I sometimes sign myself “Afternoon.” It amuses my friend very much, Mr. Pickwick.’”

“But bless our editorial heart, what a long chapter we have been betrayed into! We had quite forgotten all such petty restrictions as chapters, we solemnly declare. So here goes, to give the goblin a fair start in a new one! A clear stage and no favour for the goblines, ladies and gentlemen, if you please.”

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Ffordes

The first non-“stuffy” novel I’ve read in a while, and I enjoyed the concept of it much more than the execution. The ending was pretty damn disappointing. I am a very nitpicky reader, I’ll tell you that much.

On Writing by Stephen King

“I like to work longhand, actually; the only problem is that, once I get jazzed, I can’t keep up with the lines forming in my head and I get frazzled.”

“Someone … once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of the story, the writer is thinking, ‘I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?’”

Grinding It Out by Ray Kroc with Robert Anderson

“I refused to worry about more than one thing at a time, and I would not let useless fretting about a problem, no matter how important, keep me from sleeping.” Damn.

Ray Kroc may be dead, but I’ll bet you anything he’s still “green and growing.”

Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
The Greatest Miracle in the World by Og Mandino

Recommended to me.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

So now when I think of Vonnegut, I think “WIDE-OPEN BEAVERS!”

“He made carbon copies of nothing he wrote. He mailed off manuscripts without enclosing stamped, self-addressed envelopes for their safe return. Sometimes he didn’t even include a return address. He got names and addresses of publishers from magazines devoted to the writing business, which he read avidly in the periodical rooms of public libraries. He thus got in touch with a firm called World Classics Library, which published hard-core pornography in Los Angeles, California.”

To Hell and Back by Meat Loaf with David Dalton

An autobiography. My obsession with Meat Loaf has reached a peak. A peak.

“One morning in 1974, I answered the phone. ‘Hello?’ the voice said. ‘Meatball?’”

“More people in Canada owned Bat Out of Hell than owned snowshoes.”

“If I’d had my way, the hallways of record companies would run with the blood of incompetent executives, promoters would be hanged from lamp posts, and the band would suffer the torments of hell. I AM GOD! YOU ARE FOOLS!”

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Palahniuk blows me away. I think I like this book better than Fight Club. I’m all about this crazy religious cult stuff.

You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers

There were good parts, but there were also parts where I just wanted the bloody story to be over.

The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
Silas Marner by George Eliot

“I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our goodwill gets adulterated, in spite of ourselves, before it can pass our lips. We can send black puddings and pettitoes without giving them a flavour of our own egoism; but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil.”

Night Train by Martin Amis

Meh. Interesting, but I liked The Information way better.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon

“Sara would read anything you handed her—Jean Rhys, Jean Shepherd, Jean Genet—at a steady rate of sixty-five pages an hour, grimly and unsparingly and without apparent pleasure. She read upon waking, sitting on the toilet, stretched out in the backseat of the car. When she went to the movies she took a book with her, to read before the show began, and it was not unusual to find her standing in front of the microwave, with a book in one hand and a fork in the other, heating a cup of noodle soup while she read, say, At Lady Molly’s for the third time (she was a sucker for series and linked novels). If there was nothing else she would consume all the magazines and newspapers in the house—reading, to her, was a kind of pyromania—and when these ran out she would reach for insurance brochures, hotel prospectuses and product warranties, advertising circulars, sheets of coupons. Once I had come upon the spectacle of Sara, finished with a volume of C. P. Snow while only partway through one of the long baths she took for her bad back, desperately scanning the label on a bottle of Listerine.”

“Writers, unlike most people, tell their best lies when they are alone.”

“It struck me that the chief obstacle to marital contentment was this perpetual gulf between the well-founded, commendable pessimism of women and the sheer dumb animal optimism of men, the latter a force more than any other responsible for the lamentable state of the world.”

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

I hadn’t cried so much during a book since Where the Red Fern Grows, although maybe The End of the Affair.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

I think now my #1 favourite book. Maybe contemporary novel.

NNYC’s harbor’s Liberty Island’s gigantic Lady has the sun for a crown and holds what looks like a huge photo album under one iron arm, and the other arm holds aloft a product. The product is changed each 1 Jan. by brave men with pitons and cranes.”

“We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately—the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly. To games or needles, to some other person. Something pathetic about it. A flight-from in the form of a plunging-into. Flight from exactly what? These rooms blandly filled with excrement and meat? To what purpose? This was why they started us here so young: to give ourselves away before the age when the questions why and to what grow real beaks and claws. It was kind, in a way.”

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Illusions by Richard Bach

The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

“Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world—even if what is published is not true.”

An eh-ish book. Interesting ideas, but not glorious or life-changing whatsoever. All it really did was make me want to learn to fly a plane.

Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock

“He thought of the forty years he had spent here on the homestead—the rude, pioneer days—the house he had built for himself, with its plain furniture, the old-fashioned spinning-wheel on which Anna had spun his trousers, the wooden telephone, and the rude skidway on which he ate his meals.”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“Do you know why books as such are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

“Words have to be chosen, and then interpreted; but thought-shapes you feel, inside you ….”

“And again there were no words. Words exist that can, used by a poet, achieve a dim monochrome of the body’s love, but beyond that they fail clumsily. My love flowed out to her, hers back to me. Mine stroked and soothed. Hers caressed. The distance — and the difference — between us dwindled and vanished. We could meet, mingle, and blend. Neither one of us existed any more; for a time there was a single being that was both. There was escape from the solitary cell; a brief symbiosis, sharing all the world ….”

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

“‘I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do. If a personality fascinates me, whatever mode of expression that personality selects is absolutely delightful to me.’”

The Information by Martin Amis

Remind me to acquire more brains before I read Martin Amis ever again. Gah.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

“I used to think that every time she looked in the glass she must have hoped and pretended. I pretended too. Different things of course. You can pretend for a long time, but one day it all falls away and you are alone.”

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

“‘I can live alone … I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give … Reason sits firm and holds the reins, and she will not let the feelings burst away and hurry her to wild chasms. The passions may rage furiously, like true heathens, as they are; and the desires may imagine all sorts of vain things: but judgement shall still have the last word in every argument, and the casting vote in every decision. Strong wind, earthquakeshock, and fire may pass by: but I shall follow the guiding of that still small voice which interprets the dictates of conscience.’”

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

I was personally told by my Writer’s Craft teacher to read this novel “by tomorrow!” I refused to resist, even if the book had been read by Oprah’s freaking book club.

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump and Tony Schwartz

Started it about a year ago, finally decided I had to return it to the owner, the one who wanted me to read it. I had one mindset when I read the first half, and a completely different mindset when I read the second half. That makes all the difference.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

One of my favourite novels.

“I touched his hand: I could have sworn it was a dead hand. When two people have loved each other, they can’t disguise a lack of tenderness in a kiss, and wouldn’t I have recognized life if there was any of it left in touching his hand? … People can love without seeing each other, can’t they, they love You all their lives without seeing You, and then he came in at the door, and he was alive … and I wished he was safely back dead again under the door.”

War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

“‘Aren’t you satisfied it is up with humanity? I am. We’re down; we’re beat.’ I stared. Strange as it may seem, I had not arrived at this fact—a fact perfectly obvious so soon as he spoke. I had still held a vague hope; rather, I had kept a life-long habit of mind.”

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die, the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched. Here we sat together, Maxim and I, hand-in-hand, and the past and the future mattered not at all. This was secure, this funny fragment of time he would never remember, never think about again.”

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Straight Man by Richard Russo

“And so I run deeper into the green hills and woods, vaguely aware that these extend, more or less unbroken, all the way to Canada, where, beer commercials tell us, everything is pure and clean.”

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut

Uncollected Short Fiction

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

“At night I lie in bed thinking about Tom Brown and his adventures at Rugby School and all the characters in P.G. Wodehouse. I can dream about the red-lipped landlord’s daughter and the highwayman, and the nurses and nuns can do nothing about it. It’s lovely to know the world can’t interfere with the inside of your head.”

“When you look at pictures of Jesus He’s always wandering around ancient Israel in a sheet. It never rains there and you never hear of anyone coughing or getting consumption or anything like that and no one has a job there because all they do is stand around and eat manna and shake their fists and go to crucifixions.”

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

“It seemed to Scobie that life was immeasurably long. Couldn’t the test of man have been carried out in fewer years? Couldn’t we have committed our first major sin at seven, have ruined ourselves for love or hate at ten, have clutched at redemption on a fifteen-year-old death-bed?”

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

One of my favourites.

“Amory wondered how people could fail to notice that he was a boy marked for glory, and when faces of the throng turned toward him and ambiguous eyes stared into his, he assumed the most romantic of expressions and walked on the air cushions that lie on the asphalts of fourteen. … It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being.”

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

“And then there stole into my fancy, like a rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. The thought came gently and stealthily, and it seemed long before it attained full appreciation; but just as my spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as if magically, from before me; the tall candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Then silence, and stillnes, and the night were the universe.” (from “The Pit and the Pendulum”)

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

“And now I felt this bolshy big hollow inside my plott, feeling very surprised too at myself. I knew what was happening, O my brothers. I was like growing up … Youth must go, ah yes.”

Animal Farm by George Orwell
Bachelors Anonymous by P. G. Wodehouse

I feel almost guilty to be indulging in the humour and glee of this one after the heavy seriousness of the previous.

Light in August by William Faulkner

“Man knows so little about his fellows. In his eyes all men or women act upon what he believes would motivate him if he were mad enough to do what that other man or woman is doing.”

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace

“She viewed everything in life with apprehension, as if every occaison and opportunity were some sort of dreadfully important exam for which she had been too lazy or stupid to prepare properly.”

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The end of Chapter 14 and “It’s a funny thing about girls. Every time you mention some guy that’s strictly a bastard—very mean, or very conceited and all—and when you mention it to the girl, she’ll tell you he has an inferiority complex. Maybe he has, but that still doesn’t keep him from being a bastard, in my opinion.” and “I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

“According to my experience, the conventional notion of a lover cannot be always true. The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.”

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" by Richard Feynman

Adventures of a Curious Character

“I get such fun out of thinking that I don’t want to destroy this most pleasant machine that makes life such a big kick.”

The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams

Crazy. Flat-out insane, in fact.

The Fellowship Of The Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

1 – “This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time.”
2 – “The amazing miracle of death, when one second you’re walking and talking, and the next second, you’re an object.”
3 – “We are not special. We are not crap or trash, either. We just are. We just are, and what happens just happens. And God says, ‘No, that’s not right.’ Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything.”

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

“I can’t change what’s happened to me in my life, or make what’s not occured take place. But I can’t say I like it, or accept it, or believe it’s for the best. I don’t and never shall, not even if I’m damned for it.”

“Hard to imagine a world and I not in it. Will everything stop when I do? Stupid old baggage, who do you think you are? Hagar. There’s no one like me in this world.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

“They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling
Speaking With the Angel by Nick Hornby (ed.)

I loved half of the stories; the other half I could have done without.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I picked this one up because I had heard it was like a male version of Bridget Jones’s Diary. I liked it, but it wasn’t as great as I thought it would be.

Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

Strange and beautiful. I absolutely devoured it.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I like that he writes about frisbee. And most of everything else, too.

Et Tu, Babe by Mark Leyner
White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“The enormous adrenaline rush that sprang from this particular outburst surged through Irie’s body, increased her heart-beat to a gallop and tickled the nerve ends of her unborn child, for Irie was eight weeks pregnant and she knew it.”

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I made the mistake of starting this in avoidance of studying for exams and ended up not being able to study until I finished it.

Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding

Very different than Bridget Jones but still fantastic.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding

Far better than the first one. More outrageous and unbelievable, which is just the way I like this sort of thing.

Emma by Jane Austen

“The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.”

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

“It struck me as pretty ridiculous to be called Mr Darcy and to stand on your own looking snooty at a party. It’s like being called Heathcliff and insisting on spending the entire evening in the garden, shouting ‘Cathy’ and banging your head against a tree.”

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Complete Trilogy) by Douglas Adams

“Anything that happens, happens. Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen. Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again. It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.”

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

“‘Thwarted of one fair charmer, why should I not take another?’ shouted Sir Edward with a savage laugh.”

Completed in a fashion Jane Austen would have never even considered (perhaps), but still a decent read.

Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken

Crappy.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

“She had all the heroism of principle, and was determined to do her duty; but having also many of the feelings of youth and nature, let her not be much wondered at if, after making all these good resolutions on the side of self-government, she seized the scrap of paper on which Edmund had begun writing to her, as a treasure beyond all her hopes, and reading with the tenderest emotion these words, ‘My very dear Fanny, you must do me the favour to accept’ — locked it up with the chain, as the dearest part of the gift.”

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Farewell My Concubine by Lilian Lee

“After all, life is just a play. Or an opera. It would be easier for all of us if we could watch only the highlights. Instead, we must endure convoluted plot twists and excruciating moments of suspense. We sit in the dark, threatened by vague menaces. Of course, those of us in the audience can always walk out; but the players have no choice. Once the curtain goes up they have to perform the play from beginning to end. They have nowhere to hide.”

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

“The shadow had followed behind them, clinging to their steps; and the two children little suspected its presence when they at last sat down, trustingly, under the mighty protection of Apollo, who, with a great bronze gesture, lifted his huge lyre to the heart of a crimson sky.”

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

“No sooner had he made it clear to himself and and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. … Of this she was perfectly unaware; — to her he was only the man who made himself agreeable no where, and who had not thought her handsome enough to dance with.”

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

“‘La! sir,’ said Sir Percy at last, putting up his eye-glass and surveying the young Frenchman with undisguised wonderment. ‘Where in the cuckoo’s name did you learn to speak English?’”

Les Misérables (Abridged) by Victor Hugo

I spent months trying to read the unabridged version after completing this, but decided to give up about two thirds of the way through. This was at age thirteen; I will most likely pick it up again at some point in my life.

“It was all over with him. Marius was in love with a woman.”



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