What a large volume
of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who
interests his heart in everything.
- Laurence Sterne, "A Sentimental Journey"
What did I want? I
wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme,
and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, "The game's afoot!" I wanted to
float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the
Duke of Bilgewater and Lost Dauphin.
I wanted Prester John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and to eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be the way they had promised me it was going to be, instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.
I had had one chance — for ten minutes yesterday afternoon. Helen of Troy, whatever your true name may be — and I had known it — and I had let it slip away. Maybe one chance is all you ever get.
- Robert A. Heinlein, "Glory Road"
"I live in two worlds.
One is a world of books. I've been a resident of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha
County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon,
sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J.
Reilly, rode a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann's
Way. It's a rewarding world."
- Rory Gilmore, "The Gilmore Girls"
The Reader! You, dogged,
uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it's you I'm adressing, who else,
from inside this monstrous fiction. You've read me this far, then? Even
How is it you don't go to a movie, watch tv, stare at a wall, play tennis with a friend, make amorous advances to the person who comes in mind when I speak of amorous advances? Can nothing surfeit, saturate you, turn you off? Where's your shame?
- John Barth, "Lost in the Funhouse"
History takes its origins
in the individual, and man is distinguished from the animals by the fact
that he is always a person, unique and never to be repeated. Unlike science
and natural philosophy, art and religion address themselves to the individual
person, to his heart and soul. They are concerned with the phases of inner
life, not all of which each individual may experience, but which are characteristic
of the history of mankind.
- David McDuff
"Writing is perhaps
the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew
each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time,
allowing us to voyage through time."
- Carl Sagan, "Cosmos"
Except a living man.
there is nothing more wonderful than a book! a message to us from the dead—from
human souls we never saw, who lived, perhaps, thousands of miles away.
And yet these, in those little sheets of paper, speak to us, arouse us,
terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.
- Charles Kinglsey
Literature renews language,
rescuing it from the shallow grave of day-to-day talk.
- John Carey, "What Good Are The Arts?"
The kind of 'difficulty'
claimed for high modernist art frequently seems questionable from another
angle. There are many intellectual tasks, ranging from mathematical problems
to crossword puzzles, which can justly be called 'difficult' in that they
have correct solutions that are hard to work out. To say that a modernist
work of art-T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land, for example-is 'difficult'
is to use the word in a quite different sense. There is no agreement about
what The Waste Land as a whole means, and for some sections of it no explanation
has been found that seems even remotely satisfactory. The idea that the
poem has a solution, like a crossword puzzle, would, in any case, be treated
with disdain by its admirers. However, if it has no correct solution then
its 'difficulty' is quite different from the difficulty of soluble tasks.
Our normal word for things that cannot be understood is 'unintelligible',
and in descriptions of high art, particularly high modernist art, this
might be more accurate than 'difficult'."
- John Carey, "What Good Are The Arts?"
A surprising number
of people — including many students of literature — will tell you they
haven't really lived in a book since they were children.
- AS Byatt, in her controversial review of the "Harry Potter" series of novels, for "IHT"
"We read fine things
but never feel them to the full until we have gone the same steps as the
- John Keats
Writing is not an end
in itself but life transmuted into radiance.
- Brooks Atkinson, commenting on the work of Sean O'Casey, in "The New York Times"
"The artist's life
is to be where life is, active life, found in neither ivory tower nor concrete
shelter; he must be out listening to everything, looking at everything,
and thinking it all out afterward."
- Sean O'Casey
Most of what I know
about the world has been learnt through fiction. Stuff that people made
up... But when I say these books enabled me to “know about the world”,
I mean that they gave me a deeper understanding than the mere nuts and
bolts of historical events; that is, how undemocratically the government
behaves, who invaded whom, when and where, what the labour camp was like,
which calibre of bullet was used by the execution squad, and so on. I realised
all this the other day when, finally, exasperated, I threw aside my copy
of John Updike’s latest novel, Terrorist, and decided instead to watch
Deal or No Deal on Channel 4. I had read just 64 pages, and it had been
a struggle to get that far... Somehow, fiction had lost its power to enthral
or inform. The interesting corollary is that while fiction may have lowered
its sights, truly great writing can be found these days just down the aisle,
in nonfiction. You would be hard-pressed to find a more exquisitely crafted
book than Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers, the grim story of Frederick
and Rosemary West. Or, for that matter, Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers:
The Conflict between Religion & Politics from the French Revolution
to the Great War. It is a mixed-up world where the greatest literary inventiveness,
the most imaginative writing, is found in matters of fact.
- Rod Liddle, "The Times"
I think every man and
every woman should write a book before it's too late. Even if it's not
published it could be left there to be perused by anybody who might come
along... It's an awful shame that men should die filled with untapped wisdom
and knowledge, a shame that they should fade away with no one benefitting
from their stores of agony and grief and suffering from the sum of their
experiences in the journey from cradle to grave. There's a book in everyone...
What good is money if it cannot be spent. In the same way, what good is
knowledge if it cannot be pased on. By knowledge I mean the good and the
bad experiences that will help those that you are leaving behind. The book
is there, inside you, in your face and in your hands and in your heart
- John B. Keane
The seriousness or
otherwise of the subject matter is often irrelevent to the question of
whether a book is any good. F Scott Fitzgerald wrote a great and beautiful
novel which mainly involved shallow people going to parties in a rich guy's
house. By contrast, all sorts of terrible books are published every month
about men slaughtering people for no reason — a serious matter which, in
itself, does not make the author worthy of serious consideration.
- Declan Lynch, "The Irish Independent"
Culture is worth a
- Norman Mailer
I think one of the
hallmarks of great art is that it can win you over to a point of view,
not in the sense of changing your opinions, but by placing the reader in
an emotional frame of mind in which certain opinions are inevitable, at
least for as long as the pages are turning.
- Abigail Nussbaum
It will be my birthday
on Tuesday. Last year, I reached the painful conclusion that there wasn’t
enough time left to read every book ever written. This year, my gloomy
realisation is even more painful — I will not be able to correct everyone’s
mistakes before I depart.
- Daniel Finkelstein, "The Times"
"A bookstore is one
of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking."
- Jerry Seinfeld
Visits to the local
library are among my earliest memories. I recall its smell vividly -- the
fustiness -- and its scale, the towering check-out desk and the shelves
I couldn't reach... Today is World Book Day, in the middle of Library Ireland
Week. Sometimes I still feel like that small girl of seven who pinches
herself at the largesse on offer in libraries; at the worlds we can access
through the pages of a book. I was mesmerised by it and, to be honest,
there's not much I find as enthralling today as I did at seven. But libraries
continue to captivate me.
- Martina Devlin, "The Irish Independent"
are the sunshine; they are the life, the soul of reading; take them out
of this book for instance, you might as well take the book along with them.
- from Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy"
Plunge into a book
as you would a pool of clear water.
- Ancient Egyptian scribal text
People say life is
the thing but I prefer reading.
- Logan Smith
While fiction is often
impossible, it should not be implausible.
- Aristotle (attributed)
There exists a secret society with branches throughout the world, and its plot is to spread the rumor that a universial plot exists
Despite his labyrinthine
erudition, Eco has difficulty bringing his mind into contact with reality.
- John Carey reviews "On Literature" by Umberto Eco for Britain's "Sunday Times"
Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.
For Christmas that
year, Julian gave Sassy a miniature Tyrolean village. The craftsmanship
was remarkable. There was a tiny cathedral whose stained-glass windows
made fruit salad of sunlight. There was a plaza and ein Biergarten. The
Biegarten got quite noisy on Saturday nights. There was a bakery that smelled
always of hot bread and strudel. There was a town hall and a police station,
with cutaway sections that revealed standard amounts of red tape and corruption.
There were little Tyroleans in leather britches, intricately stitched,
and beneath the britches, genitalia of equally fine workmanship. There
were ski shops and many other interesting things, including an orphanage.
The orphanage was designed to catch fire and burn down every Christmas
Eve. Orphans would dash into the snow with their nightgowns blazing. Terrible.
Around the second week of January, a fire inspector would come and poke
through the ruins, muttering, "If they had only listened to me, those children
would be alive today".
- Tom Robbins, "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues"
"What do you believe
"Ha-ha, ho-ho and hee-hee."
- Sissy and The Chink in Tom Robbins' "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues"
I took one glance at
her in that hospital bed under the dull light and recognised the look on
her face, which I'd seen on donors often enough before. It was like she
was willing her eyes to see right inside herself, so she could patrol and
marshal all the better the separate areas of pain in her body.
- Narration, from Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"
"I was weeping for
an altogether different reason. When I watched you dancing that day, I
saw something else. I saw a new world coming rapidly. More scientific,
efficient, yes. More cures for the old sicknesses. Very good. But a harsh,
cruel world. And I saw a little girl, her eyes tightly closed, holding
to her breast the old kind world, one that she knew in her heart could
not remain, and she was holding it and pleading, never to let her go. That
is what I saw. It wasn't really you, what you were doing, I knew that.
But I saw you and it broke my heart."
- The Madame, in Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go"
There was only one
catch and that was Catch22, which specified that a concern for one's safety
in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of
a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do
was ask, and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have
to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane
if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he
was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and
had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this
clause of Catch22, and let out a respectful whistle.
- Joseph Heller, "Catch 22"
Some people are born
mediocre, some people achieve mediocrity, and some people have mediocrity
thrust upon them.
- Joseph Heller, "Catch 22"
Big Brother is watching
- George Orwell, "1984"
All animals are equal,
but some animals are more equal than others.
- George Orwell, "Animal Farm"
All of us should treasure
his Oriental wisdom and his preaching of a Zen-like detachment, as exemplified
by his constant reminder to clerks, tellers, or others who grew excited
by his presence in their banks: "Just lie down on the floor and keep calm."
- Robert Wilson, "John Dillinger Died for You"
"Down these mean streets
a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid."
- Raymond Chandler, "The Simple Art Of Murder"
"She's got an indiscreet
voice", I remarked. "It's full of..." I hesitated.
"Her voice is full of money", he said suddenly.
That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money - that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it.
"He (Mr. Knightley) had been in love with Emma, and jealous of Frank Churchill, from about the same period, one sentiment having probably enlightened him as to the other."
"She ventured to hope
he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was
the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed
it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate
it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly."
- Anne advises Captain Berwick, in "Persuasion" by Jane Austen
"We certainly do not
forget you as soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than
our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined,
and our feelings prey upon us. You are forced on exertion. You have always
a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back
into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken
- Anne, on a woman's depth of emotion, in "Persuasion" by Jane Austen
Jane Austen we know
never let two men converse alone in any novel because what they said would
be unknown to her.
- Jane Gardam, reviewing "Jane Austen and Crime" in "The Spectator"
"There is much pain
that is quite noiseless; and that make human agonies are often a mere whisper
in the of hurrying existence. There are glances of hatred that stab and
raise no cry of murder; robberies that leave man of woman for ever beggared
of peace and joy, yet kept secret by the sufferer-committed to no sound
except that of low moans in the night, seen in no writing except that made
on the face by the slow months of suppressed anguish and early morning
tears. Many an inherited sorrow that has marred a life has been breathed
into no human ear."
- George Eliot, "Felix Holt, the Radical" (submitted by Mary Achee)
Jane Austen's famous
opening sentence ("It is a truth universally acknowledged ...") is intended
to flatter the reader with feelings of worldly superiority to the claustrophobic
society she writes about. But a couple centuries later, the joke is on
the reader. Thanks to novelists like Austen and Anthony Trollope, people
today whose own lives are different in almost every conceivable way share
a feeling and a fondness for provincial life in Britain in the late 18th
and 19th centuries. Yes, of course, there's yet another twist on Austen's
joke: These novels actually do explore universal and timeless aspects of
the human condition. But the pleasure of escaping into their particular
small and long-gone world is at least an equal part of their appeal. The
19th century was a time when Britain mattered. And then, as now, the countryside,
not London, was the essence of Britain to the Brits themselves. Today Britain
doesn't matter much. But who the new vicar will be in some fictional village
200 years ago still matters a lot. It is history's consolation prize. Nineteenth-century
English village life will always loom large in the world's imagination,
like Greenland in a Mercator projection map. Today America matters, for
the moment. Some day, possibly soon, we won't. Where in America is the
essence of our society, and is anybody creating the mocking but affectionate
portrait of it that will still seduce people in the 23rd century?
- Michael Kinsley, "Slate Magazine"
Jane Austen wrote six
of the most beloved novels in the English language, we are informed at
the end of "Becoming Jane," and so she did. The key word is "beloved."
Her admirers do not analyze her books so much as they just plain love them
- Roger Ebert, from his movie review of "Becoming Jane"
Big-endians and small-endians.
- from CS Forester's "Horatio Hornblower" series
If we want things to
stay as they are, things will have to change.
- Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, "The Leopard"
Once I read an article by a man born and brought up in one of the countless brick terraces of south Manchester. He wrote that the supreme moment of his life had come when, as a little boy, he had gone out into the street during an air raid and looked at the sky. Suddenly he realised that somebody, at least, knew that he existed; somebody cared enough to be trying to kill him.
- Thornton Wilder, "Our Town"
"People are meant to go through life two by two. 'Tain't natural to be lonesome."
- Mrs Gibbs in Thornton Wilder's, "Our Town"
"Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron flags on their graves, New Hampshire boys had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they'd never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends - the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died for it."
- The Stage Manager describes the cemetery, in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town"
"Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye, world. Good-bye, Grover's Corner... Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking, and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dressed and hot baths... and sleeping and waking. Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?"
- Emily, in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town"
A man goes to a tailor
to try on a new custom-made suit. The first thing he notices is that the
arms are too long.
"No problem," says the tailor. "Just bend them at the elbow and hold them out in front of you. See, now it's fine."
"But the collar is up around my ears!"
"It's nothing. Just hunch your back up a little ... no, a little more ... that's it."
"But I'm stepping on my cuffs!" the man cries in desperation.
"No, bend you knees a little to take up the slack. There you go. Look in the mirror - the suit fits perfectly."
So, twisted like a pretzel, the man lurches out onto the street. Reba and Florence see him go by.
"Oh, look," says Reba, "that poor man!"
"Yes," says Florence, "but what a beautiful suit."
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all doing direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Lolita, light of my
life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta : the tip of my tongue
making a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth.
Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
In fact, I would have the reader see 'nine' and 'fourteen' as the boundaries - the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks - of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast misty sea. Between those age limits, are all girl-children nymphets? Of course not. Otherwise, we who are in the know, we lone voyagers, we nympholets, would have long gone insane.
The trouble was that these gentlemen had not, and I had, caught glimpses of an incomparably more poignant bliss. The dimmest of my pollutive dreams was a thousand times more dazzling than all the adultery the most virile writer of genius or the most talented impotent might imagine.
There was me, that
is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim. And we sat
in the Korova Milkbar, trying to make up our razudoks what to do with the
evening. The Korova Milkbar sold milk-plus; milk plus vellocet or synthemesc
or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up
and get you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
- Alex, Your humble narrator, in "A Clockwork Orange"
And the first thing
that flashed into my gulliver was that I'd like to have her right down
there on the floor with the old in-out, real savage.
- Alex, well, you figure it out
"What you got back
home, little sister, to play your fuxxy warbles on? I bet you got little
save pitiful portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper.
Hear angel trumpets and devil trombone. You are invited."
- Alex invites a girl to listen to some classical music
- It's quite good, by all accounts
Alex descends into
hell for a bottle of milk
- Title of a U2 b-side
"You don't need anything.
You have everything."
"No, I don't."
"Oh, s**t, Rip, what don't you have?"
"I don't have anything to lose."
- Clay and Rip, "Less Than Zero"
I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language - and it is not because I am a biblical scholar, or because of any religious faith, but because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.
Book lovers are thought
by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them
are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books
as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug.
They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them
to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at command. They want books
as a Turk is thought to want concubines - not to be hastily deflowered,
but to be kept at their master's call, and enjoyed more often in thought
than in reality.
- Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost (1951)
A print addict is a
man who reads in elevators. People occasionally look at me curiously when
they see me standing there, reading a paragraph or two as the elevator
goes up. To me, it's curious that there are people who do not read in elevators.
What can they be thinking about?
- Robert Fulford , "The Pastimes of a Print Addict" (1966)
"We buy so many books
because we think we're buying the time to read them."
choose "Hamlet" because every man sees himself as a disinherited monarch.
Women choose "Alice in Wonderland" because every woman sees herself as
the only reasonable creature among crazy people who think they are disinherited
- Adam Gopnik, "The New Yorker"
# SHERLOCK HOLMES
It is not really difficult
to construct a series of inferences, each dependent upon its predecessor
and each simple in itself. If, after doing so, one simply knocks out all
the central inferences and presents one's audience with the starting-point
and the conclusion, one may produce a startling, though perhaps a meretricious,
- Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Dancing Men"
When you have eliminated
the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Sign of Four"
It is a capital mistake
to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to
suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
- Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia"
"Is there any point
to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident."
- Inspector Gregory and Sherlock Holmes, "Silver Blaze"
"See the value of imagination.
It is the one quality which Inspector Gregory lacks. We imagined what might
have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified.
Let us proceed."
- Holmes, to Watson, as they find the trail, "Silver Blaze"
"I am not tired. I
have a curious constitution. I never remember feeling tired by work, though
idleness exhausts me completely."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Sign of Four"
"The game is afoot."
- Sherlock Holmes & Shakespeare
"Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always at a woman's sleeve. In a man, it is perhaps better to take the knee of the trouser."
"Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward."
"A dog reflects the
family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog
in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure Of The Creeping Man"
"I cannot agree with
those who rank modesty among the virtues. To the logician all things should
be seen exactly as they are, and to underestimate one's self is as much
a departure from truth as to exaggerate one's own powers."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Greek Interpreter"
I said that he was
my superior in observation and deduction. If the art of the detective began
and ended in reasoning from an armchair, my brother would be the greatest
criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He
will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would
rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right.
- Sherlock describes his brother Mycroft, "The Greek Interpreter"
"However, wretch as
he was, he was still living under the shield of British law, and I have
no doubt, Inspector, that you will see that, though that shield may fail
to guard, the sword of justice is still there to avenge."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Resident Patient"
"The London criminal
is certainly a dull fellow. Look out of this window, Watson. See how the
figures loom up, are dimly seen, and then blend once more into the cloudbank.
The thief or the murderer could roam London on such a day as the tiger
does the jungle, unseen until he pounces, and then evident only to his
"There have been numerous petty thefts."
"This great and sombre stage is set for something more worthy than that. It is fortunate for this community that I am not a criminal."
"It is, indeed!"
- Holmes and Watson, with London under a blanket of fog, "The Bruce Partington Plans"
"The whole force of
the State is at your back if you should need it."
"I’m afraid that all the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men cannot avail in this matter."
- Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, "The Bruce Partington Plans"
"Any truth is better
than indefinite doubt."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Yellow Face"
"As a rule, the more
bizarre a thing is, the less mysterious it proves to be."
- Sherlock Holmes
"By a man's finger-nails,
by his coat-sleeve, by his boots, by his trouser-knees, by the callosities
of his forefinger and thumb, by his expression, by his shirt-cuff — By
each of these things a man's calling is plainly revealed. That all united
should fail to enlighten the competent inquirer in any case is almost inconceivable.
You know that a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his
trick; and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come
to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all."
- Sherlock Holmes, "A Study In Scarlet"
"You mentioned your
name as if I should recognize it, but beyond the obvious facts that you
are a bachelor, a solicitor, a freemason, and an asthmatic, I know nothing
whatever about you."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Norwood Builder"
I had neither kith
nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air -- or as free as an
income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be.
Under such circumstances, I naturally gravitated to London, that great
cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly
- Dr. Watson, in "A Study in Scarlet"
His ignorance was as
remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and
politics he appeared to know next to nothing... My surprise reached a climax,
however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican
Theory and of the composition of the Solar System.
- Watson, describing Holmes in "A Study in Scarlet"
"I consider that a
man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock
it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber
of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be
useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of
other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it...
It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can
distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for
every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.
It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing
out the useful ones."
"But the Solar System!"
"What the deuce is it to me? You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."
- Holmes and Watson, in "A Study in Scarlet"
"It may be that you
are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some
people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating
it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt."
- Holmes to Watson, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
"The setting is a worthy
one, if the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men."
- Holmes, surveying the Grimpen moors, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
"He foresaw that she
would be very much more useful to him in the character of a free woman."
- Holmes, about Miss Stapleton, "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
Far away on the path
we saw Sir Henry looking back, his face white in the moonlight, his hands
raised in horror, glaring helplessly at the frightful thing which was hunting
him down. But that cry of pain from the hound had blown all our fears to
the winds. If he was vulnerable he was mortal, and if we could wound
him we could kill him. Never have I seen a man run as Holmes ran
- Watson, chasing down "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
- Holmes and Dr. Leon Sterndale, "The Devil's Foot"
"Let me say right here,
Mr. Holmes, that money is nothing to me in this case. You can burn it if
it’s any use in lighting you to the truth. This woman is innocent and this
woman has to be cleared, and it’s up to you to do it. Name your figure!"
"My professional charges are upon a fixed scale, I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether."
- Gibson and Holmes, "The Problem of Thor Bridge"
"There's an east wind
coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will
be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its
blast. But it's God's own wind none the less and a cleaner, better stronger
land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
- Sherlock Holmes, "His Last Bow"
"Have you tried to
drive a harpoon through a body? No? Tut, tut, my dear sir, you must really
pay attention to these details."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure Of Black Peter"
"It is always a joy
to meet an American, Mr. Moulton, for I am one of those who believes that
the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years
will not prevent our children from being some day citizens of the same
world-wide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union
Jack with the Stars and Stripes."
- Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"
"You'll be interested
to hear that I am engaged... To Milverton's housemaid."
"Good heavens, Holmes!"
"I wanted information, Watson."
"Surely you have gone too far?"
"It was a most necessary step."
"...But the girl, Holmes?"
"You can't help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned."
- Holmes and Watson, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"
"She does not shine
as a wife even in her own account of what occurred. I am not exactly a
whole-souled admirer of womankind, as you are aware, Watson, but my experience
of life has taught me that there are few wives, having any regard for their
husband's, who would let any man's spoken word stand between them and that
husband's dead body. Should I ever marry Watson, I should to inspire my
wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked-off by
a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her."
- Holmes, about Mrs Douglas, "The Valley of Fear"
"I think there are
certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some
extent, justify private revenge."
- Holmes, "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"
I write these few lines
through the courtesy of Mr. Moriarty, who awaits my convenience for the
final discussion of those questions which lie between us. He has been giving
me a sketch of the methods by which he avoided the English police and kept
himself informed of our movements. They certainly confirm the very high
opinion which I had formed of his abilities.
I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you. I have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this. Indeed, if I may make a full confession to you, I was quite convinced that the letter from Meiringen was a hoax, and I allowed you to depart on that errand under the persuasion that some development of this sort would follow.
Tell Inspector Patterson that the papers which he needs to convict the gang are in pigeonhole M., done up in a blue envelope and inscribed "Moriarty." I made every disposition of my property before leaving England and handed it to my brother Mycroft. Pray give my greetings to Mrs. Watson, and believe me to be, my dear fellow, Very sincerely yours, Sherlock Holmes.
"The main reason Sherlock
Holmes has survived as a character is that we see him through the eyes
of Dr Watson. If Sherlock Holmes were the viewpoint character; if he were
the narrator or it was a third person story in which you were always privy
to the workings of his mind, we would probably have forgotten him. He would
just seem like a contrived freak. The reason that the character still works
is that Watson, who I think is a much better rounded character, is somebody
we actually believe in as a human being. Because we see Holmes through
Watson there is a sense that Holmes takes on a depth and a reality."
- Kim Newman, "A Study in Sherlock"
"There's a sort of
comfort in going back to the time when it's always 1895. It's a more ordered
world perhaps, it's a world which is a little easier to understand than
our post-nuclear world. It's a form of escapism and I was quite glad to
escape into it.
- Michael Cox, producer of ITV's "Sherlock Holmes", "A Study in Sherlock"
"A Sherlock Holmes
with the fire and ice of the original."
- On Jeremy Brett's performance as Holmes, "A Study in Sherlock"
to be said for Mr Holmes's methods. The man who lived in this room for
example. A man who perhaps demanded too much from people and had to live
in books to get it; who spent most of his time alone. A shy man, who didn't
try to assert himself; never thought of impressing people. Instead he took
refuge in a world of his own imagination."
- Tom Lawrence, investigating the death of a Prof Jameson, "The Falcon & The Co-Eds"
For me, the fifty-six
short stories and four novellas that make up the Holmes opus is a sort
of a secular bible. I find that, you know, the stories, they encompass
all aspects of human dealings. Everything, you know, from jealousy, greed,
drug addiction, interracial marriage—the whole gamut of human experience.
And wading through this is this sort of knight errant who lives long enough
ago to sort of be in a galaxy far away, on the one hand. But on the other
hand he inhabits a world that is still recognizable to us, as this, you
know, a world with streets and traffic and trains and things like that.
So he sort of bridges an interesting gap. And also as the first, he's not
really the first, but as for all practical purposes, the first detective.
You know Edgar Allen Poe might lay claim, and there's a Chinese 7th century
circuit court judge who might lay claim, but for all practical purposes,
in the popular imagination as the first detective. He does something that
we find very reassuring. Now, I think detective stories deliver exactly
the opposite of what they promise. Which is to say, they promise thrills
and chills and horrible deeds and the body splayed at an unnatural angle
with the head bashed in from a blunt instru—blah blah—terrible, terrible
stuff, but people like to curl up with a good mystery. They like to go
to bed with a good—a more intimate conjunction could hardly be imagined
than to take this book to bed that's promising all these things. So perhaps
it's not delivering those things, but delivering something else. In fact,
I think what detective literature delivers is a very reassuring view of
an otherwise meaningless world. What's real life? Real life is you slip
on a banana peel and fall into a manhole, you know open, and cover, and
you die. And things happen for no rhyme or reason. You are minding your
own business in the World Trade Towers, and somebody crashes a plane into
it. But in detective stories, as people always say, sooner or later, it
all adds up. Nothing happens without a reason. And Holmes makes everything
reasonable. He, he parses it for you. He, he takes it apart and says this
is what is going on, this is what things really mean. And I think we yearn
for a world in which that happens or, failing that, a world in which somebody
like Holmes can explain it to us.
- Nicholas Meyers, Sherlock Holmes scriptwriter
The English Bible:
a book which if everything else in our language should perish, would alone
suffice to show the whole extent of its beauty and power.
- Thomas Babington Macauley
He that studies books
alone will know how things ought to be; and he who studies men will know
how they are.
- Charles Caleb Colton, 1829
Today a reader — tomorrow
- W Fusselman
With books we stand
on the shoulders of giants.
- John Locke
Reading furnishes the
mind only with materials for knowledge; it is thinking that makes what
we read ours.
- John Locke
Good writers define
reality; bad ones merely restate it.
- Edward Albee
Most of us cherish,
instinctively, the idea that reading books (rather than, say, watching
television, listening to the radio or surfing the internet) is in some
complicated way a civilising influence. But books are no more than a way
of transmitting language through time and space. They transmit all sorts
of language, and are subject to all sorts of readings and misreadings.
Not all those who read a book come away more civilised for it. Think of
all those teenagers whose reading of Ayn Rand or Albert Camus made them
so insufferably irritating to their parents and their teachers. Think of
the Nazis who read Nietzsche. Think of those who — immersed in conspiracy-theory
books like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail — come away with an ever less
rational view of the world. Think of Mark Chapman's threadbare copy of
The Catcher in the Rye. Don't get me started on the Bible or the Koran.
- Sam Leith, "The Spectator"
Today the crime novelist
has one advantage denied to writers of ‘straight’ or ‘literary’ novels.
Unlike them he can range over all levels of society, for crime can easily
breach the barriers that exist in our stratified society. Because of these
barriers the modern literary novel, unlike its 19th-century predecessors,
is often confined to the horizontal, dealing only with one class. But crime
runs through society from top to bottom, and so the crime novelist can
present a fuller picture of the way we live now.
- Allan Massie, "The Spectator"
I'm afraid of coaching,
of writer's classes, of writer's magazines, of books on how to write. They
give me "centipede trouble" — you know the yarn about the centipede who
was asked how he managed all his feet? He tried to answer, stopped to think
about it, and was never able to walk another step.
- Robert A. Heinlein
"I don't talk very
well. With writing, you've time to get it right. Also I've found the more
I talk the less I write, and if I didn't write no one would want me to
- Alan Bennett, interviewed on "The South Bank Show"
Writing a book is an
adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes
a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase
is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill
the monster, and fling him out to the public.
- Winston Churchill
Writing is the hardest
work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell
you — as if you haven't been told a million times already — that writing
is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
- Harlan Ellison
Half of what I say
is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.
~ Kahil Gibran
You don't write because
want to say something; you write because you've got something to say.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up"
A man is known by the
books he reads.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Only presidents, editors
and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial 'we.'
- Mark Twain
I do not want people
to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them.
- Jane Austen
"When *I* use a word,"
Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose
it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
- Lewis Carroll, "Alice In Wonderland"
"Language is my whore,
my mistress, my wife, my pen-friend, my check-out girl."
- Stephen Fry, "A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie"
Asterisks are the elite
troops of language, always ready to parachute in and throw themselves on
the live grenade that is an inappropriate series of letters. Never a thought
for themselves. All they care about is making sure that you, gentle reader,
are safe at all times.
- Damien Owens, "The Irish Independent"
I (Matt Baker)
love parentheses. They’re like little hugs.
- Matt Baker, at TNMC.org
In the battle for pre-eminence
among verbs of compulsion or requirement, need to has won a bloodless and
overwhelming victory over must, ought to, should, and the former and longtime
champion, have to, which yields only about a billion Google hits compared
to two billion for need to. Its popularity is partly explained by its versatility.
Passive constructions in the form of "the floor needs to be washed" or
"the video needs to be returned" deftly finesse the question of just who
will be doing the washing or returning. And need to is just the thing for
the currently very popular tense I call the kindergarten imperative, as
in, "I need you to put away your crayons now."
- Ben Yagoda, "Slate Magazine"
"Anyone who can only
think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination."
- Mark Twain
"He has only half learned
the art of reading who has not added to it the even more refined accomplishments
of skipping and skimming."
- Arthur Balfour
"The righteous man
sits upon the throne and looks about him and if he sees any person standing
who needs the throne more than he does, immediately he gives it up and
there is much rejoicing."
"This the area of the vigilant neighbour and the burglar shall not prosper."
- Oliver Pritchett, rewriting some modern signposts in "The Telegraph"
pages, which literary experts presume is a two-act play composed some time
between 1973 and 1975, are already being heralded as one of the most ambitious
works by the Nobel Prize-winning author of Waiting For Godot... In what
was surely a conscious decision by Mr Beckett, the white, uniform, non-ruled
pages, which symbolise the starkness and emptiness of life, were left unbound,
unmarked, and untouched," said Trinity College professor of Irish literature
- The Onion
My colleague Christopher
Howse has pointed out that you can tell that "The Da Vinci Code" is rubbish
just by its name. Students of art refer to the man in question as 'Leonardo',
'Da Vinci' being simply the identifier of his town of origin. So Dan Brown's
title is the equivalent of a book about Jesus being called 'Of Nazareth'.
- Charles Moore, in his "Spectator" diary
Our whole American
way of life is a great war of ideas, and librarians are the arms dealers
selling weapons to both sides.
- James Quinn
People can lose their
lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.
- Saul Bellow
If written directions
alone would suffice, libraries wouldn't need to have the rest of the universities
- Judith Martin
The books that the
world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.
- Oscar Wilde
A classic is something
that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.
A classic is a book that everybody praises and that nobody reads.
- Mark Twain (attributed)
Always read stuff that
will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.
- P.J. O'Rourke
Life, as the signs
in the liquor stores say, is too short to drink bad wine. And summer is
too short to read bad books.
- David Frum
I try to leave out
the parts that people skip.
- Elmore Leonard Jr.
The last time somebody
said, "I find I can write much better with a word processor.", I replied,
"They used to say the same thing about drugs."
- Roy Blount, Jr.
This is not a novel
to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
- Dorothy Parker
The covers of this
book are too far apart.
- Ambrose Bierce
In the faculty of writing
nonsense, stupidity is no match for genius.
- Walter Bagehot
Truth is easier to
invent than fiction.
- Alexander Linklater, on James Frey's invented memoir, "The Guardian"
To see Stephen Spender
fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror
of seeing a Sevres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.
- Evelyn Waugh
This is the best book
ever written by any man on the wrong side of a question of which he is
- Thomas B. Macaulay
This book fills a much-needed
- Moses Hadas
Books are like a mirror.
If an ass looks in, you can't expect an angel to look out.
- Arthur Schopenhauer
Your manuscript is
both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and
the part that is original is not good.
- Samuel Johnson
While an author is
yet living, we estimate his powers by his worst performance; and when he
is dead we rate them by his best.
- Samuel Johnson
Criticism is a study
by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense.
- Samuel Johnson
Never having been able
to succeed in the world, he took his revenge by speaking ill of it.
"I don't read my reviews,
I measure them."
- Arnold Bennett, British novelist
"They write them long
because they can't write them short."
- Raymond Chandler, on verbose writers
"No one likes my books
except the public."
- Mickey Spillane, unconcerned by bad reviews, "Life Magazine"
If we want a book to
do more than what it does, that's a condemnation. If we want it to do more
of what it does, that's an endorsement.
- Clive James
I’m not sure which
I dislike more: 'Ulysses' or the James Joyce estate. Admittedly, a few
people have got some pleasure from 'Ulysses', but against that, you have
to weigh the millions of lives that have been ruined by the futile attempts
to read it.
- Kevin Myers, in "The Irish Times"
I confess that I have
not cleared a path through all seven hundred pages, I confess to having
examined only bits and pieces, and yet I know what it is, with that bold
and legitimate certainty with which we assert our knowledge of a city,
without ever having been rewarded with the intimacy of all the many streets
- Jorge Luis Borges, from his review of Ulysses
"What Jane Austen novels
have you read?"
"None. I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author."
- Audrey and Tom, in Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan"
Kitty Kelley's method,
already perfected in her unauthorised and unflattering biographies of Frank
Sinatra and Nancy Reagan, is to write bestsellers that take what she describes
as an 'unblinking look' at their subjects — which might, of course, mean
that her eyes are permanently open or permanently closed... the result
is a work so bad that Britons cannot realise how fortunate they are in
being unable to buy it. The great mistake with this book is not that it
has been published in Britain, but that it has actually been published
- David Cannadine, reviewing "The Royals" in "The London Review of Books"
On several occasions,
we are informed that the professional ideal 'took steps', 'organised assaults',
and 'selected social problems'. But this is anthropomorphic metaphor implausibly
masquerading as historical explanation.
- David Cannadine, reviewing "The Rise of Respectable Society", "New York Review of Books"
When I heard the book
(Thomas Friedman's latest) was actually coming out, I started to worry.
Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual
ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense
of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary
incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length
- Matt Taibbi, reviewing "The World is Flat", "New York Press"
The Da Vinci Code may
well be the only novel ever written that begins with the word 'renowned'...
I think what enabled the first word to tip me off that I was about to spend
a number of hours in the company of one of the worst prose stylists in
the history of literature was this. Putting curriculum vitae details into
complex modifiers on proper names or definite descriptions is what you
do in journalistic stories about deaths; you just don't do it in describing
an event in a narrative... Why did I keep reading? Because London Heathrow
is a long way from San Francisco International.
- Geoffrey K. Pullum, on his "Language Log" blog
Ethan Frome: a novella
inflicted upon unsuspecting high school students all across the U.S. by
people who apparently don't feel that being a teenager is quite depressing
- Abigail Nussbaum
"I have lived my life
in the slipstream of experience"
- Elizabeth Jane Howard, "Slipstream: A Memoir"
"Amis is acutely, vibrantly
sensitive to the different registers of laughter. He knows that it can
be the most affirming and uniquely human sound, and also the most sinister
and animalistic one. He understands every note of every octave that separates
the liberating shout of mirth from the cackle of a bully or the snigger
of a sadist.
- Chistopher Hitchens, reviews "Koba The Dread" by Martin Amis
"Some people have a
knack, for example, of being able to tell when someone's lying to them.
They may not know what the truth is, but they can tell when someone is
trying to lead them astray or sell them something shady. I think he had
that ability to an amazing degree.
I also think he thought, without saying it explicitly, that you can convince a crowd of something that's not true more easily than you can one person at a time."
- Chistopher Hitchens describes George Orwell
"Perhaps we should
keep our monsters about us, lest we become them ourselves."
- Adam Dunn, reviewing Steven Sherrill's "The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break"
"Ah, but you see, I
didn’t want to be fair."
- EM Forster, responding to accusations that "A Passage to India" was unfair to the British Raj
I suggest that the
only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which
have gone a little farther down our\particular path than we have yet gone
- EM Forster
Don't ask me who's
influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he's digested, and I've been
reading all my life.
- Giorgos Seferis
Fiction reveals truth
that reality obscures.
- Jessamyn West
Art is a lie that helps
us to realize the truth.
A lot of first novels
are written long before they're actually put down on paper.
- Roger Ebert, film critic, in a review of "Wonder Boys"
Steve Coogan picks
up enough to lecture an interviewer: "This is a postmodern novel before
there was any modernism to be post about." Later it's claimed that Tristram
Shandy was "No. 8 on the Observer's list of the greatest novels," which
cheers everyone until they discover the list was chronological.
- Roger Ebert, from his review of "Tristram Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story"
If there's a gun on
the wall in act one, scene one, you must fire the gun by act three, scene
two. If you fire a gun in act three, scene two, you must see the gun on
the wall in act one, scene one.
- Anton Chekov's First Rule of Playwriting
A writer of books has
to admit that film is the enemy, and that in my case I have been sleeping
with the enemy.
- E. L. Doctorow, on helping to adapt his books to film
I have made this letter
longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.
- Blaise Pascal
Nature and Books belong
to the eyes that see them.
The truth is that even
big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved
by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop,
one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad
day and has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves which
end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to
enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter =
mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.
- Terry Pratchett, "Guards! Guards!"
Words are our servants,
not our masters. For different purposes, we find it convenient to use words
in different senses.
- Richard Dawkins, 'The Blind Watchmaker'
- Quentin Crisp, describing euphemisms
A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted. You should live several lives while reading it.
- Ray Bradbury
"Candide" is the work
of an angry men who knows that mere rage will not influence a readership,
but satire, wit and savage irony will. It carried to new heights Voltaire's
typical method of ridicule by teasing out the logical absurdities in any
given tenet (what is often termed the method of 'reductio ad absurdum').
Partly Voltaire is mocking devout allegories like Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress"
and partly he is developing the genre of the philosophical fable so popular
in the 18th century; such tales were widely read into the 19th century
but in our own era have been subsumed in the genre of science fiction.
- Frank McLynn, discussing the work of Voltaire, "1759"
The arts do not necessarily
make us better people, as George Steiner argued so cogently in his book
Language and Silence when he spoke of concentration camp guards who could
listen to Beethoven, then head back to the gas chambers. I don't believe
in high art and low art - I believe in good and bad art, but am open-minded
enough to know that art I think one, others may think the other. My favourite
work of art? Impossible to say: depending on my mood, I might posit Mozart's
Requiem, Francis Bacon's Figures at the Foot of a Crucifixion, Ben &
Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream, Gordon Banks's save from Pele, a Ronnie
O'Sullivan break, Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine' or Anthony Powell's A Dance
to the Music of Time. Or a thousand others.
- Ian Rankin, Novelist, interviewed in "The Observer"
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