Formerly Book of common places: orig. A book in which 'commonplaces' or passages important for reference were collected, usually under general heads; hence a book in which one records passages or matters to be especially remembered or referred to, with or without arrangement.
-Oxford English Dictionary
Careerism is death.
-Robert Penn Warren
The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
-2 Corinthians 3:6
The root of beauty is audacity.
-Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago
...small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!
-Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Novels don't articulate theories; they disarticulate them. They are to ideals of conduct what hunger is to table manners: they are keenly aware of the disproportion between the elegance of form and the exigencies of appetite.
-Louis Menand on Middlemarch
There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.
-Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"
...the tall, proud volumes casting a golden shadow in a corner were not—as his vanity had dreamed—a mirror of the world, but rather one more thing added to the world.
-Jorge Luis Borges, "A Yellow Rose"
A man sets himself the task of portraying the world. Through the years he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his face.
-Jorge Luis Borges, epilogue to El Hacedor
Be not afraid of absurdity; do not shrink from the fantastic. Within a dilemma, choose the most unheard-of, the most dangerous, solution. Be brave, be brave!
-Isak Dinesen, "The Deluge at Norderney"
...everything that surrounds us beats against us and corrodes us from the first day, from the first moment of our existence.
-Marta Morazzoni, The Invention of Truth
"I know my mother thought that it was dreadfully vulgar to write about your family, something absolutely outside the pale," he said.
Was there, I asked Mortimer, anything his mother could have said to stop him? He said, "No, I don't think so." A while later he said, "I think all writers are ruthless. You have to be ruthless."
-profile of John Mortimer in The New Yorker
Novels aren't supposed to be fair.
In a way a poem is never finished. It simply reaches a point where it isn't worth any more alteration, where any further tampering is liable to do more harm than good. There are passages in my books that make me wince, but I can't do anything with them.
-Robert Lowell, New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1964
The beauty is in the walking. We are betrayed by destinations.
What I do is owing to perfect rage and resentment, and the mortifying sight of slavery, folly, and baseness about me, among which I am forced to live.
Ours is a precarious language, as every writer knows, in which the merest shadow line often separates affirmation from negation, sense from nonsense, and one sex from another.
Say what you want about it, Hell is story-friendly. If you want a compelling story, put your protagonist among the damned.
To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but the inalienable privilege of any man of arts and culture.
-Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
Like his Gulliver, like Lewis Carroll's Alice, Swift is always too big or too small for the company he keeps. He longs for the world's rewards but cannot respect the world's rules, and cannot be quiet.
-Victoria Glendinning on Jonathan Swift
When all reservations have been entered, in the correctly unctuous and apprehensive tone, about the direction he has taken, it remains to acknowledge that it is a direction, and that the refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one's obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.
-John Updike on J. D. Salinger, New York Times Book Review, September 17, 1961
He who forfeits his calling forfeits his right to live.
I just concentrated on what I was doing.
Everywhere I go, I'm asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.
Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.
-Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
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