Sharing thousands of sparkling, moving, entrancing quotations amassed over decades of slow-savoured reading, to refresh the mind and spirit and invigorate flagging thought and flaccid prose. Dive in!

A quotation is not an excerpt.  A quotation is a cicada.  It is part of its nature never to quiet down.  Once having got hold of the air, it does not release it. 

Source: Osip Mandelstam, ‘Conversation about Dante’ (London: Notting Hill Editions, 2011), p. 108

I have discovered that, with the passing of the years, my ignorance in countless areas… has become increasingly perfected while, at the same time, a lifelong practice of haphazard readings has left me with a sort of commonplace book in whose pages I find my own thoughts put into the words of others.   

Source: Alberto Manguel, The City of Words, CBC Massey Lecture Series (Toronto: Anansi Press, 2007), p. 3

Lasting love, changing love

Lasting love, changing love

A touching description of how love can be constant and yet changing.  This is a long standing and quietly happy marriage, and over time the fulcrum has shifted.  And the love they share sets things to rights when they have an off moment. And he loved her too, but his...

Silence or story?

Silence or story?

Ivan is the protagonist of Grossman's novel Everything Flows, apparently modelled on his brother in law.  This is an account of a man who spent three decades in a gulag and then one day found himself back in 'normal' life. By telling the story of one man, Grossman...

A country or a farm

A country or a farm

A profound distinction, in my view, between a sum of parts and a sum of gifts.  And does this just apply to a country or a farm?   Perhaps you could say the same for a culture, a community, or a person. Wise Antoine has nailed it again. A country - or a farm - is not...

Of freedom

Of freedom

Ever to the point, Saint-Exupery saw sharply to the heart of things.  This comment resonates with me after having observed (and been subjected to) varying forms of management.  My conclusion was that among the most common weaknesses of people in positions of...

Getting to know your grandfather

The crotchety old man is softened and soothed by his grandson, and responds to his many direct questions with surprising patience.  Eventually he allows the small child to make decisions...

Grateful gods

Adults, as you know, are remote, powerful and unpredictable, giving them a striking resemblance to the Greek gods on Olympia. When they make promises to take you to the circus which...

When restraint liberates invention

Although this refers to art, it seems the same in other forms of invention: there is sometimes a curious connection between constraint, without constriction, and creativity.

‘Then, too, forcing yourself...

Of violet eyes

Only the second example I have come across of violet eyes, never yet seen in real life. Here the 76th Earl of Gormenghast learns from his physician, Dr. Prunesquallor, that...

Watching the sun rise

This line stands out in the book as a contrast to the father’s generally benighted, crushing behaviour towards his sons, as if some part of him still inclined towards light.

...

Free trade and British decency

Winder breezily lobs perspective into cosy schoolyard us-and-them memories.   Britain had a role in triggering the first world war (among others), summed up in one emissary’s snooty crassness; a caution...

What’s the difference?

On his long trek across some of the remoter regions of Afghanistan, Rory Stewart found himself being presented as having a range of professions. Here the man introducing him is...

Upright and unflinching

A touching and imaginative fictional description of the complexity of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603).  Orlando is a young boy of about 16 when he meets her, by then an elderly...

Wait your turn!

This observation of a family of swallows over 150 years ago struck me, along with another surprising tale by Thoreau.

Apart from the impressive behaviour of the birds on...

Contains scenes of …

Now, there's a concept, censoring for blandness rather than violence and passion.  Wonder if the film was a hit...

I once saw a poster for a French...

Understatement – on being Jewish

Imré Kertesz’ novel revolves around a slightly unhinged hero, but given he survived Auschwitz only to end up in another totalitarian sanity-warp, he’s actually rather grounded.

 

Source: Kaddish for...

Beware rash judgement

Dante is cautioned to beware those who pass speedy judgement - 'Anyone and his wife' who think in witnessing a deed they can securely make assumptions about its karmic consequences.

...

Enchanting woods and beautiful trees

The detail, delicacy and richness of Dorothy Wordsworth's descriptions of nature are worthy of Thoreau (whose journal I am now reading and will review in time for the 200th anniversary...

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