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

Uncle, who are you?

Uncle, who are you?

A delightful exchange between the boy György Faludy, and a friend, or at least acquaintance, of his grandfather's.  I loved the man's playfully evasive response when Faludy asked him who he was, and his further retorts when the boy played back to him his own...

Summer’s end

Summer’s end

Just as you sense a sadness at the departing summer, the arrival of Goldmund brings a great waft of warm light and colour.  One of the most beautiful depictions of friendship I have come across is between Goldmund and Narziss, diametrically opposed in character, but...

A bulwark against brain-washing

A bulwark against brain-washing

Listening time: under 9 minutes.   Sadly, some things in the state of the world are driving me to spend more time thinking about how simple citizens can remain resistent to brain-washing by whatever brand of ideology. My main gripe is against the ideological mindset,...

Beware the sunset (especially if it’s beautiful)

Beware the sunset (especially if it’s beautiful)

A striking example of the tendency of totalitarian ideologies to corrupt the mind: no-one means what they say, nothing is as it seems, distrust every word, everyone. Everything is political. A passing comment on the beauty of the sunset?  Surely a trap or a lure! This...

What is more praiseworthy than truth?

A question that resonates strongly today as we become accustomed to new tropes such as 'alternative facts'.  Erasmus' masterpiece, first published in 1515, still has an astonishing freshness and relevance.

'And...

A thousand years of history

On the centenary of the October Revolution, I wonder how Russians today would feel about this terse statement by Grossman.

'Russia has seen many things during the one thousand years...

Pigtail prejudice

A charming example of prejudice, demonstrating its capacity to target just about anything, and with bewildering precision and disregard for logic: pigtails must be OK because sailors used to wear...

Red letter day

A red letter day is a holiday or a memorable day, something that might be marked on the calendar in red. For me it’s also a ‘red letter day’ when...

Colours as emblems

This is an opening line in Christa Wolf's novel Till Eulenspiegel. Something about it haunted me, two colours flying as emblems of the Middle Ages, and since I took the...

To go or not to go

The Hungarian poet György Faludy weighs up whether to stay in Hungary or to leave at the start of the the Second World War.  He chose to leave, and ended...

Of edible houses

A donkey nabbed by the Italian army in the Second World War finds himself in Abyssinia where, from his perspective, the houses are edible. Having tasted this novel form of...

A dream hotel

What more could a host do for travelling guests?   If any hotel chain is clever enough to adopt this as their charter, please let me know; I will go...

Singing a stone-song

Water is the principal element in Williamson's assiduously researched, powerfully imagined life of an otter. I loved the idea of its singing a song by flowing over stones on its...

Manuscripts as moments in time

I have long felt this sense of time’s encapsulation in manuscripts, and I like this example of a manuscript being dated to a single day over 1,000 years ago because...

Letters kept, letters destroyed

Given the fragility of letters, it’s astounding how many have survived centuries and even millennia. Added to which it seems quite common for people to have purposely destroyed them, whether...

Government as jugglery

According to this 9th century vizier, policy is what you end up with once you've figured out what works. You throw a few balls in the air and if they...

Scobie and the sea

This quote has haunted me since I first read Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet about thirty years ago. It is still on my wall in calligraphy. Scobie was a wonderful character.

‘Clea once asked...

Lost in Russia

The American writer John Steinbeck and the photographer Robert Capa spent months preparing for their trip to the Soviet Union in 1947, much aided by a philosophic bar-man and his...

Mind the mine

Rory Stewart walked a long stretch of remoteness in Afghanistan, part of an even longer walk which took him across Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.  His account of the Afghan adventure...

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