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!

Expressing allegiance

Mandelstam seems to have seen something timeless in the curve of a horse’s neck in Armenia, and discerned a proud allegiance to a people ‘older than the Romans’.

‘Once in...

Of fire and fizzle

This Hungarian historical novel spans the 19th century including the European mid-century revolutions which pretty much burned out, as summed up in this pithy conclusion. Perhaps the more enduring light...

The most miserable existence

Deprivation on the Danube, as viewed by a newly arrived governor during the Roman Empire, posted to a wine-less, olive-free desert. Some 1,500 years later, he would surely approve of the...

The beauty of banquets

This banquet happens after the staged fight between St George and the reluctant dragon, engineered to keep the punters happy.  After it’s over, they all go and feast together and...

Making up

The friendship of John Steinbeck and Robert Capa was strong, despite some funny frictions during their month-long trip to the Soviet Union.  Idiosyncratic characters both, and both no doubt exasperating...

A wanderer

Jane's days in the wilderness are terrifying, taking her close to 'death's door'.   The first refuge she finds from wandering later proves to include another trap, and so she sets...

Plus ça change…

Although this was written in the context of distant history, our TV screens are awash with images of men being driven to boats in which they drown. By poor soils,...

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...

Dead languages or dormant minds?

There are some marvelous characters in The Shadow of the Wind, several of them highly opinionated and articulate orators, who express uncompromising views in lapidary language. I liked this round...

Wine and humility

Horace, it seems, drank humble wine and was himself a humble man. I loved this use of wine as an analogy for the poet and for the transmuting of humility...

Appetite for the absolute

Perhaps the enduring attraction to island life isn't just to get away from the rest of it, or to enjoy a dreamed of climate and lush fruit, but also a...

Hell and how to avoid it

Brontë's Jane Eyre plumbs depths of emotion both in the child and woman, but there is also a certain wry humour.  Here the tiny Jane, whose small body can barely...

Ill guidance, bad leadership

A strikingly modern sounding comment by Dante, resonating painfully when the evening news seems to be forever picking apart the latest vagaries of bad leadership. 

 

'Ill guidance is the...

Three in one

Listening time: under 4 minutes.  One of the finest pieces of prose I have read in a long time is by the photographer Robert Capa, presenting his 'legitimate...

Fewer means, greater mastery

Further thoughts on creative constraint.  In this case, it seems a question of simplifying what you work with, to yield a more concentrated mastery of fewer moving parts.  And the notion of...

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

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