It’s December and we’re all pressed for time. Amid the stress of the season and the sadness in the news these days, what we need is a quick shot of literary hope.
In lieu of a full book review, I give you the gift of my favorite quotes from my favorite authors. I took the liberty of only including the cheerier ones. I’ve been saving these up for years. For the changing of the seasons, for the new year, for your heart in the cold. Happy Holidays, book lovers!
We are an impossibility in an impossible universe.
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Robert A. Heinlein
Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.
Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.
Neal Stephenson, Anathem
Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I stopped believing there was a power of good and a power of evil that were outside us. And I came to believe that good and evil are names for what people do, not for what they are.
Philip Pullman, The Amber Spyglass
What I think is this: You should give up looking for lost cats and start searching for the other half of your shadow.
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
On Magic & Love
He knew that he was caught up in one of those stretches of time when for anything to happen normally would be abnormal. The dawn was too tense and highly charged for any common happening to survive.
Mervyn Peake, Gormenghast
She wondered whether her head were so big as to be able to contain all this starry universe, or whether the universe were so little that it would fit within the compass of her human head. She alternated between these feelings, expanding and diminishing. The stars wandered in and out of the vast portals of her eyes, under the immense empty dome of her brow; and then Smoky took her hand and she vanished to a speck, still holding the stars as in a tiny jewel box within her.
John Crowley, Little, Big
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind
On Librarians, Books & Reading
The shelf was filled with books that were hard to read, that could devastate and remake one’s soul, and that, when they were finished, had a kick like a mule.
Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale
He is so stupid you can’t trust him with an idea.
He is so clever he will catch you in the least error.
He will not buy short books.
He will not buy long books.
He is part moron, part genius and part ogre.
There is some doubt as to whether he can read.
Well, by God, Pat, he’s just like me, no stranger at all.
John Steinbeck, letter to his editor
From his refined accent, his quiet voice and his apparent omniscience I took him for a librarian.
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier Diary
You can understand a lot about yourself by working out which fairytale you use to present your world to yourself in.
A. S. Byatt
Human bodies are words, myriads of words.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
On Knowing and Not Knowing
I’m for uncertainty. As soon as you think you know, you’re done for. You don’t listen and you can’t hear. If you’re certain of anything, you shut the door on the possibility of revelation, of discovery. You can think. You can believe. But you can’t, you mustn’t, ‘know’. There’s the real entropy.
Alan Garner, Boneland
But without such ignorance, such carelessness, how could we live? If you knew what was going to happen, if you knew everything that was going to happen next – if you knew in advance the consequences of your own actions – you’d be doomed. You’d be as ruined as God. You’d be a stone. You’d never eat or drink or laugh or get out of bed in the morning. You’d never love anyone, ever again. You’d never dare to.
Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
It goes like this. Let’s see now: ‘Protect me from knowing what I don’t need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don’t know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decided not to know about. Amen.’ That’s it. It’s what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
Laura Horwood-Benton is PPL’s Public Programming & Community Relations Librarian. She enjoys literary and speculative fiction, vegan baking, drawing and traveling. If you have suggestions for future book reviews OR library events, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.