Commonplace Book

Photo by Alfons Morales

Commonplace Books, which date back at least to the Renaissance, are like personalized scrapbooks featuring, for example, recipes, quotes, letters, poems, prayers and interesting or inspirational passages transcribed from books. I have chosen to concentrate on the latter. (See Wikipedia for more information.) John Milton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke believed in the memory-enhancing power of keeping commonplace book. I concur, but in addition these passages have inspired me and brought new understanding.  For example:

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time “Perhaps this was one of the tragedies life plots for us: it is our destiny to become in old age what in youth we would have most despised.” p 162

Timothy Findley, The Wars  “…I haven’t met a single boy of twelve I liked. Twelve is a dreadful age for boys. All they do is blow farts and haven’t an ounce of taste or intellect. I don’t know how they grow up into men.” p 165 

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life “…I was grateful for his honesty because experience had already taught me a good deal about broken-heartedness, and I knew that the quickest cure is lack of hope.” p 85

To make my Commonplacing easier to use, I have arranged the quotes by topic. 

Abuse, Adultery, Aging, America, Anger, Anxiety, Art, Beauty, Betrayal, Business life, Chances, Change, Character, ChildbirthChildhood, Colonialism, Confidence, Courage, Cruelty (bullying)Death, End of things, Enuie, Environment, Failure, Family, Fate, Fear, Feminism, Forgiveness, Friendship, Games, Garden,  Grief, Growing up,  Guilt, Happiness, Heartbreak, History, Holocaust, Home, Internet, Irony, Jewish, Journalism,  Language, Law, Living well, Love, Marriage, Masculinity, Memory, midlife, Money, Morality, Music, Nature, Parenting, Philosophy, Poetry, Politics, Popular culture; Psychology/psychiatry, Place, Regret, Relationships, Religion, Resentment, Secrets, Sex, Siblings, Storytelling, Success, Suffering, Suicide, Technology (include. Computers); Transcendence, Travel, Truth, Vice, War, Women, Work


ABUSE

Rudyard Kipling, Baa baa black sheep
“… for when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion, and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge; though it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was.”

Richard Wagamese Indian Horse
“When he knelt down and cradled me in his arms, I felt no shame or fear. I only felt love. I wanted so much to be held and stroked. As he gathered my face in his hands and kissed me, I closed my eyes. I thought of my grandmother. The warmth of her arms holding me. I missed that so much.
‘You are a glory, Saul.’ That’s what he always told me. It’s what he whispered to me in the dim light of his quarters, what he said to me those nights he snuck into the dormitory and put his head beneath the covers. The words he used in the back of the barn when he slipped my trousers down. … Those were the words he used instead of love. … I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked.” (p 198/9)

ADULTERY

Sigrid Nunez, The Friend. A novel.

On womanizers: “Wife One had a theory. There are two kinds of womanizer, she said. There’s the kind that loves women and the kind that hates them. You were the first kind, she said. She believed that women tended to be more forgiving, more understanding and even protective of your kind. Less likely when wronged to want revenge.” p 32-3

Q. What is that makes a womanizer one type of the other?

A. His mother of course. p 33

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

 “Women want everything of a lover. And too often I would sink below the surface. So armies disappear under sand. And there was her fear of her husband, her belief in her honour, my old desire for self-sufficiency, my disappearances, her suspicions of me, my disbelief that she loved me. The paranoia and claustrophobia of hidden love.” (p 238)

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

“I used to think that Christ was wrong, impossibly hard, when he said that to imagine committing adultery was just as bad as doing it. But now, standing here in this familiar unviolated space, I have already altered my world and Jacqueline’s world forever…. She doesn’t know that there is a revision of the map. That the territory she thought was hers has been annexed. You never give away your heart; you lend it from time to time. If it were not so how could we take it back without asking.” P 38

“Cheating is easy. There’s no swank to infidelity. To borrow against the trust someone has placed in you costs nothing at first. You get away with it, you take a little more and a little more until there is no more to draw on. Oddly, your hands should be full with all that taking but when you open them there’s nothing there. P 77

“When I say ‘I will be true to you’ I am drawing a quiet space beyond the reach of other desires. No-one can legislate love; it cannot be given orders or cajoled into service. Love belongs to itself, deaf to pleading and unmoved by violence. Love is not something you can negotiate. Love is the one thing stronger than desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation. … Adultery is as much about disillusionment as it is about sex. The charm [marriage] didn’t work. You paid all that money, ate the cake and it didn’t work. It’s not your fault, is it? 78

“If I commit adultery in my heart then I have lost you a little. The bright vision of your face will blur. I may not notice this once or twice, I may pride myself on having enjoyed those fleshy excursions in the most cerebral way. Yet I will have blunted that sharp flint that sparks between us, our desire for one another above all else.” P 79

AGING

Martin Amis, Inside Story: A novel
John Bayley on Murdoch’s Law “Every new incapacity diminishes the awareness of loss…” p 379

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
Perhaps this was one of the tragedies life plots for us: it is our destiny to become in old age what in youth we would have most despised.” P 162

Rachel Cusk, Kudos
A novelist is talking about why her author photo is so old. “Why should her photograph be accurate? So that she could be identified by police? The whole point of her profession, she said, was that it represented an escape from reality. Besides, she preferred being that sylph with the waterfall of hair. In some part of herself, she believed that that was who she still was. A degree of self-deception, she said was an essential part of the talent for living.” P 34

Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed
“As far as I am concerned sexuality no longer exists. I used to call this indifference serenity: all at once I have come to see it in another light — it is mutilation; it is the loss of the sense. The lack of it makes me blind to the needs, the pains and the joys of those who do posses it.” (The Age of Discretion p 22/23)

Simone de Beauvoir, The Woman Destroyed

“…’I can’t see what you lose in growing old.’
He smiled. ‘Youth.’
‘It’s not in itself a valuable thing.’
‘Youth and what the Italians so prettily call stamina. The vigour, the fire, that enables you to love and create. When you’ve lost that, you’ve lost everything.” From “The age of discretion” p 41/42

Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

 “Her body looked to be only a healthy diet and some regular exercise away from greatness, but her face and hair were on the verge of confirming a wicked little dictum of Leila’s: Blondes don’t age well. (Leila saw middle age as the Revenge of the Brunettes.) p 175

Soren Kierkegaard
“Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.”

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry 

“I had been reading Murray Stein’s comments about the work of midlife — separation, liminality and reintegration. This midlife work is often chaotic and flowing: we need to learn to float, to listen to the unconscious and take notes of the signs that Hermes, our guide, throws in our way. Maggie Ross, a Christian mystic, says we need to commit to unknowing, to an empty silence that brings forth water and fire and light. It’s difficult. As we age we accumulate so much — memories, possessions, illusions — and we resist the relinquishing. Nanabush, Hermes, Coyote — remind me: loss is no disaster.” p 68

Jeanne Pope, Filmmaker andBlogger: Soaps & Sagas

“Who cares if we don’t have money, who cares if Europe is on the brink of no return, who cares if … we don’t care, we are alive and we love life and we are still young and reckless and able to fall in love.” From an email in July 2015.

Nigel Nicolson. Portrait of a Marriage (nonfiction)
A letter from Vita Sackville-West to her husband Harold Nicolson about Virginia Woolf.

“There is no doubt about it, as one grows older, one thinks more. Virginia worries, you worry, I worry. Yet I would rather do this and become introspective than rattle about London, where people’s voices become more and more devoid of meaning. Letter dated 20 November 1926

Elizabeth Hay All Things Consoled (a memoir)
“It was disgraceful and irresponsible, she [my mother] would say, to be spending so much to keep her alive. ‘That money should go to your kids.’
“On the other hand, she said to me one day, ‘I waver. We should be dead. We should be dead.’
“’You waver?’
“’Because it’s so beautiful outside.’” p 161 

“I asked her how she was. She stared at the wooden coffee table in front of us before she answered, ‘You can live too long. All the children are grown up, they’re fine, they’re doing well. All the potatoes are peeled. I had fulfilling work and I can’t do it anymore. Not everyone feels this way, but this is how I feel. I’m telling you because you asked. This in-between filling-in is hard.’
“I was reminded again of Samuel Beckett: You can’t go on; you go on.” p 166

“I went to get her one afternoon…and she was standing with her walker looking out the window of her room. I greeted her from the door and she turned and gave me her usual heartfelt, ‘thank God you’re here.’
“We moved toward each other. ‘How are you?’ I asked.
“Her face was full of emotion. ‘I’m lost,’ she said simply. And she began to weep, a dry weeping. I put my arms around her and her body shook.”  p 232

AMERICA

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.
On America: “So much road and so few places, so much friendliness and so little intimacy, so much flavour and so little taste.” From “Mother’s Milk” p 658. 

ANGER

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light

Cromwell: “Be calm, he says to himself: not like a hasty gardener, who tugs out the weed but leaves the root in the ground.” p 286/7

Claire Messud The Woman Upstairs
“Above all in my anger, I was sad. Isn’t that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying—valiantly, fruitlessly—to eradicate.”  

ANXIETY

Jeffrey Eugenides Fresh Complaint (short stories) “A friend of Cathy’s in Detroit, a woman who has seen a therapist regularly for the past thirty years, recently passed on advice the therapist had given her. Pay no attention to the terrors that visit you in the night. The psyche is at its lowest ebb then, unable to defend itself. The desolation that envelops you feels like truth, but isn’t. It’s just mental fatigue masquerading as insight.” From “Complainers”

ART

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
“’Render unto art that which is art’s?’ Such was the creed of art for art’s sake, of formalism, egocentric pessimism, revisionism, and all the other -isms thrown at him down the years. And Power’s reply would always be the same: ‘Repeat after me,’ it would say ‘ART BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE – V.I. LENIN. ART BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE – V.I. LENIN.” (P 176)

Kate Chopin, The Awakening
…”to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul. …The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies.” p 85/6

Robertson Davies, The Rebel Angels“What really shapes and conditions and makes us is somebody only a few of us ever have the courage to face: and that is the child you once were, long before formal education ever got its claws into you — that impatient, all-demanding child who wants love and power and can’t get enough of either and who goes on raging and weeping in your spirit till at last your eyes are closed and all the fools say, ‘Doesn’t he look peaceful.’ It is those pent-up, craving children who make all the wars and all the horrors and all the art and all the beauty and discovery in life, because they are trying to achieve what lay beyond their grasp before they were five years old. 

“Of course, art isn’t emotion; it’s evocation and distillation of emotion one has known. But if you’re clever it’s awfully easy to fake emotion and deceive yourself, because what art gives is so much like the real thing.”

The Rushton Scale, developed by WAH Rushton, the Cambridge mathematician, is a Scale of beauty. Helen of Troy is accepted as the absolute of female beauty: the face that launches a thousand ships. A millihelen. Garbo was 750 millihelens, because her face is exquisite, but her figure is space and her feet are big.

Paracelsus: Be not another’s if thou canst be thyself.

Amos Towles, A gentleman in Moscow
“But what was truly astonishing was the sensitivity of her musical expression. One could spend a lifetime mastering the technical aspects of the piano and never achieve a state of musical expression — that alchemy by which the performer not only comprehends the sentiments of the composer, but somehow communicates them to her audience through the manner of her play.” p 325

Claire Messud, The Woman Upstairs
Talks about how her art is about dead things. “Sirena on the other hand, is engaged with the life force. We all want that, really. It’s what attracts us: someone who opens the doors to possibility, to the barely imagined. Someone who embraces the colors and textures, the tastes and transformations — someone who embraces period. We’re all after what’s juicy, what breathes. If you’re really clever, like Sirena, then you create a persona… who while seeming impressively, convincingly to eschew fakery, is in fact giving people, very consciously exactly what they want.”

“… to the fittest at artistic survival — requires ruthlessness. Maybe that, really, is as good a definition as any of an artist in the world: a ruthless person. Which would explain why I don’t seem to make the cut.” P 152/153

Paul Auster, Oracle Night
Footnote: “Trause was the one who had written to her [Grace] about van Velde, whom he had met once or twice in the fifties and who was known, he said, to be Samuel Beckett’s favourite artist. (He included Beckett’s dialogue with George Duhuit about van Velde in his letter. My case is that van Velde is … the first to admit that to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world.)” p 180

Barbara Sibbald.
Art is not complete until it is interpreted/read by the reader/audience/viewer. Both artist and witness are essential players. 

Rachel Cusk, Outline
“It was interesting to consider… that the role of the artist might merely be that of recording sequences, such as a computer could one day be programmed to do. Even the question of personal style could presumably be broken down as sequential, from a finite number of alternatives.” P 206

BEAUTY

Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament: A Novel
“Mum was pretty…. Mum’s identity was tied to her beauty, she staked everything on it. … Beauty and shapeliness were Mum’s aces. But those are the very cards a woman is sure to lose, so she can never become complacent. … The very thing that makes her visible and desirable is transient and will be lose one day, then what? That’s the fear beautiful women live with, especially this beautiful woman whose only asset was her beauty. … Mum didn’t feel good about herself. Mum was petty, but had no education, no experience, no money, Mum was Dad’s possession, … Mum radiated fear.” p 142

Penelope Lively, City of the mind
“Physiognomy may not be an indication of character, but it undoubtedly affects a person’s fate. An excess of good looks or sexual appeal will lead to one kind of life rather than another. Beautiful women provoke certain expectations. Handsome men also.” p 111/2

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.
“Beautiful women were always with someone, unless you happened to catch them in the split second between inconsolable loss and consolation, or in the taxi that was taking them from their principal lover to one of the secondary ones.” p 288 from “Some Hope”

BETRAYAL

Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament: A Novel
“Someone guilty of betrayal shouldn’t be praised for admitting their betrayal until the despair, grief and rage of the injured party had been acknowledged. Without it, their repentance would fall to the earth like a rock. ” p 327

BUSINESS LIFE

Stuart MacBride, a novel (unsure of purview)
A man is having his performance appraisal and he is telling his boss he is stuck in a rut and wants to move on.
His boss discourages him, saying he will have to deal with people who say things like the following:  
“How do we incentivize our stakeholders to embrace 360-degree thinking 110% of the time? … Our aim is to build stronger ties by leveraging community liaison opportunities that will add value to their offerings through the exploitation of xxx.”
“It’s like waking up in a foreign country where everyone’s got catch-phrase Tourette’s.”  

CHANCES

Will Schwalbe, author of The end of your life book club  and Send: Why people email so badly and how to do it better, from “The book report” in The Globe and Mail January 14, 2017
“The singles best piece of advice I’ve ever received… [was from GK] Chesterton, in a 1910 treatise called What’s Wrong with the World: ‘If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.’ Sure, a worthwhile thing may be more worth doing if you can do it well. But it’s still worth doing even if you only do it badly. Some of the things I enjoy I do badly — singing for one — and probably always will. But I’m more than fine with that.”

CHANGE

Joan Didion, Slouching toward BethlehemTalking about leaving New York City: “It is distinctly possible to stay too long at the fair. You have to feel the swell of the tide. You have to go with the change.” 

CHARACTER

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life 

On the Irish: “Must as I distrust generalizations about national characteristics, there’s no denying that most Irish people are more articulate than the English, appearing to see talk as a positive pleasure rather than a tiresome necessity.” p 243

CHILDBIRTH

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light 
“What is a woman’s life? Do not think, because she is not a man, she does not fight. The bedchamber is her tilting ground, where she shows her colours, and her theatre of war is the sealed room where she gives birth.
“She knows she may not come alive out of that bloody chamber. Before her lying-in, if she is prudent, she settles her affairs. If she dies, she will be lamented and forgotten. If the child dies, she will be blamed. If she lives, she must hide her wounds. Her injuries are secret, and her sisters talk about them behind the hand. It is Eve’s sin, the long continuing punishment it incurred, that tears at her from inside and shreds her. Whereas we bless an old soldier and give him alms, pitying his bland or limbless state, we do not make heroes of women managed in the struggle to give birth. If she seems so injured that she can have no more children, we commiserate with her husband.” p 507

CHILDHOOD

Martin Amis, Inside Story: A novel
“…I had hardly anything to reproach my parents for, and what little there was vanished with a shriek when for the first time I changed my first son’s nappy.” P 77

Growing up, he had several friends with father’s who were “mood tyrants. Brooding, frustrated, rancorous, intransigent, their will to power reduced to the mere furtherance of domestic unease. And these household gods all held sway over the same kind of household — the prized but intimidated sons, the warily self-effacing daughters, the mutely tiptoeing spouses, the cringing, flinching pets…” p 335

“’They fuck you up, your mum and dad.’ This is the most famous line in Larkin’s corpus – partly, no doubt because it was a near-universal tenet of the time (and seemed to be the starting point of all psychiatry). In principle Philip [Larkin] agreed that ‘blaming one’s parents’ led nowhere or rather led everywhere. [‘If one starts blaming one’s parents, well, one never stops!’): but he went on: ‘[Samuel] Butler said that anyone who was still worrying about his parents at 35 was a fool, but he certainly didn’t forget them himself, and I think the influence they exert is enormous…When one doesn’t learn from one’s parents one never learns, or learns awkwardly, like a mining MP taking lessons in table manners or the middle aged Arnold Bennett learning to dance…. I never remember my parents making a single spontaneous gesture of affection towards one another…’” p 335

Amis did see his parents kissing and hugging: “A child axiomatically needs to be the recipient of love; and a child also needs to witness it.” P 336
Leave your parents behind: “Goodbye to the patriarchs, the little overlords, the goosers and gropers, the disseminators of disquiet, the wife crushers and daughter torturers, the fathers that everyone fears, the enemies of ease, the domestic totalitarians of the mid-twentieth century.” p 348

Timothy Findley, The Wars
“…I haven’t met a single boy of twelve I liked. Twelve is a dreadful age for boys. All they do is blow farts and haven’t an ounce of taste or intellect. I don’t know how they grow up into men.” p 165 

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light 
“Don’t look back, he had told the king: yet he too is guilty of retrospection as the light fades, in that hour in winter or summer before they bring in the candles, when earth and sky melt, when the fluttering heart of the bird on the bough calms and slows, and the night-walking animals stir and stretch and rouse, and the eyes of cats shine in the dark, when colour bleeds from sleeve and gown into the darkening air; when the page grows dim and letter forms elide and slip into other conformations, so that as the page is turned the sold story slides from sight and a strange and slippery confluence of ink begins to flow.” p 249

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita 
I’ve a learned book here about young girls. Look, darling, what it says. I quote: The normal girls — normal mark you — the normal girl is usually extremely anxious to please her father. She feels in him the forerunner of the desired elusive male (‘elusive’ is good, by Polonius!). The wise mother (and your poor mother would have been wise, had she lived) will encourage a companionship between father and daughter, realizing — excuse the corny style — that the girl forms her ideals of romance and of men from her association with her father.” p 150

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
“Rahel’s new teeth were waiting inside her gums, like words in a pen. It puzzled everybody than an eighteen-minute age difference could cause such a discrepancy in front tooth timing.” p 37 

Amos Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow 
“Rather, we should be dedicating ourselves to ensuring that they taste freely of experience. And we must do so without trepidation. Rather than tucking in blankets and buttoning up coats, we must have faith in them to tuck and button on their own. And if they fumble with their newfound liberty, we must remain composed generous, judicious.” p 322

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
“In an ideal world, a young man should not be an ironical person. At that age, irony prevents growth, stunts the imagination. It is best to start life in a cheerful and open state of mind, believing in others, being optimistic, being frank with everyone about everything. And then, as one comes to understand things and people better, to develop a sense of irony. The natural progression of human life is from optimism to pessimism; and a sense of irony helps temper pessimism., helps produce balance, harmony. 

“But this was not an ideal world and so irony grew in sudden and strange ways. Overnight, like a mushroom; disastrously, like cancer.” p 85/86

COLONIALISM

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life
VS Naipul’s view of Trinidad: “it had no importance and no existence as a nation, being only somewhere out of which first Spain, then France, then Britain could make money: grossly easy money because of using slaves to do the work, and after slaves indentured labour which was almost as cheap. A slave-based society has no need to be efficient, so no tradition of efficiency exists. Slave masters don’t need to be intelligent, so ‘in Trinidad education was not one of the things money could buy; it was something money freed you from. Education was strictly for the poor.” p 212 

CONFIDENCE

Julian Barnes, Talking it over
Stuart “I’ve always thought you are what you are and you shouldn’t pretend to be anyone else. But Oliver used to correct me and explain they you are whoever it is you’re pretending to be.” p 19

Stuart: “Half the world seems to have confidence and half the world doesn’t, and I don’t know how you make the jump from one half to the other. In order to have confidence you have to be confident already: it’s a vicious circle.” p 23

Gillian: “I think that in life you have to discover what you’re good at, recognise what you can’t do, decide what you want, aim for it, and try not to regret things afterwards.” p 60

COURAGE

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
“Perhaps courage was like beauty. A beautiful woman grows old: she sees only what has gone; others see only what remains. Some congratulated him on his endurance, his refusal to submit, the solid core beneath the hysterical surface. He saw only what was gone.

“But it was not easy being a coward. Being a hero was much easier than being a coward. To be a hero, you only had to be brave for a moment — when you took out the gun, threw the bomb, pressed the detonator, did away with the tyrant, and with yourself as well. But to be a coward was to embark on a career that lasted a lifetime. You couldn’t even relax. You had to anticipate the new occasion when you would have to make excuses for yourself, dither, cringe, reacquaint yourself with the taste of rubber boots and the state of your own fallen abject character. Bring a coward required pertinacity, persistence, a refusal to change — which made it in a way, a kind of courage. He smiled to himself and lit another cigarette. The pleasures of irony had not yet deserted him.” P 158. 

Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament: A Novel
“Endurance is the first duty of all living beings.” p 141

“It was like that poem by Tove Ditlevsen about the little girl who is tempted to pick up a big, beautiful vase, which she knows she mustn’t touch, she wants to pick up the forbidden vase…and because it’s forbidden she picks it up and stands for some endless exciting seconds feeling the weight of the vase in her hands, how heavy it is, how bit it is, and the girl is so small and to smash the vase would be wicked and utterly wonderful, and she hears a voice saying: Why not do something awfully dangerous now that you’re home alone? And she lets the vase go, and in that moment the world becomes wicked and joyless, and on the floor lie a thousand shards which can never be put back together, and the good angles turn away and weep.
“But what if the world had been wicked and joyless all along, only she had to break the vase in order to know it?” P 201

CRUELTY

Sally Rooney, Normal People
“Not for the first time, Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.” p 232

DEATH

Godless (episode 4) on Netflix “Death ain’t no big deal. It’s dying that’s no fun.” 

Barbara Sibbald. If speaking of the inevitable (death), define it within the strict confines of dignity and beauty.

Martin Amis, Night Train
Sign in an autopsy room, translated from Latin: “Let talking cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living.” p 22

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry
“Once, I read that an autopsy of an eighty-year-old woman revealed a fetus, thirty years dead in utero. A stone child, it was called. As years, and then decades slipped away, I carried this death, this stone child, never fully grieved, never set free.” p 30

I’ve lived inside “those stubborn particulars, as Bronwen Wallace has called them — the details of a person’s life, not the person themselves. p 33

“… the moth flailing at the porch screen. A world teeming with exquisite fragility.” P 35

…”Senor Jose is awakened [in the cemetery] by an old shepherd and his grazing sheep. The old man confesses his habit of swapping around the names on freshly-dug graves before the marble stones are put in place. It is impossible to know, therefore, who’s who, or where.” P 77

Elizabeth Hay All Things Consoled (a memoir)
After her father dies: “’He had a good life,” [her mother ] said, “on the whole.
“Her ‘on the whole,’ tempering as it did her usual grateful refrain about their wonderful lives, took me aback and soothed me. Candour, especially when it comes out of the blue, clears away the empty clichés that stifle us, and enlarges the world.” P 213. 

ENUIE

Al Rae comedian
Bored with being bored of life.

ENVIRONMENT

Ivan Klima, Love and Garbage

“Everything on earth is gradually transformed into rubbish, into refuse, which must then, in one way or another, be removed from the earth — except that nothing can be removed from it.” p 142

END of things

Joan Didion, from the documentary of her life, 2017. “It’s easy to see the beginning things, harder to see the end.”

FAILURE

Mark Frutkin, The Growing Dawn
“‘Now that I think of it, I believe my failures have been my greatest inspiration. At any rate, I have made my decision. We will attempt a great failure. Across the sea.'” p 94

FAMILY

Julian Barnes, The Only Story
“As for family duty: he had felt no obligation to placate his parents. Indeed, nowadays the onus had shifted, and it was the parents’ job to accept whatever ‘life choices’ their child might make. ” p 200

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.
“‘Someone once asked me why mothers are so good at pushing our buttons…and the answer I gave was, ‘Because they put them there in the first place.’”  p 706 from “At last”

FATE

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life
On the fate of mankind: “Years ago, in a pub near Baker Street, I heard a man say that humankind is seventy per cent brutish, thirty per cent intelligent, and though the thirty percent is never going to win, it will always be able to leaven the mass just enough to keep us going. That rough and ready assessment of our plight has stayed with me as though it were true, given that one takes ‘intelligence’ to mean not just intellectual agility, but whatever it is in beings that makes for readiness to understand, to look for the essence in other beings and things and events, to respect that essence, to collaborate, to discover, to endure when endurance is necessary, to enjoy: briefly, to co-exist. … When I was moved o scribble ‘Stet’ against the time I spent being an editor it was because it gave so many kinds of enlargement, interest, amusement and pleasure to my days. It was a job on the side of the thirty percent.” P 250

FEAR

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” 

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
 “Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.” 

Plato
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Kim Thuy, Ru
“A Vietnamese saying has it that ‘Only those with long hair are afraid, for no one can pull the hair of those who have none.’ And so I try as much as possible to acquire only those things that don’t extend beyond the limits of my body.” 

FEMINISM

Kate Chopin, The Awakening
“Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for anyone…  ‘I would give up the unessential; I would give my money. I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.” p 64
…”whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.” p 108

Rachel Cusk, Outline 2014; p 48. a book of conversation.
“One’s existence as a wife and a mother, for example, is something often walked into without question, as though we are propelled by something outside ourselves; while a woman’s creativity, the thing she doubts and is always sacrificing for the sake of these other things – when she wouldn’t dream, for instance, of sacrificing the interests of her husband or son – has been her own idea, her own inner compulsion.”

Rachel Solnit, her followers coined the phrase mansplaining after her essay “The slipperly slope of silencing” appeared in Harper’s 2012

FORGIVENESS

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.
“‘But then neither revenge nor forgiveness change what happened. They’re sideshows, of which forgiveness is the less attractive because it represents a collaboration with one’s persecutors.'” p 382 from “Some Hope”

“‘…to forgive someone, one would have to be convinced that they’d made some effort to change the disastrous course that genetics, class, or upbringing proposed for them.’

‘If he’d changed the course he wouldn’t need forgiving,’ said Anne. ‘That’s the whole deal with forgiving….” p 437 from “Some Hope”

FRIENDSHIP 

Maya Angelou

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life
On Friendship with Andre: “… at the time it seemed to me that listening was what friends are for…which is, I suppose, true enough up to a point, and it is not easy to draw a line between a genuine need for sympathy and greedy self-indulgence.” p 84/5

Beryl Bainbridge, Everyman for himself
“I began to wonder whether I shunned him because everybody else did, and for the same reasons; we instantly detect in others those faults most common to ourselves.” 

Julian Barnes, Talking it Over
Stuart: “Have you noticed that when anyone says they’ve known a person for a really long time, it almost always means they’re going to say something nasty about them?” p 185

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat 

“Wilde liked to refer to ‘the elect,’ whose task was to guide the multitudinous non-elect in matters of taste and beauty.” … “Whistler dedicated his Gentle Art of Making enemies to ‘The rare few, who, early in Life, have rid Themselves of the Friendship of the Many.’ (Those first three words are French-influenced, derived from Stendhal’s dedication ‘to the happy few.’)” p 61

Rachel Cusk, Kudos
“In a way we recognised one another: we liked one another as a way of liking ourselves, although of course nothing was ever said because then the picture we had made of our lives would have been completely ruined.” P 69

Rachel Cusk, Outline
“… he was no longer interested in socialising; in fact, increasingly he found other people positively bewildering. The interesting ones are like islands, he said: you have to know where they are and go to them by arrangement.” P 48

“It is interesting how keen people are for you to do something they would never dream of doing themselves, how enthusiastically they drive you to your own destruction: even the kindest ones, the ones that are most loving, can rarely have your interests truly at heart, because usually they are advising you from within lives of greater security and greater confinements, where escape is not a reality but simply something they dream of sometimes. Perhaps, he said, we are all like animals in the zoo, and once we see that one of us has got out of the enclosure we shout at him to run like mad, even though it will only result in him becoming lost.” P 160

Paul Theroux, The London Embassy
“We saw each other at parties just as often as before, because we concealed the fact that we had become lovers. I was not naturally a concealer of such things, but she made me secretive, and I saw that this was a part of all friendship ؅— agreeing to be a little like the other person.” p 144

GAMES
Amos Towles,
A gentleman in Moscow
“A game of their own invention, Zut’s rules were quite simple. Player One proposes a category encompassing a specialized subset of phenomena — such as stringed instruments, or famous islands or winder creatures other than birds. The two players then go back and forth until one of them fails to come up with a fitting example in a suitable interval of time (say two and a half minutes). Victory goes to the first player who wins two out of three round s. And why was the game called Zut? Because account to the count, Zut alors! Was the only appropriate exclamation in the face of defeat.” p 339

GARDEN & GARDENING

Salman Rushdie Two years eight months and twenty-eight nights:
“Ryonosuke Shimura, who taught him that the garden was the outward expression of inner truth, the place where the dreams of our childhoods collided with the archetypes of our cultures, and created beauty.” 

Sue Stuart-Smith. The Well-gardened mind: The restorative power of nature
“…I turn to gardening as a way of calming and decompressing my mind. Somehow, the jangle of competing thoughts inside my head clears and settles as the weed bucket fills up. Ideas that have been lying dormant come to the surface, and thoughts that are barely formed sometimes come together and unexpectedly take shape. At times like these, it feels as if alongside all the physical activity, I am also gardening my mind.” p 13

Landscape guru Olmsted was inspired by Birkenhead Park in Liverpool, which he called a people’s garden. He wanted to re-create it in America. “In the parks he designed, there were no beds of bright showy flowers and no formal geometry. He worked in the pastoral and picturesque styles, using native vegetation to evoke natural landscapes. Scenery like this was, in his view, ‘a prophylactic and therapeutic agent of value.’ He thought that by visiting his parks people could get well and stay well.” p 92

With the rapid expansion of urbanization came a new disease: neurasthenia. “George Miller Beard, the American physician who first described it in 1869, declared it a ‘disease of civilisation.’ Sufferers were afflicted by a disabling lack of both mental and physical energy, often in combination with other symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety and irritability…. the cure was ‘rest’ or ‘go west.’ Women were invariably confined to bed, while men were advised to leave the city and immerse themselves in the great outdoors. Walt Whitman and Theodore Roosevelt were among the many famous sufferers who took the nature cure.”  p 92

A study by the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health, based at the U of Glasgow and Edinburgh, looked at social, economic and health disparities in relation to neighbourhood provision of amenities in a large-scale study of cities across Europe. Proximity to gardens and parks was one variable. “The team calculated that the inequalities in mental health that are associated with low income could be reduced through proximity to green space by as much as 40 percent.” p 95-95

American poet Stanley Kunitz: “Creativity is one of the ways we work out our relationship to the nature of our existence. Kunitz likens the process of gardening to writing a poem; in fact he sees his garden as a ‘living poem’. Both can give us an imaginative way of living in the world, but the garden and work we do in it are inescapably physical.” p 217

Writer (and editor) Diana Athill, began gardening in her sixties: “The two main pleasures of gardening for her were the joy of making something happen and spending time in the company of plants ‘full of the mystery of life, just as we are ourselves.” p 218

“When the fact of our mortality presses in on us, as it generally starts to do in middle age, we can experience a surge of creative energy… Erik Erikson, the developmental psychologist, called this phenomenon generativity. He believed that being able to be generative in various ways during the second half of life was important for our emotional well-being. By generativity, Erikson meant taking a perspective that stretches beyond our own life. There is an overlap with creativity, but it is also about the skills and knowledge we pass on to the next generation and the things that will live on after us, that gives us a way to keep looking forward.” The opposite is stagnation.  p 219

Value of threshold spaces: “… loggias, conservatories, verandas and balconies provide an experience of being half-inside, half-outside; the best of both worlds.” p 232

“The endless stream of posts, notifications, alerts, emails and tweets requires us to absorb so much new information that it is hard to assess what might be relevant. There is a lack of time to digest experience, understand it, or even remember it, because our individual and collective memories are increasingly outsourced to the cloud.” p 242

Voltaire: “I have only done one sensible thing in my life — to cultivate the ground. He who wills a field, renders a better service to mankind than all the scribblers in Europe.”  … “‘Il faut cultiver notre jardin’ means accepting that life has to be nourished and that we can do that best through shaping our own lives, our communities, and the environments we inhabit. The moral of Voltaire’s tale is to stop chasing an idealized version of life while turning a blind eye to the problems of this one; make the most of what you have around you and get stuck into something real.” p 287

Lesser Periwinkle is associated with magic in the middle ages. It is said to have been used in making love potions.

GRIEF
Lorri Neilsen Glenn,
Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry
“Art grounds our grief in form; it connects us to one another and to the world. And the more we acquaint ourselves with works of art — in music, painting, theatre, literature — the more we open ourselves to complex and nuanced understandings of our human capacities for grief. Why else do we turn to a stirring poem when we are mourning? Why else do we sing?”  p 87

“The wisdom of Epictetus, the Stoic, can offer solace, but I know it will take time to catch up with him. Nothing can be taken from us, he claims, because there is nothing to lose: what we lose — lover, friend, hope, father, dream, keys, faith, mother — has merely been returned to where it (or they) came from.” p 134

GROWING UP
Simone de Beauvoir
, The Woman Destroyed
“When I was a child, when I was an adolescent, books saved me from despair: that convinced me that culture was the highest of values, and it is impossible for me to examine this conviction with an objective eye.” p 16 in “The Age of Discretion”

Richard Powers, The Overstory.
“Adam watches the precarious boy, fascinated. A seed that lands upside down in the ground will wheel–root and stem– in great U-turns until it rights itself. But a human child can know it’s pointed wrong and still consider the direction worth a try.” p 58

Joanna Trollope “Marrying the mistress”
Teenagers are particularly well depicted.
“In the sitting room of the house in Tooting, Simon (Guy’s son) lay asleep in a drift of Sunday newspapers. Jack (Simon’s teenage son) had extracted the sports section earlier in the day, and Carrie (his wife) had taken the arts and review supplements to read on the kitchen tale, leaving Simon with news. He thought briefly, before he fell asleep, that these sorts of age and gender divisions about newsprint were probably happening along these lines, all over the world. Women only wanted news if it concerned the humanity of human beings and men only wanted reviews of things they were going to see. Teenagers didn’t want either. Culture smacked of school and news couldn’t hold a candle to the gloomy drama of their own lives.” p 70

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry
On the itinerant childhood: “so many moves, and there would be a dozen more, each a lesson in letting go, and in opening out. I didn’t know that then; I only knew that this knot of circumstances I was born into chafed — anger and silence were stocked in every new kitchen — but I had nothing to replace it. And so I watched myself as I watched others, trying on ways to acts and to be: now she reaches for her coat, tucks in her blouse. Now she stands, looks out into the night for lights, for a platform. Now she braces her feet as the train delivers its last shudder, and stops.” (p. 13)
I “… realized how tender our skins are when our bodies are coming into their own: each step out the door leaves us open to a wound, a scar, a callous.” (p 17)


Kim Thuy, Ru
“My parents often remind my brothers and me that they won’t have any money for us to inherit, but I think they’ve already passed on to us the wealth of their memories, allowing us to grasp the beauty of a flowering wisteria, the delicacy of a word, the power of wonder. Even more, they’ve given us feet for walking to our drams to infinity. Which may be enough baggage to continue our journey on our own. Otherwise, we would pointlessly clutter our path with possessions to transport, to insure, to take care of.

GUILT

Nadine Gordimer,
My son’s story
“He also knew that it was necessary to forgive himself as well as be forgiven by Aila — guilt is self-indulgent and unproductive.” p 258HAPPINESS

Jonathan Franzen, Purity

“Your happiness shouldn’t depend on hers… You have a right to be happy for yourself. If you’re with someone who can’t be happy, you need to think about what you’re going to do.” (p 415).

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
Regarding Tolstoy’s start to Anna Karenina: ‘All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.’ “In fact it’s the other way around. Happiness is a specific. Misery is a generalisation. People usually know exactly why they are happy. They very rarely know why they are miserable.
Misery is a vacuum. A space without air, a suffocated dead place, the abode of the miserable…” p 183


HEARTBREAK

Diana Athill: Stet: an editor’s life
“…I was grateful for his honesty because experience had already taught me a good deal about broken-heartedness, and I knew that the quickest cure is lack of hope.” p 85

Amos Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow“That sense of loss is exactly what we must anticipate, prepare for, and cherish to the last of our days; for it is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all this ephemeral in love.” (p 184)

HISTORY

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat“What is it about the present that makes it so eager to judge the past? There is always a neuroticism to the present, which believes itself superior to the past but can’t quite get over a nagging anxiety that it might not be. And behind this is a further question: What is our authority for judging? We are present, it is the past: that is usually enough for most of us. And the further the past recedes, the more attractive it becomes to simplify it. However gross our accusation, it never replies, it stays silent.” P169

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.Chacko (the twins’ uncle) “explained to them that history was like an old house at night. With all the lamps lit. And ancestors whispering inside. 

“To understand history,’ Chacko said. ‘we have to go inside and listen to what they’re saying. And look at the books and the pictures on the wall. And smell the smells.'” p 51

Hilary Mantel,
Mantel Pieces (nonfiction)

From the essay “The Dead are all around us”: “As Malcolm Gaskill says, ‘we inherit ancestral tales reworked by each generation to make their truth powerful rather than precise, moral rather than empirical.'” P 118


AND “…it is hard to sift out an acceptable truth, given the human tendency to confabulate, the fallibility of memory, the wide scope for interpretation, and the prejudice which invests the whole subject.” p 120

HOLOCAUST


Martin Amis, Oct. 30/14 Chicago Humanities Festival in an interview with Donna Seaman about The Zone of Interest.

“In normal life we only use about 10% of our potential; in atrocities the rest emerges.”


TS Eliot: The Waste Land
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

HOME
Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light
“There is always a current of disturbance, till a house settles about you: till your dog finds its way to the hearth and the sheets to the bed, the beef to the table.” p 220

INTERNET

Jonathan Franzen, Purity. 

Best word: Antemimbusian (pre cloud). p 485

Andreas Kohler (Austrian intellectual) “The aim of the Internet and its associated technologies was to ‘liberate’ humanities from the tasks — making things, learning things, remembering things — that had previously given meaning to life and thus had constituted life.” Personal communication.

IRONY
Kierkegaard “No genuine human life is possible without irony.”

INTELLECT

Salman Rushdie, London Times Review of Books, on Two years, eight months, 22 nights, in 2015.
“The intellectual elitist thinks most humans aren’t intelligent enough to grasp the truth and live a well-ordered life on their own.”

JEWISH

Fardreiterkop = turned head. Expressing a state of confusion, giddiness that borders on madness


Hasiaic movement interpreted musical talent as a special gift from God that allows the soul to be released from its bodily form… become a musical investment played by God.

JOURNALISM

Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

Leila: “The irony of the Internet… is that it’s made the journalist’s job so much easier. You can research in five minutes what used to take five days. But the Internet is also killing journalism. There’s no substitute for the reporter who’s worked a beat for twenty years, who’s cultivated sources, who can see the difference between a story and non-story. Google and Accurint can make you feel very smart, but the best stories come when you’re out in the field. Your sources make some offhand remark and suddenly you see the real story. That’s when I feel more alive. When I’m sitting at the computer, I’m only half alive.”  p 204

Leila: “…she found herself ranting about the false promise of the Internet and social media as substitutes for journalism — the idea that you didn’t need Washington journalists when you could read the tweets of congressmen, didn’t need news photographers when everyone carried a phone with a camera, didn’t need to pay professionals when you could crowdsource, didn’t need investigative reporting when giants like Assange, and Wolf and Snowden walked the earth….” (p 226). 

Leila: “I’d never spoken to a source about my marriage, but openness was my modus, my way of encouraging sources to open up in turn. It didn’t mean I was manipulative; it meant I had a personality made for journalism.” p 421

LANGUAGE

Rachel Cusk, Outline
“She… found herself unable to make jokes when she spoke in another language: in English she was by and large a humorous person, but in Spanish, for instance … she was not. So it was not… a question of translation so much as one of adaptation. The personality was forced to adapt to its new linguistic circumstances, to create in itself anew: it was an interesting thought. There was a poem… by Beckett that he had written twice, one in French and once in English, as if to prove that his bilinguality made him two people and that the barrier of language was ultimately, impassable. p 231

Vivek Shanbhag “Ghachar Ghochar” a story in Granta: The Magazine of New Writing 2019.  

“The rush of these feelings all together is too much to describe. Language communicates in terms of what is already known; it chokes up when asked to deal with the entirely unprecedented.”  p 265

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels. “Once you locked into language, all you could do was shuffle the greasy pack of a few thousand words that millions of people had used before.” p 472 from “Mother’s Milk”

LAW
Hilary Mantel,
The Mirror and the Light 
“He has lived by the laws he has made and must be content to die by them. But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.” p 846

LIVING WELL

Elizabeth Hay
His Whole Life
“’He talked about how much discipline it takes. Constant discipline not to take life personally.’ Nan felt the truth of that ring through her. When you take things personally, she knew, the world becomes very small. It is you and nothing is smaller. When you manage not to do that, the world opens wide.”  p 298

“What we lose is any sense that life is alive, she thought. The days follow one after another and everything passes us by. Then along comes someone who looks at us kindly, as if we were worth noticing, and life quickens. A door opens.” p 307

LOVE

Martin Amis, Night Train
Detective Mike: “I find love difficult. Love finds me difficult… It’s this simple: Love destabilizes me, and I can’t afford to be destabilized.” p 20 

Beryl Bainbridge, Everyman for himself

“… I asked are you in love with Wallis Ellery?’ He turned to me in astonishment, black eyebrows raised above his spectacles. ‘Love?’ he barked. ‘Good heavens! Love is what women feel.’” p 158

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
“Did he still believe in Free Love? Perhaps so; theoretically; for the young, the adventurous, the carefree. But when children came along, you could not have both parents pursuing their own people — not without causing unconscionable damage. He had known couples who were so set on their own sexual freedom that their children had ended up in orphanages.” p 139 

Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot.
 “
All love is self-love.” Also alludes to Proust: as soon as you declare your love it vanishes (Barbara Sibbald… or diminishes at any rate).
“You emerge from love tarred and feathered for life.”

Julian Barnes, Talking it over

Oliver: “Love, etc. The proposition is simple. The world divides into two categories: those who believe that the purpose, the function, the bass pedal and principal melody of life is love and that everything else — everything else — is merely an etc.; and those, those unhappy many, who believe primarily in the etc. of life, for whom love, however agreeable, is but a passing flurry of youth, the pattering prelude to nappy-duty, but not something as solid, steadfast and reliable as, say, home decoration. this is the only division between people that counts.” p 141

Stuart: “If you ask me — and I have now had time to think about this — love — or what people call love — is just a system for getting people to call you Darling after sex.” p 227

Julian Barnes, The Only Story
“Nowadays, when more than half the country’s children are born out of wedlock (wed lock: I’ve never noticed the two parts of that term before), it’s not so much marriage that ties couples together as the shared occupation of property. A house or a flat can be as beguiling a trap as a wedding certificate; sometimes more so. ” p 70

“First love fixes a life forever: this much I have discovered over the years. It may not outrank subsequent loves, but they will always be affected by its existence. It may serve as model, or as counterexample. It may overshadow subsequent loves; on the other hand, it can make them easier, better. Though sometimes, first love cauterizes the heart, and all any searcher will find thereafter is scar tissue… And fist love always happens in the overwhelming first person. How can it not. also in the overwhelming present tense. It takes us time to realise that there are other persons and other tenses.”  p 84

“Over my life I’ve seen friends fail to leave their marriages, fail to continue affairs, fail even to start them sometimes, all for the same expressed reason. ‘It just isn’t practical,’ they say wearily. the distances are too great, the train schedules unfavourable, the work house mismatched; then there’s the mortgage; and the children, and the dog; also the joint ownership of things.” p 87

“… ‘understanding’ love is for later, ‘understanding’ love verges on practicality, ‘understanding’ love is for when the heart has cooled. The lover, in rapture, doesn’t want to ‘understand’ love, but to experience it, to feel the intensity, the coming-into-focus of things, the acceleration of life, the entirely justifiable egotism, the lustful cockiness, the joyful rant, the calm seriousness, the hot yearning, the certainty, the simplicity, the complexity the truth, the truth, the truth of love.” p 88

“I remember a woman friend once telling me her theory of marriage: that it was something you should ‘dip into and out of as required.’ This may sound dismayingly practical, even cynical, but it wasn’t. She loved her husband, and ‘dipping out’ of marriage didn’t mean adultery. Rather, it was a recognition of how marriage worked for her: as a reliable ground base to life, as something you jogged along with until such time as you needed to ‘dip into’ it, for succour, expressions of love and the rest…” p 104

“Susan had pointed out that everyone has their love story. even if it was a fiasco, even if it fizzled out, never got going, had all been in the mind to begin with; that didn’t make it any the less real. And it was the only story.” p 227

“He knew the contentment of feeling less. His emotional life was recast as a social life.”  p 242


“He viewed with distaste those men in their sixties and seventies who carried on behaving as if they were in their thirties: a whirl of younger women, exotic travel and dangerous sports… Not to mention respectable husband who, in a turmoil of existential anguish and Viagra, left their wives of several decades. There was a German expression for this fear, one of those concertina words the language specialised in, which translated as ‘the panic at the shutting of the doors.'” p 242/3

Michael Cunningham, Flesh and blood.
“What I mean is, I worry that love calls for some kind of fundamental generosity I lack.”

“He had… a series of affairs that lasted anywhere from three weeks to a year but always turned out to have contained the specifics of their endings right at the start, in the first brittle conversations, the first nervous sex. Passions turned to needs, strong opinions devolved into peevishness or rage.” P 318

Timothy Findley, The Wars 

“And Clive said: Yes. He said that in a way being loved is like being told you never have to die. And I said: Yes — but it doesn’t save you, does it. And he said: No — but it saves your sanity.” p 179/80

Amanda Hale, Mad Hatter

An emotional reunion between Christopher and Cynthia: “…the breath leaving her body as he clasped her. A slight moan escaped her, and those little noises in the throat where your longing lives.” p 116 

“Vera seemed to her the kind of woman who couldn’t do without a man.” p 211

Cynthia finds a note written by Christopher: 

      “When we sleep we dream about each other.

      I see you smiling down at me,

      and when we wake our toes are curled with pleasure.”

Helen Humphries, Wild dogs

“Sometimes…I will see couple who are happy together. I can recognize it in the easy way they are together, an effortlessness that’s evident in their gestures and their words. Nothing is defence or explanation. And I wonder how it’s possible that I recognize this happiness, and want it, when I’ve had so few examples of it in my own life. Is the desire to be loved as instinctual as the need for food and shelter?” p 58

“Love is not a good thing, I’ve decided. It just makes you afraid you’ll lose what you love, and then, because your fear makes a space for that to happen, it does. What’s the point?” p 103

“Everything is lost. I feel it in that moment. And the terrible thing is that the space something takes up when it’s around is still there when it’s gone, only now it’s filled with nothing. It’s filled with missing.” p 106

“Love itself was growing burdensome. I felt obligated by it and I knew that eventually I would treat it badly, or be betrayed by it. It is always better to leave someone before they leave you.

“Alive and I had suffered similar damage from our earlier lives. I knew that, and I thought that the loneliness we solved by being together would make us free. But instead it bound us together in a way that soon felt suffocating.” p. 166

“I have been betrayed so many times that, of course, it is what I know and what I will eventually do myself. Never trust anyone who has been betrayed. Betrayal never loses its edge, never really goes away.” p 167

“We always know what has hit us. We don’t always know that it will kill us.” p 171

The truth is, I want you to come back. I don’t think we’re finished. I don’t believe that all we were meant to have was something as brief as the red twist of the fox moving fast across the empty field.”  P 185

Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink
“He wanted her to embrace his history, she knew, or to flee him then and there — before they were so tightly knit together that no surgery could separate them without devastating both.” p 170

“The greatest act of love — indeed, the only religion she could comprehend — was to speak the truth about the world. Love must be, then, an act of truth-telling, a baring of mind and spirit just as ardent as the baring of the body. Truth and passion were one, and each impossible without the other.” p 391

“A heart is a free thing…and once enslaved will mutiny.” p 402

A.L. Kennedy, All the Rage

From the story, “Because it’s a Wednesday”, on the expression making love. “Phil has no patience for the expression. He feels it suggests that love can be fabricated like scaffolding or a hull, or that it might be forced inside a collaborator, injected, sweated into life.” p 39


“The Practice of Mercy” has a spectacular ending on saying I’m sorry. “And there is a way of saying this which means we can’t continue and a way of saying it which means we can keep on and manage and we can be all right.” p 72.

“This man” “…it’s more that you’d rather anticipate fictional disaters than deal with your awareness of how many true things can go wrong.” p 202

Ivan Klima, Love and Garbage

On the essence of having an affair: “Suppose we loved one another just because we do have to part all the time and then find each other anew?” p 122 

Penelope Lively, City of the Mind

“He wanted to share with her his exuberance, to offer her the whole of it, to see it with her eyes and for her to look through his. He wanted, violently, to treat the world again with someone else.” p 153

Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry

“And so at nineteen, Gord and I began to write our version of the old story. We consumed each other. I knew how his mouth worked, he knew the mole on my back, how to red my eyes. Engulfed by the skindance, the rush, we could gulp each other’s breath in the time it took to walk from Poli-Sci class to his old Morris. I have seen my first-born son eclipsed in this way, seen him struggle for decorum with his girlfriend, limbs craving as ours did then. Feast of skin and tongue and wet and warmth. Animal call. Ready for the fire, for the beginning of the end. I was found inside an old story. Then, suddenly, lost.”  P 29

An anthropologist visits Hopi people to record their music. “Is water all you people sing about down here? Our need for water is great, says the old man. I notice all your people write about is love, he adds. Is it because you don’t have much?” p. 66 

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

“They are in the botanical garden, near the Cathedral of All Saints. She sees one tear and leans forward and licks it, taking it into her mouth. As she has taken the blood from his hand when he cut himself cooking for her. Blood. Tear. He feels everything is missing from his body, feels he contains smoke. All that is alive is the knowledge of future desire and want.” p 157

“All evening his thin face lay against her ribs. She reminded him of the pleasure of being scratched, her fingernails in circles raking his back. It was something an ayah had taught him years earlier. All comfort and peace during childhood, Kip remembered, had come from her, never from the mother he loved or from his brother or father, whom he played with. When he was scared or unable to sleep it was the ayah who recognized his lack, who would ease him into sleep with her hand on his small thing back, this intimate stranger from South India who lived with them, helped run a household, cooked and served them meals, brought up her own children within the shell of the household, having comforted his older brother too in earlier years, probably knowing the character of all the children better than their real parents did. 

“It was a mutual affection. If Kip had been asked whom he loved most he would have named his ayah before his mother. Her comforting love greater than any blood love or sexual love for him. ” p 225/6

Barbara Sibbald: “Tenderness is a mature love.”

Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body

“You were careful not to say those words that soon became our private altar. I had said them many times before, dropping them like coins into a wishing well, hoping they would make me come true. I had said them many times before but not to you. I had given them as forget-me-nots to girls who should have known better. I had used them as bullets and barter. I don’t like to think of myself as an insincere person but if I say I love you and I don’t mean it then what else am I? Will I cherish you, adore you, make way for you, make myself better for you, look at you and always see you, tell you the truth? And if love is not those things then what things?” p 12/13

“We lay on our bed in the rented room and I fed you plums the colour of bruises.” p 17

“How long before the shouting starts? How long before the tears and accusations and the pain? That specific stone in the stomach pain when you lose something you haven’t got round to valuing? Why is the measure of love loss?” p 39

Kim Thuy, Ru
“In the case of Vietnamese, it is possible to classify, to quantify the meaning of love through specific words: to love by taste (thich), to love without being in love (Thuong); to love passionately (yeu); to love ecstatically (me); to love blindly (mu quang); to love gratefully (tinh nghia). It’s impossible to quite simply to love, to love without one’s head.” p 96

Tom Robbins Still life with Woodpecker: A sort of love story 

“It’s not at all unusual for love to remain for a lifetime. It’s passion that doesn’t last. I still love my first husband. But I don’t desire him. Love lasts. It’s lust that moves out on us where we’re not looking, it’s lust that always skips town — and love without lust just isn’t enough.” p. 144

“Intimacy is the principal source of the sugars with which this life is sweetened. It is absolutely vital to the essential insanities. Without the essential (intimate) insanities, humour becomes inoffensive and therefore pap, poetry becomes exoteric and therefore prose, eroticism becomes mechanical and therefore pornography, behavior becomes predictable and therefore easy to control.” p 150

“‘When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This we can do on and on — serial polygamy — until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventually failure every relationship we enter.” p 157

“When the mystery of the connection goes, love goes. It’s a simple a that. This suggests that it isn’t love that is so important to us but the mystery itself. The love connection may be merely a device to put us in contact with that mystery, and we long for love to last so that the ecstasy of being near the mystery will last. It is contrary to the nature of mystery to stand still, yet it’s always there, somewhere, a world on the other side of the mirror (or the Camel pack), a promise in the next pair of eyes that smile at us. We glimpse it when we stand still.” p 274

Salman Rushdie, The Golden House 

“What people call love, cynics say, it is really need. What people call forever, according to the cynical loveless is really rental. I rise above such considerations, which are base. I believe in my good heart and its capacity for great love. Need exists, that is clear, but must be satisfied, that is a precondition without which love cannot be born. One must water the soil so that the plant may grow. … They have never needed, those sons, what did they ever need? They live inside a magic spell. Their self-deception is very great. They say they love their father but they are confusing need with love. They need him. Do they love him? I will have to see more evidence I can reply. He should have love in his life while he can.”  p 93/4

Vincent Van Gogh “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”   

Honore de Balzac “True love is eternal, infinite, and always like itself. It is equal and pure, without violent demonstrations: it is seen with white hairs and is always young in the heart.”

Robert A. Heinlein “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own… Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy.”

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton
“Clinch’s efforts in love were always of a mothering sort, for it is a feature of human nature to give what we most wish to receive, and it was a mother that Edgar clinch most craved — his own having died in his infancy, and since then been resurrected as a goddess of shining virtue in his mind, a goddess whose face was as a blurred shape, seen through a window on a night of fog.” P 248

“She squinted at him. ‘everyone wants to be loved.’
‘That’s very true,” Devlin said, sadly. ‘We all want to be loved and need to be loved, I think. Without love, we cannot be ourselves.’” p 574

“‘I will simplify my question,’ the lawyer said. ‘Why do you trust Miss Wetherell?”

‘I trust her because I love her,’ said Staines.‘ And how did you come to love her?’

‘By trusting her, of course!’

‘You make a circular defence.’

‘Yes,’ the boy cried, ‘because I must! True feeling is always circular — either circular or paradoxical — simply because its cause and its expression are two halves of the very same thing! Love cannot be reduced to a catalogue of reasons why, and a catalogue of reasons cannot be put together into love. Any man who disagrees with me has never been in love — not truly.’”  p 669

Gudalupe Muro Air Carnation
“I have written many poems about love, but the first time I stepped into a real love, I couldn’t write anymore. I didn’t realize that I was lost. No one realizes that she or he is lost until they want to get back home.” p 32

Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave is Forgiven“Later they would sleep together — this was understood — and if there was less heat in it than there had been at the start, then perhaps there might be more warmth.” p 191

Elie Wiesel   The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” 

AL Kennedy,The Blue Book
“Love. Such a terrible world — always demands you should be the accomplice, should comply — can’t say it without that sense of licking, tasting, parting your lips to be open, to welcome whatever it is that slips in beneath your breath, and then you find yourself closing to keep it, mouth it, learn its needs — this invisible medicine, this invisible disease. It takes a hold. 

“But eventually you’re wholly free of thinking and can begin to uncover who you are with him, touch against touch. And you make beauties together. You and whoever he happens to be. It does seem wrong to say so, but who he is can seem slightly irrelevant. Not in a bad way — although it does sound bad — the specific identity of the gentleman does not, to be honest, matter that much. p 38/9

“…this is not love, this is not in any way that word. This is safe. You are safe. You are lucky and not confined — not really — it’s rather that you enjoy prudent limitations, almost always have. You are not unaware of love’s damages, that chaos and realise you have been spared, are sparing yourself. You get to pursue what are not relationships, more a series of hobbies, indoor games for raining evenings and afternoons.” p 40

On falling in love: “He has, in the course of doing nothing, suspended you in want and want and want. And through you come reeling these dreadful truths: that you respect him and fully intend to be proud of him hereafter and to see him both happy and well — and you’ll need him kept warm in the winter and cool when it’s hot and will let no ugly breeze come near him and no wander be permitted to annoy him and you wish for him to be comfortable, at the very least comfortable for ever. And these are desires that ache in you deeper than sweating, or bending, or sucking, or any of the thin and predictable memories or the fantasies that might defend you from the present, too present reality of him. The tiny idea of naming him darling is almost unsurvivably arousing.” p 40 

“It won’t be sex, it will be speaking. And — God help you — it will also be admiration, tenderness, concern — this excruciating list of necessities which are all chained to making love. You will make love. You are in love. You weren’t when he was leaning in the doorway. Then he stepped over here and you were. You are.” p 41

Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge “I think it’s all stuff and nonsense to say that there can be love without passion; when people say love can endure after passion is dead they’re talking of something else, affection, kindliness, community of taste and interest, and habit. Especially habit. Two people can go on having sexual intercourse from habit in just the same way as they grow hungry at the hour their accustomed to have their meals. Of course there can be desire without love. Desire isn’t passion. Desire is the natural consequence of sexual instinct and it isn’t of any more importance than any other function of the human animal. That’s why women are foolish to make a song and dance when their husbands have an occasional flutter when the time and the place are propitious.”
“… passion thrives not on satisfaction, but on impediment. What d’you suppose Keats meant when he told the lover on his Grecian urn not to grieve? ‘Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!’ Why? Because she was unattainable and however madly the lover pursued she still eluded him. For they were both imprisoned in the marble of what I suspect was an indifferent work of art.” p 135/6

Rachel Cusk, Outline
“I said I wondered how he could fail to see the relationship between disillusionment and knowledge in what he had told me. If he could only love what he did not know, and be loved in return on that same basis, then knowledge became an inexorable disenchantment, for which the only cure was to fall in love with someone new.” p 175

A friend is talking about a man who may be interested in the narrator:“What he thinks is of no importance,” she [the friend] continued. “If I found out more about what he thinks, I might start to confuse him with myself. And I don’t compose myself from other people’s ideas, any more than I compose a verse from someone else’s poem.” p 190

“The polarisation of man and woman was a structure, a form: she had only felt it once it was gone, and it almost seemed as though the collapse of that structure, that equipoise, was responsible for the extremity that followed it. Her abandonment by one man, in other words, led directly to her attack by another, until the two things — the presence of the incident and the absence of her husband — came almost to seem like one.” p 236

Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

Tom: “I’ve never stopped wondering where Anabel is and whether she’s a live…. I remain convinced that I’ll see her again someday, even if I never see her again. She’s eternal in me. Only once, and only because I was very young, could I have merged my identity with another person’s and singularities like this are where you find eternity. I couldn’t go on and have children with anyone else, because I’d prevented her from have them. p 443

Elizabeth Hay His Whole Life
“People love others not because they are lovable necessarily but because it takes such a weight off the heart.” p 308

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light  

“‘Women want to know about a man’s childhood.’ It had not struck him before, but he has never known a woman shun an anecdote, however mendacious.

‘It is because they wish to love them,’ Jane says. ‘They cannot always love the man, but they think they could love the child he was.'” p 327

Air Carnation, Gudalupe Muro

“There is an exceptional skill — some women are born with it, and a few others come to learn it in time — of making oneself desirable. It involves the technique of creating doubt. In Argentina this `dispensing the doubt,’ attributed to women, is the legacy of a long story, when Cristobal Colon discovered America, a story that still has us expecting women to seduce and men to conquer. So a woman with seductive skill knows that it is better to wear a long skirt than a short one and, at the right moment and with great naturalness, just for an instant, show a little leg. Whoever witnesses this marvelous display finds his or her imagination inflamed.” p 65

“’Rita, why would I expect love to last forever? Nothing lasts forever. There are no exceptions, and, to be happy, that’s the only thing you need to know about life.’” p 116

On one-night stands: “They must never meet again. That’s the only thing Rita asks — the promise that they leave each other before the spell is broken. Of course sometimes the spell lasts, and that makes for difficulties.” p 135

MARRIAGE

Martin Amis, Night Train

Jennifer’s husband, Trader, on why their relationship worked so well: “I didn’t own her. I wasn’t secure in her a hundred percent — because once you are, the best is over. I knew there was a part of her I couldn’t see. A part she kept for herself. But it was a part of her intellect. It wasn’t some fucking mood. And I think she felt the same about me. We felt the same about each other. Isn’t that what we’re all meant to want.” p 121

Julian Barnes, Talking it over

Madame Wyatt, Gillian’s mother, is a woman wronged in love (purportedly): “Love pleases more than marriage, in the same way as novels are more amusing that history.” p 145

“And in a way the beginning of the marriage is the most dangerous time because — how can I say this? — the heart has been made tender… Being in loves make you liable to fall in love…. People think it has to do with sex, that someone is not doing his duty in bed, or her duty in bed, but I think this is not the case. It has to do with the heart. The heart has been made tender, and that is dangerous.”  p 168

Mme Wyatt on her marriage:  “I will tell you the conclusion I came to, after all those years with Gordon, years which despite what you might think were mostly happy; as happy as anybody else, I would say. And my conclusion was this: that as you go on living with someone, you slowly lose the power to make them happy, while your capacity to hurt them remains undiminished. And vice versa of course. ” p 226

Oliver: “And if, as I once ventured to Stu-baby, money may be compared to love, then marriage is the bill. I jest. I half-jest, anyway.” p 249 … “Love and money: that was a mistaken analogy. As if Gill were some publicly listed company and I’d put in an offer for her. Listen, Gill runs the whole goddam market, always has. Women do. Sometimes not in the short term, but always in the long term.” p 267

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat

“Queen Victoria’s loving marriage and loyal widowhood were a national example. The French had the more pragmatic approach: you married for social position, for money or property, for the perpetuation of family, but not for love. Love rarely survived marriage, and it was a foolish hypocrisy to pretend that it might. Marriage was merely a base camp from which the adventurous heart sallied forth.” p 44 

“In 1905, when the Code civil was being rewritten, [Paul] Hervieu [suggested] redrafting article 212: ‘Husband and wife owe one another the mutual duty of fidelity, assistance and support.’ Hervieu suggested …the addition of a single word: ‘love.’ [the committee declined.] In recent years an extra word has been added to that long-standing trio of duties. However, it is ‘respect’ rather than ‘love.’ The romantic British of course, have always promised to love.” p 133

Rachel Cusk Transit

“I said it seemed to me that most marriages worked in the same way that stories are said to do, through the suspension of disbelief. It wasn’t, in other words, perfection that sustained them so much as the avoidance of certain realities.” p 29

Rachel Cusk, Kudos “She had once said that her former husband’s cold and selfish character, which none of us – she least of all – had really perceived, had been like a kind of cancer: invisible, it had lain within her life for years, making her more and more uncomfortable without her knowing what it was, until she had been driven by pain to open everything up and tear it out.” p 75

“…over the two decades of our marriage our male and female qualities had become blunted on one another. We lived together like sheep, grazing side by side, huddled next to one another in sleep, habituated and unthinking.” p 77

Mary Karr, lit 

“He says, You knew I was like this when you married me.

“The righteous cry of married men everywhere, for it’s a cliché that every woman signs up thinking her husband will change, while every husband signs up believing his wife wont: both dead wrong.” p 182

Timothy Findley, The Wars 

“The part about marriage she [Mrs. Ross] mistrusted most was the part about being loved. The fact of being loved was difficult: almost intolerable. Being loved was letting others feed from your resources — all you had of life was put in jeopardy. Maybe you had to give yourself away.” p 153/4

Terry Griggs, Rogue’s wedding

“Occasionally, a husband might wander through the house like an animal and leave behind droppings — cigar ash, mud on the rug, pittance to manage the household with — and while there, beget a brood of offspring, the delivery of which would eventually kill his mate. Work and grief, that was what a woman really married.” p 166

Vigdis Hjorth, Will and Testament: A Novel 

“Granny Borghid had toiled from morning till night for years, Granny Borghid had cooked the food and done the laundry and cleaned the house for years, until one afternoon Granny Borghid said to her husband, who was sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper….: No, I can’t do this any longer. I’m leaving.

“’But where will you go, Borghid, her husband said and made himself comfortable on the sofa. ” p 177

A.L. Kennedy, All the Rage

“…with her continual bloody friends who had produced said children without considering that parenthood would mean being broke and staying in the arse-end of Wales, while acting as if it was Italy and wandering hunch-backed streets in a migraine of drizzle.” p 90 

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

“To please their beloveds some women faked orgasm; Willa faked composure.” p 167

Ivan Klima, Love and Garbage

“.’..Would you like some coffee?’ 

‘No thank you.’ My wife had been offering me coffee for the past twenty-five years; I would have been interested to know if she’d noticed that I don’t drink coffee.” p 45

Penelope Lively, City of the Mind

End of Matthew’s marriage: “And in the end it had not been the feral whiff of infidelity that had spelt the end, but the simple death of love. Something he had never reckoned with. Death. Not a diminution or shift of emphasis, a leveling off with which one could have made do, to which one could have adjusted and lived on in a lesser way but tolerably. Not that, but a death so absolute that both knew they could no more spend the rest of their lives with one another than with some unreachable stranger.

And after that he had himself died for a while, or so it seemed. When at last he lifted his head again, and began to look around.” p 147

His mother talking to Matthew. “Anyway, the point I’m making is, maybe we shouldn’t be so set on all the world being paired off. You can be as miserable with someone else as on your own. But I dare say I don’t need to be telling you that…Time was, if a woman was single, or a man either come to that, people wondered what had gone wrong. Well, things have changed, as far as I can see, and about time too. I miss your father every day of my life, but I can manage on my own. If I can’t have him I don’t want someone else for the sake of it.” p 156

Hilary Mantel, Mantel Pieces (nonfiction)

“Women in Pain”: On the Hite report: “What a picture of American marriage emerges from these pages! It is certainly a ‘sad, sour, sobre beverage’. (There is so much in these pages that Lord Byron said first and better, and with merciful brevity, and without the advantages of sociological research.).” p 9 

And “Almost all the married women who replied said that they believed in monogamy: but of those who had been married for five years or more, 70 per cent were having affairs…82% of women believed that their husbands were faithful; but earlier Hite research showed that 72% of men who had been married for over two years were seeing other women.” p 15.

Nigel Nicolson Portrait of a Marriage (Nonfiction On his mother Vita Sackville-West and father Harold Nicolson)

“Marriage, they thought, was ‘unnatural’. Marriage was only tolerable for people of strong character and independent minds if it were regarded as a lifetime association between intimate friends. It was a bond which should last only as long as both wanted it to … But as a happy marriage is ‘the greatest of human benefits’, husband and wife must strive hard for its success. Each must be subtle enough to mould their characters and behaviour to fit the other’s, facet to facet, convex to concave. The husband must develop the feminine side of his nature, the wife her masculine side. He must cultivate the qualities of sympathy and intuition; she those of detachment, reason and decision.” p. 190

Harold was away during the week in London, and would return to Sissinghurst where each member of the family had their own bedroom and separate sitting room. “There was always a certain bustle [when he returned], the business of unpacking and tea, the tour of the garden and the changing of clothes, but soon they settled down to their easy companionship, allowing words to trickle into crevasses of the other’s mind, feeding each other with impressions of what they had read or heard, stimulating, reassuring, teasing by turns – a process which was half solicitous, half provocative, always tender. It was the alternation of excitement and calm in their lives, the ‘succession of privacies’ as Harold described the charm of Sissinghurst itself, the sense that each was always available to the other though neither would intrude unasked, which made the later years of their marriage so consecrated and serene.” p 26

Somerset MaughamThe Razor’s Edge“’Have you never thought of divorcing Gray?’
“’I’ve got no reason for divorcing him.’
“’That doesn’t prevent your countrywomen from divorcing their husbands when they have a mind to.’
She laughed.
“’Why d’you suppose they do it?’
“’Don’t you know? Because American women expect to find in their husbands a perfection that English women only hope to find in their butlers.’” p 131/2

Bruce Forsyth “The secret to a happy marriage is if you can be at peace with someone within four walls, if you are content because the one you love is near to you, either upstairs or downstairs, or in the same room, and you feel that warmth that you don’t find very often, then that is what love is all about.”

Peter Behrens, The O’Briens

She stared at the canvas roof gleaming with sunlight and thought again about whether she loved her husband. She did, but love changed in marriage, became an element in a compound with a complex chemistry. It was never quite stable, it seemed.” p 181

MASCULINITY

Helen Macdonald H is for Hawk  “I saw those nineteenth-century falconers were projecting onto their hawks all the male qualities they though threatened by modern life: wildness, power, virility, independence and strength.  By identifying with their hawks as they trained them, they could introject, or repossess, those qualities. At the same time they could exercise their power by ‘civilising’ a wild and primitive creature. Masculinity and conquest: two imperial myths for the price of one.” p 79

MEMORY

Eleanor Catton The Luminaries

“Queen Long often said that a man with no memory was a man with no foresight — to which he added, humorously, that he had quoted this maxim many times before, and he was determined to keep quoting it, without alteration.” p 260

Julian Barnes, Talking it over

“I won’t remember. Memory is an act of will, and so is forgetting. I think I have sufficiently erased most of my first eighteen years, pureed them into harmless baby food. … It’s not just an aesthetic matter, it’s practical as well. If you remember your past too well you start blaming your present for it. Look what they did to me, that’s what caused me to be like this, it’s not my fault. Permit me to correct you: it probably is your fault. and kindly spare me the details.” p 16/17

Julian Barnes, The Only Story

“Memory sorts and sifts according to the demands made on it by the rememberer. Do we have access to the algorithm of its priorities? Probably not. But I would guess that memory prioritizes whatever is most useful to help keep the bearer of those memories going. so there would be a self-interest in bringing happier memories to the surface first.” p 19

“Life is a cross-section [of a split log], memory is a split down the grain and memory follows it all the way to the end.” p 116

“Photographs were useful but somehow always confirmed the memory rather than liberating it.” p 194/5

“Strange how, when you are young, you owe no duty to the future; but when you are old, you owe a duty to the past. To the one thing you can’t change.” p 199/200

Binnie Brennan A Certain Grace 

From “The Storey’s Life”: “Walter’s earliest memory is one of not being listened to. Of this he is certain; the details, however, are revised: memories tangled with imagination equals history. History changes all the time, he knows; it’s the prerogative of a story’s keeper.”

Rachel Cusk, Outline
“He himself had noticed nothing on his journey here: he habitually did not notice things which did not concern him, for that very reason, that he saw the tendency to fictionalise our own experiences as positively dangerous, because it convinced us that human life had some kind of design and that we were more significant than we actually were.” p 48

Penelope Lively, City of the mind

“Alice’s world was purely referential. It was composed of people she knew or had heard of, places she had been to, things that had happened to her. This quite often made conversation difficult.” p 63

“For those who live in essential time, every minute is equally weighted, as though it were the first or the last. Everything that happens is fresh, to be examined and assessed. Without the wisdoms and the tarnished vision of experience, each incident is ripe with threat or promise, nothing can be taken lightly, all that arrives is potent. Tragedy threatens when the front seat in the bus is occupies, but then the occupants get off at the next stop and the sun shines once more…. It is children alone who experience immediacy; the rest of us have lost the ability to inhabit the present and spend our time in anticipation and recollection.” p 185

Ann Patchett The Dutch House

The brother and sister, Danny and Maeve, continue to visit the house they’d been evicted from for years after “like swallows, like salmon, we were the helpless captives of our migratory patterns. We pretended that what we had lost was the house, not our mother, not our father.” Danny adds later, “We had made a fetish out of our misfortune, fallen in love with it.” On one of these visits Danny asks, “Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?” Maeve insists she does just that. “But we overlay the present onto the past,” Danny objects, a statement that highlights the trickiness of retrospective personal histories, including the one we’re reading. “We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing it as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.” p 45

Richard Powers, The Overstory

“The past always becomes clearer in the future.” p 152

MONEY

Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin 

“An unearned income encourages self-pity in those already prone to it.” p 434

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels. 

“‘Mind you, what is there to do with money except spend it when you’ve got it or be bitter about it when you haven’t. It’s a very limited commodity in which people invest the most extraordinary emotions.” p 702 from “At last”

What haunted his aunt Nancy: “…the psychological impact of inherited wealth, the raging desire to get rid of it and the raging desire to hang on to it; the demoralizing effect of already having what almost everyone else was sacrificing their precious lives to acquire; the more or less secret superiority and the more of less secret shame of being rich, generating their characteristic disguises: the philanthropy solution, the alcoholic solution, the mask of eccentricity, the search for salvation in perfect taste; the defeated, the idle, and the frivolous, and their opponents, the standard-bearers, all living in a world that the dense glitter of alternatives made it hard to love and work to penetrate.” p 716 from “At last”

Mary Karr, lit 
“I can’t accept the fact that Warren’s family ethos reflects Andrew Carnegie’s old saw about how inherited money has to be held back at the risk of withering ambition….” p 136

MORALITY

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time 

“These days, he no longer knew which version to trust. Had he really, truly, been at the Finland Station? Well, he lies like an eyewitness, as the saying goes.” p 116

MUSIC

Tom Robbins, Wild Ducks Flying Backward“The Doors. The musical equivalent of a ritual sacrifice, and amplified sex throb, a wounded yet somehow elegant yowl for the lost soul of America, histrionic tricksters making hard cider from the apples of Eden while petting the head of the snake” p 56

On Leonard Cohen: “There is evidence that [Cohen] might be privy to the secret of the universe, which, in case, you’re wondering, is simply this: everything is connected. Everything. Many, if not most, of the links are difficult to determine. The instrument, the apparatus, the focused ray that can uncover and illuminate those connections is language. And just as a sudden infatuation often will light up a person’s biochemical sky more pyrotechnically than any deep abiding attachment, so an unlikely, unexpected burst of linguistic imagination will usually reveal greater truths than the most exacting scholarship. In fact, the poetic image may be the only device remotely capable of dissecting romantic desire, let alone disclosing the hidden mystical essence of the material world.

“It is a voice raked by the claws of Cupid, a voice rubbed raw by the philosopher’s stone. A voice marinated in kirschwasser, sulfur, deer musk, and snow; bandaged with sackcloth form a ruined monastery; warmed by the embers left down near the river after the gypsies have gone.

… “Nobody can say the word ‘naked’ as nakedly as Cohen. He makes us see the markings where the pantyhose have been.” p 79

NATURE

Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light  Of walking in winter: “All around, scattering from the misted eye, the tracks of small birds and animals, cut into white like some code or lost alphabet.” p 656

Richard Powers, The Overstory

“I’ve often driven down a highway, or even paddled in a lake, suspecting that lurking behind a few hundred feet of trees, lies a clearcut. These are called “beauty strips. Vista corridors.” p 87 Belies the true ugliness of this. 

Dark beech forest: “The parchment-colored leaves riding out the winter — marcescent…” p 114

“Watching the man, hard-of-hearing, hard-of-speech Patty learns that real joy consists of knowing that human wisdom counts less than the shimmer of beeches in a breeze. As certain as weather coming from the west, the things people know for sure will change. There is no knowing for a fact. The only dependable things are humility and looking.”  p 115

“The trees under attack pump out insecticides to save their lives … trees a little way off, untouched by the invading swarms, ramp up their own defenses when their neighbor is attacked. Something alert them.” p 125

“When the lateral roots of two Douglas-firs run into each other underground, they fuse. Through those self-grafted knots, the two trees join their vascular systems together and become one. Networked together underground by countless thousands of miles of living fungal threads, her trees feed and heal each other, keep their young and sick alive, poor thier resources and metabolites into community chests…” p 142

PARENTING

Jane Gardam, Old Filth. “If you’ve not been loved as a child, you don’t know how to love a child. You need prior knowledge. You can inflict pain through ignorance…” p 159

Elizabeth Hay All Things Consoled: “In time I would learn that when our children worry us, our earliest insecurities mushroom all over again and cause us to overreact on a grand scale.” p 143.

On her father: “An unpeaceful man had found peace, or, more to the point, I had found peace. With his death his disapproval died, or my need for his approval died. Something bad in me had died.” 

“At least for a time.” p 227

PHILOSOPHY

Martin Amis, Inside Story: A novel

“’Philosophy’ means ‘love of wisdom’, and philosophers have further defined it, more explicitly, as ‘learning how to die’…” p 430

Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and beloved “Philosopher King” From Meditations, his writings on guidance and self improvement. 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Rachel Cusk, Kudos 

“He believed that Nietzsche… had taken for his motto a phrase of Pindar’s: become what you are.” p 101

Richard Ford, Canada
“…I read that the great critic Ruskin wrote that composition is the arrangement of unequal things. Which means it’s for the composer to determine what’s equal to what, and what matters more and what can be set to the side of life’s hurtling passage onward.” p 21 (Love those last four words!)

“What I know is, you have a better chance in life — of surviving it — if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be a cynic through it all; to subordinate, as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find. We try, as my sister said. We try. All of us. We try.”p 511, end of the book

Elizabeth Hay All Things Consoled

“At the time I was reading Gertrude Stein, so I was familiar with her observation that the French find it interesting to save and dull to spend.” p 22 

Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink
“People go through life trying to please some audience. But once you realize there’s no audience, life is simple. It’s just doing what you know in your gut is right.” p 379

“The imperative — she whispered it to herself — to live. The universe was ruled by a force, and the force was life, and life, and life — a pulsing commanding law of its own. … The universe itself was built of naught but desire, and desire was its sole living god.” p 471

“Nowhere in the known world, it seemed to her, could she live as she’d been created: at once a creature of body and of mind. It was a precept so universal as to seem a law of nature: one aspect of a woman’s existence must dominate the other. And a woman like Ester must choose, always, between desires: between fealty to her own self, or to the lives she might bring forth and nurture.” p 517

“She lifted her quill and wrote. Yet sacrifice of the self is everywhere viewed as the highest calling, and more so for a woman, who must give every element of her life to others. Kindness is at all times counseled to women, who are called unnatural if not kind.

“Yet how can a kindness that blights the life of even one — though it benefit others — be called good? is it in fact kindness to sever oneself from one’s own desires? Mustn’t the imperative to protect all life encompass — even for a woman — her own?

“Then must we abandon our accustomed notion of a woman’s kindness, and forge a new one.” p 518

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered
“Deserving, getting, and wanting are three different things…. Typically unrelated.” p 238

Claire Messud The Woman Upstairs
“You know those moment, at school or college, when suddenly the cosmos seems like one vast plan after all, patterned in such a way that the novel you’re reading at bedtime connects to your astronomy lecture, connects to what you heard on NPR, connects to what your friend discusses in the cafeteria at lunch — and then briefly it’s as if the lid has come off the world, as if the world were a dollhouse, and you can glimpse what it would be like to see it whole, from above — a vertiginous magnificence. And then the lid falls and you fall and the reign of the ordinary resumes.” P 149

PHOTOS

Timothy Findley, The Wars 

In describing a photo: “If Robert had turned to look, the expression on her face might have frightened him. Yet people tend to look most often like themselves when no on else is watching.” p 23

PLACE

Adam Nicolson Sissinghurst: A Castle’s Unfinished History: Restoring Vita Sacville-West’s Celebrated Estate (nonfiction)

“It is the distinction between a landscape and a place. Landscape is an idea but place is a sense. Landscape requires a prospect, a surveying eye, even a controlling and appropriating eye, place an embeddedness, a skin experience, a kind of fleshy, sense-rich thickness. … Landscape is semse; a place is experienced and known. And so the key the qualities of place may perhaps be complexity, multifariousness, hidden corners, both closeness and closedness. A place rathe than a landscape allows the folding of individual energies and passion into its forms. It must in other words be full of the potential for change and development, for a sense that its potential might be fulfilled. A landscape is stilled, perfected and inert.” p 302/3

POLITICS

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time 

“That phrase, so painstakingly applied by the bureaucrats and musicologists who had examined his Fifth Symphony, would be better attached to the Revolution itself, and the Russia that had come out of if it: an optimistic tragedy.” p 172

JF Kennedy, random quotes

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

“Forgive your enemies but never forget their names.”

“When written in Chinese, crisis has 2 characters… 1 represents danger, the other opportunity.” 

“The world knows that America will never start a war. this generation of Americans has had enough of war and hate.  We want to build a world of peace where the weak are secure and the strong are just.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

“’What if Tig is right?’ she asked…. ‘That the problem is actually the world running out of stuff we need. That capitalism can only survive on permanent expansion but the well eventually runs dry.’” p 173

Tom Robbins, Wild Ducks Flying Backward

On Ray Kroc “the franchise Frankenstein” McDonalds: “With McDonald’s, they’re secure. That’s the fly in the Egg McMuffin. Rather, the fly is that there never is a fly in an Egg McMuffin. The human spirit requires surprise, variety, and risk in order to enlarge itself. Imagination feeds on novelty. As imagination emaciates, options diminish; the fewer our options, the more bleak our prospects and the greater our susceptibility to controls. The wedding of high technology and food service has produced a robot cuisine, a totalitarian burger, the standardized sustenance of a Brave New World.

…”so what if democracy tends to sanctify mediocrity and McDonald’s represents mediocrity at its most sublime…. Here they are at the heart of the matter, reductive kitchens for a classless culture that hasn’t time to dally on its way to the next rainbow’s end.” p 72/3

POETRY

Elizabeth Hay All Things Consoled

Regarding her mother who is suffering dementia: “Her turns of phrase rather confirmed my view that poetry issues from the holes in our heads, that whatever faculty produces the startling contractions and coinages and leaps in logic that we call poetry is also available on an unconscious and uncontrollable level to someone suffering dementia. One morning on the telephone, … she asked “How did you severe the night.” Blending the words “fare,” survive” and “persevere” so deftly that a lifetime of labour in the sleep mines got summoned up and summed up.” p 105

PSYCHOLOGY/PSYCHIATRY

Anuk Arundpragasam, The Story of a Brief Marriage
The genocide of Tamil: “There were things, after all, that could happen to human beings, after which their thoughts and feelings become knowable. There were events after which… one has no choice but to watch blindly from the outside. Not so much because one has not gone through similar things oneself, not so much because one lives in different circumstances… but because, when such things happen to a person, the life inside them that once expressed itself on their face becomes severed from their skin, becomes lost inside their body and ceases to find expression. Like an elastic band strained too tight, like the soft waxy stem of a plant, bent, and snapped, or the thin shell of a snail stepped on and cracked, something happens, and suddenly nothing in their actions, nothing in what they say, in the movements of their hands or legs, in their gestures or in the features of their face, nothing gives any indication of who they are or what is happening to them, so that it is impossible to guess any longer what their thoughts and feelings are, or whether they even have thoughts and feelings are, or whether they even have thoughts and feelings at all, whether there is a human being occupying their body still, or whether having diminished so much the human beings has simply slipped out of their body and into the air in an otherwise unremarkable exhalation, leaving the body in some sense still alive, its hands still gripping and its feet still stepping, its bladder filling and its bowels emptying, its chest, however indiscernibly, still rising and falling, while in its gaze and expression something vital has in the meantime become absent.” Interview with the author at Guernica magazine 

Julian Barnes, Talking it over

Oliver on self-help ” Translating the dank imponderables of the human spirit into a one-bit intellectual snack for the brain-dead: this is what your informant relishes.” p 191

Oliver on smoking: “I’ve given up the weed myself. It’s a stupid habit, encouraging self-indulgence.” p 210

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time

“He had always been a meticulous man. He visited the barber every two months and the dentist just as often…. He was always washing his hands; he emptied ashtrays as soon as he saw two stubs in them…. If this at times became a slight mania, it was a necessary one. If the wider world becomes uncontrollable, you must make sure to control what areas you can. However tiny they might be.” p 138

Julian Barnes, The Only Story

 “I didn’t realise that there was panic inside her. How could I have guessed? I thought it was just inside me. Now, I realise, rather later in the day that it is in everyone. It’s a condition of our mortality. we have codes of manners to allay and minimise it, jokes and routines, and so many forms of diversion and distraction. But there is panic and pandemonium waiting to break out inside all of us, of this I am convinced.”  p 90

Thomas Bernhard, Wittgenstein’s Nephew

“Of all medical practitioners, psychiatrists are the most incompetent, having a closer affinity to the sex killer than to their science. All my life I have dreaded nothing so much as falling into the hands of psychiatrists, beside whom all other doctors, disastrous though they may be are far less dangerous, for in our present-day society, psychiatrists are a law unto themselves and enjoy total immunity, and after studying the methods they practiced quite unscrupulously on my friend Paul for so many years, my fear became yet more intense. Psychiatrists are the real demons of our age, going about their business with impunity and constrained by neither law nor conscience.”  p 8


“For let us not deceive ourselves: most of the minds we associate with are housed in heads that have little more to offer than overgrown potatoes, stuck on top of whining and tastelessly clad bodies and eking out a pathetic existence that does not even merit our pity.” p 27

“A healthy person, if he is honest, wants nothing to do with the sick; he does not wish to be reminded of sickness and thereby, inevitably, of death. He wants to stay with his own kind and is basically intolerant of the sick. … A the healthy see it, the sick have forfeited whatever rights they once had (here I am speaking of the gravely sick, those with chronic diseases…). Their sickness has robbed them of their rights and thrown them upon the charity of the healthy.  … A sick person who return home always feels like an intruder in an area where he no longer has any business to be. It is a well-known pattern the world over: a sick person goes away, and once his is gone the healthy move in and take over the place he formerly occupies, yet instead of dying as he was meant to do, he suddenly returns, withing to resume and repossess his former place. p 48/9

“For years I had taken refuge in a terrible suicidal brooding, which deadened my mind and made everything unendurable, above all myself — brooding on the utter futility all around me, into which I had been plunged by my general weakness, but above all my weakness of character. For a long time I could not imagine being able to go on living, or even existing. I was no longer capable of seizing upon any purpose in life that would have given me control over myself. Every morning on waking I was inevitably caught up in this mechanism of suicidal brooding, and I remained in its grip throughout the day. And I was deserted by everyone because I had deserted everyone — tat is the truth — because I no longer wanted anyone. I no longer wanted anything, but I was too much of a coward to make an end of it all. It was probably at the height of my despair — a word that I am not ashamed to use, as I no longer intend to deceive myself or gloss over anything, since nothing can be glossed over in a society and a world that perpetually seeks to gloss over everything in the most sickening manner.” p 79/80

“And today it seems to me that we can count on the fingers of one hand all the people who have really meant anything to us in the course of our lives… we could probably make do without a single finger.” p 80

“Basically I am one of those people who cannot bear to be anywhere and are happy only between places.” p 88

Michael Crummy River Thieves

“’I’ve started to dream about them recently. About their bodies on the ice.’ Buchan shook his head. ‘A friend warned me at the time that regret would find me eventually. I didn’t believe him.’ p 323

Robertson Davies; Murther & Walking spirits 

“[Freud] said the measure of psychological health was the ability to love and the ability to work.” p 300

Richard Ford, Canada 

“However, blaming your parents for your life’s difficulties finally leads nowhere.” p 11

Freud: What is repressed returns in a distorted form.

Mary Karr, lit 
“Still it must be said that someone who doesn’t like herself very much (i.e., me: age twenty-five), someone who views a man as an antidote to her very being, will find — over time — that antidote becomes and irritant.” p 312

A.L. Kennedy: “Original Bliss” 

“SELF-HELP was, in itself, an unhelpful title — Mrs Brindle was unable to help herself, that was why she had bought so many books and found them so unsatisfactory.” p 158, from the title novella

Ivan Klima, Love and Garbage

Conversation with his wife, a psychiatrist. “But my wife is asking these questions only so she can tell me about her experiences with her patients, whom circumstances had picked on as sacrificial lambs: as a result they were marked for the rest of their lives, most of them had had their self-assurance broken and their mental health had been affected.”I asked her if something like that must inevitably occur, and my wife said it did. In this manner people satisfied their innate need to find someone onto whom they’d transfer their own guilt. Sacrifices to superior powers were age-old, indeed they used to be performed with solemn rituals, and for their victims men choose those whom their society considered the best or the purest.

The ritual of sacrifice no longer existed today — disregarding the symbolical sacrifice of the body of Christ. What had persisted however was the need for sacrifice. People now sought their sacrificial victims in their own midst, and mostly they chose the ones who were the weakest and most vulnerable. They no longer spilled their blood, they merely destroyed this souls. The most frequent victims were the children.” p 124/5

Hilary Mantel, Mantel Pieces (nonfiction)
From “Some girls want out”: “Kate Chisholm says: ‘Pride is the besetting sin of the anorexic: pride in her self-denial, in her thin body, in her superiority.’ Survivors are reluctant to admit that anorexia, which in the end leads to invalidity and death, is along the way a path of pleasure and power: it is the power that confers pleasure, however freakish and fragile the gratification may seem.” p 175

Paul Theroux, The London Embassy

“Doctors are the most practical of men, and psychiatrists the most practical doctors. They deal in the obscure but make it obvious, and they treat it with common sense. They argue on behalf of the patient. They are the friends we all ought to have for nothing. They take their time; they ae slower than lawyers; they have a kind of selfish patience.” p 126

Tom Robbins, Wild Ducks Flying Backward

From “The Genius Waitress”: “She reads men like a menu and always knows when she’s being offered leftovers or an artificially inflated souffle.” p 69

Sally Rooney, Normal People

The best line in the book: “…he has something she lacks, an inner life that does not include the other person.”  p 264

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels. TS Eliot’s “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” p 791 in “At last”

Barbara Sibbald, on blaming your parents, cribbed from somewhere: “For the first twenty years you’re a victim, after that you’re a volunteer.” Sign in a psychiatrist’s office: “No sniveling”. 

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights 

On studying psychology at University: “Every test, questionnaire, and study we also conducted on each other, so that by the time we though our third year I had a name for what was wrong with me; it was like discovering my own secret name, the name that summons one to an initiation.” p 12

“…the faster painful events are erased from memory, the faster they will lose their power over us. They will cease to haunt us. The world will become better.” p 142

“The nocturnal brain is Penelope unraveling the close of meaning diligently woven during the day. Sometimes it’s a single thread, sometimes more; complex designs break down into prime factors — warp and weft; weft falls by the wayside and the only straight parallel lines remain, the bar code of the world” p 227

Why do people go back and visit places of their youth… “perhaps they were urged on by some hope that recollecting more precisely these lost places would work with the lightening speed of a zipper to unite the past and future, creating a single stable surface, tooth to tooth, a metal suture.” p 300

Richard Wagamese Indian Horse

“There was a part of me that desperately wanted to close the gap I felt between myself and people. But there was a bigger part that I could never understand. It was the part of me that sought separation. It was the part of me that simmered quietly with a rage I hadn’t ever lost, and a part of me that knew if the top ever came off of that, then I would be truly alone. Finally. Forever. That was the part that always won.
“So I drank… then I walked into the house and gathered my belongings…. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t run the risk of someone knowing me, because I couldn’t take the risk of knowing myself. I u understood that then, as fully as I ever understood anything. … I’d learned by then that it was far easier to leave if you never truly arrived in the first place.” p 187/8

RELATIONSHIPS

Michael Crummy, Writer’s Festival Oct 27/19 talking about The Innocents

Anger builds between siblings gradually then explodes over nothing (e.g., what TV show to watch) and then you want them dead. There’s an unspoken anger and feeling. We don’t have words because we are children.

Rachel Cusk, Kudos 

“Hermann…said that it might be easier to see it as a shape: expressed as a triable, for instance, the Adam/Eve/serpent relationship is more tangible, since the function of triangulation is to fix two points by means of a third and therefore establish objectivity. If I was interested in metaphors, he said. The serpent’s role is merely to create a viewpoint from which Adam’s and Eve’s weaknesses can be observed, thus the snake might be representative of anything that triangulates the relationship of two identities, such as the arrival of a child might triangulate its parents.” p 96

“I also enjoyed the attentions of men, she said, while making sure never to commit myself to any one man or to ask for commitment in return, because I understood that this was a trap and that I could still enjoy all the benefits of a relationship without falling into it.” p 193

Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

“There’s the imperative to keep secrets, and the imperative to have them known. How do you know that you’re a person, distinct from other people? By keeping certain things to yourself. You guard them inside you, because if you don’t there’s no distinction between inside and outside. Secrets are the way you know you even have an inside. A radical exhibitionist is a person who has forfeited his identity, but Identity in a vacuum is also meaningless. Sooner or later, the inside of you needs a witness. Otherwise you’re just a cow, a cat, a stone, a thing in the world, trapped in your thingness. To have an identity, you have to believe that other identities equally exist. You need closeness with other people And how is closeness built? By sharing secrets. Colleen knows what you secretly think of Willow. You know what Colleen secretly thinks of Flor. Your identity exists at the intersection of these lines of trust.”  p 275 

Isabel Huggan You never know 

“Beneath that, I sense another surge of questions coming up against the life I have made. Like the cold black water crashing against the rock and smashing upwards in white plumes of foam, the questions are endless. Why we enter each other’s lives and how we are meant to fit together is more than is given us to know. And yet that’s what we want isn’t it? That’s what we want to understand.” p 241

Thomas King The Back of the turtle
“Why did everyone put so much stock in relationships? People were like the universe. Expanding. That was the human condition. Moving away. Babies moved away from mothers. Children moved away from their parents. Lovers moving away from each other. The dying moved away from the living.  At the end, like a falling star, you collapsed into yourself and disappeared.” 

Francine Prose Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932
“Any male who pretends not to hate women’s tears is a coward, a liar, a traitor to his sex. Trust me, ladies, we fear your tears more than your vaginas, which can’t bite us unless to knock and ask to be admitted. Women’s tears can drip on us and dissolve us like acid. More poisonous than venom, tears are the mustard gas in the trenches of the war of women against me.” 

Salman Rushdie, The Golden House.  

“In the traditional world, it is known that for the female of the species metamorphosis is easier than for the male. A woman leaves her father’s house, sheds his name like old skin and puts on her husband’s name like a wedding dress. Her body changes and becomes capable of containing and expelling other bodies. We are used to having people inside us, dictating our futures. Maybe a woman’s life gains its meaning through such metamorphoses, such swallowing and expulsions, but for a man it is the opposite. The abandonment of the past makes a man meaningless.” p 96

RELIGION

Marilynne Robinson, “Book of revelation: Marilynne Robinson’s essential American stories” The New Yorker October 5, 2020

“Like Adam and Eve, Jack and Della are banished, but they are banished together and that is enough of a miracle that Jack reconsiders what he has always thought about Genesis: that the fallenness it describes is his lot in life, and our lot in universe. Too often…we focus on what was lost in the garden while forgetting what was gained. But Robinson insists, ‘guilt and grace met together,’ for in eating from the tree of knowledge we did not only learn about evil. We also learned about goodness.’” P 53

RESENTMENT

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels. “‘Resentment is drinking the poison and hoping someone else will die.” p 715 from “At last”

SEX

Robertson Davies; Murther & Walking spirits
“’Nowadays the stress seems to be on the physical thing.’

“’Exactly! They mean sex. Sex is an instinct, and for some people it seems to be the supreme pleasure, but what can you build on it? Forty or fifty years of marriage? No, that means truth and loyalty, when sex has become an old song.’” p 300


Jonathan Franzen, Purity.

“Self-pity seeped into her, a conviction that for no one but her was sex so logistically ungainly, a tasty fish with so many small bones.”

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

Making love: “clouded eyes held clouded eyes in a steady gaze and a luminous woman opened herself to a luminous man. She was as wide and deep as a river in spate. He sailed on her waters. She could feel him moving deeper and deeper into her. Frantic. Frenzied. Asking to be let in further. Further. Stopped only by the shape of her. The shape of him. And when he was refused, when he had touched the deepest depths of her, with a sobbing, shuddering sigh, he drowned.” p 318 

“…the inside of her legs, where the skin was sofest. Then carpenter’s hands lifted her hips and an untouchable tongue touched the innermost part of her. Drank long and deep from the bowl of her. “She danced for him. On that boat-shaped piece of earth. She lived.” p 319

Salman Rushdie Two years eight months and twenty-eight nights
“He hypothesized that there were more than two sexes, that in fact each human being was a gender unique to himself or herself, so that maybe new personal pronouns were required, better words than he or sh. Obviously it was entirely inappropriate.  … In very rare cases one found the other sex with whom one was compatible for life, permanently compatible, as if the two sexes were the same, which perhaps, according to the new definition, they were.  P 48

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.

“The pursuit of sex, the fascination with one body or another, the little rush of an orgasm, so much feebler and more laborious than the rusk of drugs, but like an injection constantly repeated because its role was essentially palliative…” p 313 from “Some Hope”

Updike “Villages”

“Sex: it’s all a matter of being known. You want to be known better than you know yourself.”
“Sex is a holiday, an activity remarkably brief in our body’s budget, compared with sleep or food-gathering.” 

“We do not see our parents well; they are too close and too big.”

“At 3 in the morning, our brains churn within the self, trying to get out of what we know to be a sinking ship (mortality), but jumping out of self is not a Western skill, the walls of the skull stay solid, sealing us in with our fears.”

Joyce Carol Oates, Black Water

“As, since girlhood, kissing and being kissed, Kelly Kelleher had always felt, not her own, but other’s, the male’s desire. Quick and galvanizing as an electric shock.

Feeling too, once she caught her breath, that familiar wave of anxiety, guilt — I’ve made you want me, now I can’t refuse you. p 115

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

“Different though the sexes are, they intermix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the se is the very opposite of what it is above. Of the complications and confusions which result everyone has had experience….” p 121

SLEEP

Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink
“For the first time she though, I understand why we sleep. to slip the knot of the world.” p 368

STORYTELLING

Rachel Cusk, Kudos 

“I had the impression that these were stories he had told before and liked to tell, as though he had discovered the power and pleasure of reliving events with their sting removed. The skill, I saw, lay in skirting close enough to what appeared to be the truth without allowing what you actually felt about it to regain its power over you.” p 10

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things.

On kathakali theatre: “It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered lone ago that the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. the Great Stories are the ones you have hard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. IN a way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.” p 218

“The Kathakali Man is the most beautiful of men. Because his body is his soul. His only instrument. From the age of three it has been planed and polished, pared down, harnessed wholly to the task of storytelling. He has magic in him, this man within the painted mask and swirling skirts.” p 219

SUCCESS

Penelope Lively, City of the Mind

“You’re one of those who are naturally curious, that’s what it is. One senses it. those who are prepared to receive. You would have made a good immigrant yourself — success depends on perception and versatility.” p 176

SUICIDE

Martin Amis, Night Train
Detective Mike going through Jennifer’s possessions, seeking the Why: “Now the bureaus and the filing cabinets and the endless, endless shite of citizenship, of existence. Bills and wills, deeds, leases, taxes — of man, the water torture of staying alive. That’s a good reason to end it. Confronted with all this, who wouldn’t want to rest and sleep?” p 81

Mary Karr, lit
“When does the idea of suicide become a secret relief, a pocketed worry stone I can rub a slight dip into?” p 260

Edward St. Aubyn, The Patrick Melrose Novels.
“…he had only ever been superficially in love with easeful death and was much more deeply enthralled by his own personality. Suicide wore the mask of self-rejection; but in reality nobody took their personality more seriously than the person who was planning to kill himself on its instructions. Nobody was more determined to stay in charge at any cost, to force the most mysterious aspect of life into their own imperious schedule.” p 729 from “At last”

SUFFERING

Rachel Cusk, Kudos “Suffering had always appeared to me as an opportunity, I said, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever discover if this was true and if so why it was, because so far I had failed to understand what it might be an opportunity for. All I knew was that it carried a kind of honour; if you survived it, and left you in a relationship to the truth that seemed closer but that in fact might have been identical to the truthfulness of staying in one place.” P 64


Ann Patchett
The Dutch House

Advice from a former servant to Danny: “If Maeve gets sick then you’re the one who has to do the thinking…. Don’t let yourself get upset. People who get upset only make more work.” p 259

TECHNOLOGY

A.L. Kennedy, Original Bliss

Mrs. Brindle reads in a book, The New Cybernetics: “The computer’s admirable ability to store information and its rather more plodding efforts to draw conclusions from available facts are held up as the pinnacle of possible intelligence. Lack of flexibility and, above all, lack of emotional content in the storage and retrieval of information are regarded as essential. Already, in certain spheres, Reality and the hideously impoverished Virtual Reality are held to be completely interchangeable.” p 161 from the title novella

Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered

“Why memorize a stupid factoid like that when you can look it up on your phone? Oh, excuse me I forgot, you don’t own one.”

“Holding and synthesizing information in your brain creates your personality. You’re surrendering your personality to an electronic device in your pocket.” p 64

Richard Powers, The Overstory

Neelay on a thing in programming called branching. “He’ll spend his life in the service of an immense conspiracy, launched from the Valley of Heart’s Delight, to take over the human brain and change it more than anything since writing.” p 95

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights 

On Wikipedia: “As far as I can tell, this is mankind’s most honest cognitive project. It is frank about the fact that all the information we have about the word comes straight out of our own heads.” p 72

TRANSENDENCE 

Kate Chopin, The Awakening

She was moved to pity Madame Ratignolle: “A pity for that colorless existence which never uplifted its possessor beyond the region of blind contentment, in which no moment of anguish ever visited her soul, in which she would never have the taste of life’s delirium. Edna vaguely wondered what she meant by ‘life’s delirium.’ It had crossed her thought like some unsought, extraneous impression.” p 76

Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse

“Hockey’s grace and poetry make men beautiful. The thrill of it lifts people out of their seats. Dreams unfold right before your eyes, conjured by a sick and a puck on a hundred and eight feet of ice. The players? The good ones? The great ones? They’re the ones who can harness that lightning. They’re the conjurers. They become one with the game and it lifts them up and out of their lives too…” p 15 

TRAVEL

Amos Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow 

“…this time he would travel only with the bare necessities. That is, three changes of clothing, a toothbrush and toothpaste, Anna Karenina, Mishka’s project, and, finally the bottle of Chateuneuf-du-Pape that he intended to drink on the 14th of June 1963, ten years to the day after his old friend’s death.” p 438

TRUTH

Richard Powers, The Overstory

“In fact, it’s Douggie’s growing conviction that the greatest flaw of the species is its overwhelming tendency to mistake agreement for truth. The single biggest influence on what a body will or won’t believe is what nearby bodies broadcast over the public band.” p 84 “The confirmation of others: A sickness the entire race will die of.” p 85

VICE

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red CoatBarnes quotes Lorrain (a dandy) as saying ‘What is a vice? Merely a taste you don’t share.’ P 75

WOMEN

Ann Patchett The Dutch House

While taking a train home on thanksgiving, Danny is recruited to help various women stow their luggage: “… women up and down the length of the car began to call. Several had Macy’s and Wanamaker’s bags full of wrapped Christmas presents in addition to their suitcases, and I wondered what it would be like to think so far in advance.” (p 130) 

Ann Tyler,  Redhead by the side of the road

“Women kept the world running, really. (there was a definite difference between ‘running the world’ and keeping it running.)” p 96

WORK

Rachel Kadish, The Weight of Ink
“Only here in London did she at last see the truth: a household was a creature of bottomless hungers. It ravened for wood and coal and white starch, for sailcloth and bread and ale; for breath and sinew, and life itself, which wreathed away invisibly beneath the press of daily labor like the wax of al lit candle.” p 76

Joanna Trollope “Marrying the mistress”

Carrie is an office manager for a physican practice. “That was work for you. That was why work was such pleasure. You took it on and off, like an overcoat and you only took it home with you on very rare occasions. Above all it allowed you to concentrate. p 80

“She glanced at her watch. “Ten minutes before the weekly administrative practice meeting, which she chaired with tremendous briskness, having no tolerance whatsoever for people who adored meetings and who would go to any lengths to prolong them.” p 82

“You can handle anything in life,” Simon said (to Carrie). “You can get anything sorted can’t you, as long as your emotions aren’t involved. That’s why work works and life mostly doesn’t.”