In keeping with last year’s post, here are my favorite sentences/phrases/passages from the books I read this year. (And I’ll get to those books in a separate post.)
from “The Book of Strange New Things”, Michel Faber:
“Some people go through heavy stuff. They fight in wars. They’re in jail. They start a business and it gets shut down by gangsters. They end up hustling their ass in a foreign country. It’s one long list of setbacks and humiliations. But it doesn’t touch them, not really. They’re having an adventure. It’s like: What’s next? And then there’s other people who are just trying to live quietly, they stay out of trouble, they’re maybe ten years old, or fourteen, and one Friday morning at 9:35 something happens to them, something private, something that breaks their heart. Forever.”
from “The Egyptologist”, Arthur Philips:
The following items will be irretrievably lost someday quite soon: Beethoven’s works. The beer you prefer. All record of your ancestry. The place you first kissed a girl. Toffee. Coffee. The landscape you associate with peace and liberty. Any evidence of your boyhood, real or just fondly recalled. The sensation that all that stands before you and your loved ones is a series of aspirations, accomplishments, setbacks, meals, ceremonies, loves, heartbreaks, recoveries, next acts.
from the “Your Face Tomorrow” trilogy, Javier Marias: (the books are hard to recommend, and yet I could fill up an entire post with passages from them)
…it’s shocking how easily we replace the people we lose in our lives, how we rush to cover any vacancies, how we can never resign ourselves to any reduction in the cast of characters without whom we can barely go on or survive, and how, at the same time, we all offer ourselves up to fill vicariously the empty places assigned to us, because we understand and partake of that continuous universal mechanism of substitution, which affects everyone and therefore us too, and so we accept our role as poor imitations and find ourselves surrounded by more and more of them.
* * *
…we forget what we say much more than what we hear, what we write much more than what we read, what we send much more than what we receive, that is why we barely count the insults we hand out to others, unlike those dealt out to us, which is why almost everyone harbours some grudge against someone.
* * *
…when someone withdraws their laughter from us, that is a sign that there is nothing more to be done.
* * *
The kind of people who, on the phone or at the door, say simply ‘It’s me’ and don’t even bother to give their name are those who forget that ‘me’ is never anyone, but they are also those who are quite sure of occupying a great deal or a fair part of the thoughts of the person they’re looking for.
“You never felt for me what I felt for you, nor wanted to; you kept me at a distance, not even caring if we never saw each other again, and I do not reproach you with that in the least; but you will regret my going and you will regret my death, because it pleases and contents one to know that one is loved.”
I want it to be known that I exist and have existed, and I want my deeds to be known, but that frightens me too, because it might ruin forever the picture I’m painting of myself.
* * *
Nostalgia, or missing some place or person, regardless of whether for reasons of absence or abandonment or death, is a very strange and contradictory business.
* * *
More time passes, and there comes a day, just before the last trace vanishes, when the mere idea of seeing the lost person suddenly seems burdensome to us. Even though we may not be happy and may still miss them, even though their remoteness and loss still occasionally wounds us—one night, lying in bed, we look at our shoes alone by the leg of a chair, and we’re filled with grief when we remember that her high heels once stood right next to them, year after year, telling us that we were two even in sleep, even in absence—it turns out that the people we most loved, and still love, have become people from another era, or have been lost along the way—along our way, for we each have our own—have become almost preterite beings to whom we do not want to return because we know them too well and the thread of continuity has been broken.
* * *
Luisa was for me one of those people whose company you seek out and are grateful for and which, almost in itself, makes up for all the heartaches, and which you look forward to all day—it’s our salvation—when you know you’ll be seeing her later that evening like a prize won with very little effort; one of those people you feel at ease with even when times are bad and about whom you have the sense that wherever they are, that’s where the party is, which is why it’s so hard to give them up or to be expelled from their society, because you feel then that you’re always missing out on something or—how can I put it—living on the margins.
* * *
‘Why do I tell you these things? You are not even here.’
(which, as it turns out, is actually from: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/182860 )
from “Silver Screen Fiend”, Patton Oswalt:
Does anyone act more like an over-serious senior citizen with time running out on their chance for immortality than someone in their twenties?
* * *
There was comfort in preemptive disappointment. Because it was never your fault.
from “Yes Please”, Amy Poehler:
Apologies have nothing to do with you. They are balloons in the sky. They may never land. They may even choke a bird.
* * *
Getting older makes you somewhat invisible. This can be exciting. Now that you are better at observing a situation, you can use your sharpened skills to scan a room and navigate it before anyone even notices you are there. This can lead to your finding a comfortable couch at a party, or to the realization that you are at a terrible party and need to leave immediately.
* * *
It’s important to know when it’s time to turn in your kazoo.
from “Orfeo”, Richard Powers:
You want to live in a hermitage in Times Square, with a big sign pointing to you reading, hermit.
* * *
A friend says: “I just heard the strangest song ever.” Do you run away or toward?
from “Valis” (book 1), Philip K. Dick:
They ought to make it a binding clause that if you find God you get to keep him.
* * *
The gentle sounds of the choir singing “Amen, amen” are not to calm the congregation but to pacify the god.
from “The Song Is You”, Arthur Philips (a disappointing book, but which is endlessly quotable.)
…he had the sensation that he might never be so happy again as long as he lived. This quake of joy, inspiring and crippling, was longing, but longing for what? True love? A wife? Wealth? Music was not so specific as that. “Love” was in most of these potent songs, of course, but they—the music, the light, the season—implied more than this, because, treacherously, Julian was swelling only with longing for longing.
* * *
He recognized his dumb urge never to think about her again even as he failed to stop thinking about her, perhaps because of the energy required to stop those other thoughts.
* * *
“You never know when you’re about to be too old for some things. You only know when suddenly you are too old.”
from “The Transmigration of Timothy Archer”, PKD:
I should stand up and ask Mr. Barefoot a meaningless question and then go home while he is phrasing the perfect answer. That way he wins and I get to leave. We both gain.
* * *
I would not want to make you unhappy by detailing pain, but there is a crucial sort of difference between pain and the narration of pain. I am telling you what happened. If there is vicarious pain in knowing, there is actual peril in not knowing. In aversion lies a colossal risk.
from “The Gone-Away World”, Nick Harkaway (I could quote this goddamned book all goddamned day):
There is a noise as of incoming mortars or a train crash or the steeple of the church falling into the vestry. It is a vast, tectonic, tearing noise which seems to come from everywhere. In truth, it is probably none of these things, but it is very loud, and I am a small boy.
* * *
From somewhere across the room comes the sound of a mime getting beaten up.
You have to worry about someone even mimes find creepy.
All the walls come down inside my head. I am betrayed, murdered, rescued, healed and bereft. I have saved the world and been rewarded with five shots in the chest, booted out to die in mid-air on a dusty road. I am toxic waste. I have known heaven, and now I am in hell, and there are mimes.
* * *
We all carry a multitude of ghosts around with us: impressions of other people, strong or weak, deep from long acquaintance or shallow with brevity. Those ghosts are maps, updated with each encounter, made detailed, judged, liked or disliked. They are, if you ask a philosopher, all we can ever really know of the other people in the world.
* * *
He has made his loathing of height into a definition. He is not so much short as antitall.
from “Submergence”, J.M. Ledgard:
She walked all the way to the Hotel Ostende and back and bumped into him when she came into the lobby. It was awkward. But then life is never neat, it is made up of doors and trapdoors. You move down baroque corridors, and even when you think you know which door to open, you still need to have the courage to choose.
* * *
If you talk about the acceleration that is in the world, you have to talk about the advances in computational power. There was a recent momentous day when a computer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico achieved petaflop speed. One thousand trillion calculations a second. How to conceive of such a rate? If everyone in the world were given a pocket calculator and ordered to tap out sums for six hours a day, it would take them until the twenty-fourth century to match the calculations a petaflop computer can perform in a day. The exaflop is the next step in the history of computing: one quintillion calculations a second. Then the zetraflop, yottaflop, and the xeraflop. The goal is nothing less than to slow down time and colonize it. Of course, a petaflop computer uses more electricity than the power grid of an African city. Then there is the problem of asking useful questions of it.
from “My Struggle, Volume 1”, Karl Ove Knausgaard:
…an enormous contradiction arose between the person he was, the person I knew him to be, and the person he presented himself as.
* * *
I remembered hardly anything from my childhood. That is, I remembered hardly any of the events in it. But I did remember the rooms where they took place. I could remember all the places I had been, all the rooms I had been in. Just not what happened there.
from “Tigerman”, Nick Harkaway:
He didn’t really have much of a temper. Hadn’t, until this moment. But here he was, alone in a garden, declaring a war of extinction on a field of tomatoes. It was so wasteful. That notion made him stop, bewildered, and he wondered at the idea that it was wasteful to chop down plants, but somehow not so much so to do the same with men.
* * *
“…Space. The place where British people do not go because the British space programme is, what, two guys with a really long stick?” “In that way, Jed, it is very much like U.S. healthcare.”
from “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”, David Mitchell:
Creation never ceased on the sixth evening, it occurs to the young man. Creation unfolds around us, despite us, and through us, at the speed of days and nights, and we like to call it “love.”
* * *
“The soul is a verb.” He impales a lit candle on a spike. “Not a noun.”
from “Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir”, Terry Gilliam:
Suddenly everything was being commodified, and once an act has to have a particular object attached to validate it, then it isn’t the same act any more. I think what it ultimately comes down to is not being able to be sure of the line between what you’re really experiencing and what has been programmed into you. These days I’d call this a ‘Philip K Dick moment’, but at that point I had yet to read any of the visionary books Dick was churning out at an astonishing pace just up the California coast in San Francisco. As it was, I’d just be walking along the beach in Venice or Santa Monica – hand in hand with the woman I loved, the waves lapping and gulls crying – not being sure if this seemed wonderful because it actually was wonderful, or because I had seen so many ads that said it was.
from “City on Fire”, Garth Risk Hallberg:
“…an artist is someone who combines a desperate need to be understood with the fiercest love of privacy. That his secrets may be obvious to others doesn’t mean he is ready to part with them.”
* * *
But why do they call you Sewer Girl?” “Nicky says I’m stuck on a lower level of consciousness. Because I’m from Shreveport, or whatever. It’s like, if you didn’t grow up in the city, it’s hard for dialectical materialism to be your bag. I still get sentimental about moms and deer and my horoscope and stuff.”
* * *
He feigned slumber for the couple hours it took to reach Altanta, and the ten minutes from there to the farm. When he opened his eyes, he was facing a plain, tin-roofed house, pale in the dusk. It might have been someone else’s except for the complicated things it did to his heart.
* * *
… Mercer looked around. There was no way anyone could hear. But the walls could, and the earth, and the ghosts of horses, and the state of Georgia.