Coherence and closure are deep human desires that are presently unfashionable. But they are always both frightening and enchantingly desirable.—A. S. Byatt
—found in Possession (1990)
Concise, compelling works and excerpts from antiquity until today. A commonplace book of sorts.
“A man’s bookcase will tell you everything you’ll ever need to know about him,” my father had told me more than once. “A business-man has business books and a dreamer has novels and books of poetry. Most women like reading about love, and a true revolutionary will have books about the minutiae of overthrowing the oppressor. A person with no books is inconsequential in a modern setting, but a peasant that reads is a prince in waiting.”—Walter Mosley
—found in The Long Fall (2009)
A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips;—not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.—Henry David Thoreau
—found in Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854)
All of us know, whether or not we are able to admit it, that mirrors can only lie, that death by drowning is all that awaits one there. It is for this reason that love is so desperately sought and so cunningly avoided. Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.—James Baldwin
—found in The Fire Next Time (1962)
Dumbfounded, I stood before the court, trying to figure out if there was a state of being between “guilty” and “innocent.” Why were those my only alternatives? I thought. Why couldn’t I be “neither” or “both”?—Paul Beatty
—found in The Sellout (2015)
…Yaw wasn’t certain that he believed in forgiveness. He heard the word most on the few days he went to the white man’s church with Edward and Mrs. Boahen and sometimes with Esther, and so it had begun to seem to him like a word the white men brought with them when they first came to Africa. A trick their Christians had learned and spoke loudly and freely about to the people of the Gold Coast. Forgiveness, they shouted, all the while committing their wrongs. When he was younger, Yaw wondered why they did not preach that the people should avoid wrongdoing altogether. But the older he got, the better he understood. Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future. And if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.—Yaa Gyasi
—found in Homegoing (2016)
Is the yellow of the forest
the same as last year’s?
And does the black flight
of the relentless seabird repeat itself?
And is where space ends
called death or infinity?
What weighs more heavily on the belt,
sadnesses or memories?
—Pablo Neruda (translated by William O’Daly)
—found in The Book of Questions (1974; this translation 1991)