Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Other People's Words

By Cornelia Read

I've kept a quote book since I was about eighteen. My main one has a glossy egg-yolk-yellow cover, with a billiard-felt green rectangle set into its center. The inside has paler green lined pages, and I've been writing down snippets from novels, articles, pamphlets--whatever--for almost thirty years now.

I posted a selection of them in the first year we were doing this blog, and as I'm on deadline until June 12th, I'm firing up a second round for your delectation.

Here goes:

"When I say I'm writing a piece, a piece is a gun."

--Rene Ricard, "Pledge of Allegiance," Art Forum

"I have known what it is to be hungry, but I always went right to a restaurant."

--Ring Lardner

"I remember one time, when his meds were working, joking around with him: 'How come God never tells you to just go shopping? How come it's always "That water is poisoned, there's a chip in your brain, the aliens are coming"?'"
--Alex Berenson, The Faithful Spy

"Always behind you stands waiting something immense and black, something fresh and brilliant, and within one bound you are in it."

--Romola Nijinksy, foreword to
Paul Claudel's Nijinsky

"'Believe me, my dear fellow,' he went on after a pause, 'there'll be none of this damned equality in heaven.'"

--W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

"The Master said, 'I have yet to meet the man who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women.'"

--Confucius, IX.18

"If repetition is a virtue, Walt Whitman is a saint."

--Arnold Krupat, during an American literature
seminar at Sarah Lawrence College, November, 1986

"For obviously, under all he says, lie three convictions: that wealth is the greatest good, and the more of it the better (tanta est animi beatitudo), that the good things of life are simply a superfluity of articles of the best quality and the opportunity to enjoy them in the most vulgar manner possible, and that, in this sense, everyone quite naturally acts for his own material advantage."
--Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation
of Reality in Western Literature

"Even as a child, when I lacked for nothing, I wanted to die: I wanted to surrender because I saw no sense in struggling. I felt that nothing would be proved, substantiated, added or subtracted by continuing an existence which I had not asked for. Everyone around me was a failure, or if not a failure, ridiculous. Especially the successful ones. The successful ones bored me to tears."

--Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

"Fortunately, what Sarah Lawrence teaches is a lesson called 'How to be shocked and dismayed but not lie down and die,' and those of you who have learned this lesson will never regret it, because there will be ample time and opportunity to use it."

--Alice Walker, speech given at the 1972
graduation ceremony, Sarah Lawrence College

"The world taught women nothing skillful and then said her work was valueless. It permitted her no opinions and said she did not know how to think. It forbade her to speak in public, and said the sex had no orators. It denied her the schools, and said the sex had no genius. It robbed her of every vestige of responsibility and then called her weak. It taught her that every pleasure must come as a favor from men, and when to gain it she decked herself in paint and fine feathers, as she had been taught to do, it called her vain."

--Carrie Chapman Catt, 1902

"The essential function of art is moral. Not aesthetic, not pastime and recreation. But moral. The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality. One which changes the blood, rather than the mind."

--D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature

"I'd had dull stupid jobs but this appeared to be the dullest and most stupid of them all. The idea, I decided, is not to think. But how do you stop thinking? Why was I chosen to polish this rail? Why couldn't I be inside writing editorials about municipal corruption? Well, it could be worse. I could be in China working in a rice paddy."

--Charles Bukowski, Factotum

"There are certain fixed rules that one observes for one's own comfort. For instance, never be flippantly rude to any inoffensive, grey-bearded stranger that you may meet in pine forests or hotel smoking rooms on the Continent. It always turns out to be the King of Sweden."

--Saki, "Reginald at the Theatre"

"Poets like this will exist! When the unending servitude of women is broken, when she lives by and for herself, when man--hitherto abominable--has given her her freedom, she too will be a poet! Woman will discover part of the unknown! Will her world of ideas be different from ours? She will discover things strange and unfathomable, repulsive and delicious. We shall take them unto ourselves, we shall understand them."

--Rimbaud, in a letter to Paul Demeny

"What matters is talk, family, cheap wine in the open air, the wresting of minimal sweetness out of the long-known bitterness of living."
--Anthony Burgess, "Is America Falling Apart?"

"I'd like to clear up one last thing before I go off and eat an entire banana cream pie by myself: men and women do not get stuck together when they screw. Oh, sure, you can beat her at arm wrestling, throw her across the room, mow her down in the line for Bruce Springsteen tickets, but you're no match for her vagina? Come on.

"If a woman could keep you inside her by clamping her vaginal muscles in an inextricable viselike grip, you'd be there now."

--Sherry Flenniken, National Lampoon

"This was the fatal flaw in Timothy Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling 'consciousness expansion' without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for those who took him too seriously. After West Point and the Priesthood, LSD must have seemed entirely logical to him... but there is not much satisfaction in knowing that he blew it very badly for himself, because he took too many others down with him.

"Not that they didn't deserve it; No doubt they Got What Was Coming To Them. All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit. But this loss and failure is ours, too. What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole lifestyle that he helped to create... a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumptions that somebody--or at least some force--is tending that light at the end of the tunnel."
--Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

"Don't tell me that making a quiche can be equally fun, and that cheese is no dinner, because even monkeys know this. It's just that when the ball is bouncing, or everyone's leaving to go swimming--in the dark, when you're stunned and splashing in the bracing ink, and you are the ink, and you find yourself going 'oh, my God, oh, my God" like in that Chekov story--you want your kitchen time to be brief."

--Chris Colin, "Ancient Yet Edible," Salon

And now, my nakeds, tell me your favorite quote...


  1. I have no idea who said it, but I found this quote many years ago and a copy of it hangs above my desk..........We are the facilitators of our own creative evolution.

  2. I have to bow to the master, Mr. Clemens:

    "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

    and, referring to the sultan of Turkey, but could easily be applied to our cuurent president:

    "You could lay a trap in the night and catch twelve more able men."

  3. His head looked like a duck.

    Dick Cheney


  4. "There are no one hundred per cent heroes." --John MacDonald, "Cinnamon Skin"

  5. "There's a fine line between stupid and clever."

    David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap

  6. Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, in 1815: I cannot live without books.


  7. "This life's hard man, but it's harder if you're STUPID"......George V. Higgins...The Friends of Eddie Coyle

  8. Doug--both of yours are excellent.

    David--I kiss the hem of Clemens' garment.

    James--that is hysterical. Did you make it up, or did he actually SAY that?

    Paulie--I need to read Cinnamon Skin. Have only read Dreadful Lemon Sky and The Green Reaper.

    Karen--Ah, the Tap!

    And Janine--I first read that when I stopped at Monticello with my Mom, driving up from Florida in 1993. Love Jefferson.

    Thanks, guys! More for my book...

  9. Love, love, love quotes. Here are two of my favorite Doroty Parkers; they aren't quite quotes, per se, but they still just make me smile....

    Razors pain you;
    Rivers are damp;
    Acids stain you;
    And drugs cause cramp.
    Guns aren't lawful;
    Nooses give;
    Gas smells awful;
    You might as well live.


    Into love and out again,
    Thus I went, and thus I go.
    Spare your voice, and hold your pen-
    Well and bitterly I know
    All the songs were ever sung,
    All the words were ever said;
    Could it be, when I was young,
    Some one dropped me on my head?


  10. "Almost all change begins with confusion." --George Kelley.

    He's an education guy.

  11. love all these quotes, they're great!
    my first favourite quote is a simple one. i saw it as a 10 year old live on tv and it shook my whole country: "Ich bin ein Berliner", jfk. just a couple of months later he was killed.
    my second one is from piglet, telling pooh, "if you live to be 100 years old, i want to live to 100 minus one day, because i wouldn`t want to be one day without you!"

    i also keep a book with my favourite quotations. mine is a green one with an elephant on it from w.h.smiths that i've kept since the 70s.


  12. I love this ""I remember one time, when his meds were working, joking around with him: 'How come God never tells you to just go shopping? How come it's always "That water is poisoned, there's a chip in your brain, the aliens are coming"?'

    Reminds me of the bit in "Bull Durham" where Crash is asking why, when everyone talks about their past lives everyone's always royalty or famous. They're never just a barmaid or some guy. We can't ALL have been Nefertiti. Someone had to be Nefertiti's bath attendant or something.

    Fave quoes: from the yellowing cards on the bulletin board:

    "It's appropriate to be passionate about survival." Dr. Helen Caldicott

    "I knew by ten years old that life would be happier if only I were quite stupid and devoutly religious, but unfortunately I wasn't."
    Anne Lamott (who's gotten a little too devoutly religious for this former reader)

    "“It is a commonplace of modern technology that problems have solutions before there is knowledge of how they are to be solved”
    John Kenneth Galbraith

    Reporter: "Mr Gandhi, what do you think of western civilization?"
    Gandhi: "I think it would be a good idea."

  13. You'll have to double-check this, but:

    "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." --Groucho Marx

  14. "Never spit too high, it's liable to fall back in your face."

    My Grandfather - Roy Burnett

  15. "The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature."
    Marcus Aurelius

    That's why I NEVER fail to read your weekly blog!


  16. "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it."
    -- Mark Twain

    ""Living in today's complex world of the future is a little like having bees live in your head. But, there they are."
    --The Firesign Theater

    "I don’t confuse having changed with having improved."
    --Ken Bruen

    "New ideas pass through three periods:
    1 - It can't be done.
    2 - It probably can be done, but it's not worth doing.
    3 - I knew it was a good idea all along!"
    --Arthur C. Clarke

    "I am an almost extinct breed, an old-fashioned gentleman, which means I can be a cast-iron son-of-a-bitch when it suits me." --Jubal Harshaw

  17. here's another one:
    "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" -John Lennon
    good morning all and happy first of may!

  18. And I'm going to have to give credit to James Patterson on this one. I think it's from his first novel:

    Something along the lines of:

    "Just because you've climbed out of your rut doesn't mean you're seeing the horizon."

  19. Fuck it. I'm GOOD at this—this is FUN.
    -- Harvey Weinstein

    Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us.
    --from A CHRISTMAS STORY, Jean Shepard

    Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
    --from ANIMAL HOUSE (by Ramis, Kenney and Miller)

    My motto? "Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll." As long as there's, you know, sex and drugs, I can do without the rock and roll.
    --from SPINAL TAP

    I've tried 'em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.
    -- from BULL DURHAM (by Ron Shelton)

    "Shut up," he explained.
    -- Ring Lardner

  20. "Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."

    -Zora Neale Hurston

  21. You guys are amazing!

    My favorite Zora Neale quote is:

    "No, I do not weep at the world. I'm too busy sharpening my oyster knife."

  22. Hard to believe you have none of the great ones from Winston Churchill---
    I've kept a quote book since the mid-1970's & have always written down things I hear in conversation that ought to make it into a book sometime.
    Brilliant, as ever Miss C.!