On art and literature: “A great deal has been written about art, but only recently has research begun in earnest about what goes on in the mind and brain when reading literature.” – K. Oatley & M. Dijikic in the New York Times, 12/21/14
One of my annual goals is to read. I find if I don’t set a goal, I don’t make reading a priority, and I don’t read. And since reading great books is one of my greatest enjoyments, I make the time to read. Like the number of miles I hope to run on the elliptical in a year to stay in good health, I set a book goal.
Each year since 2010, I’ve set the goal at 50 books. I’m on my 56th and 57th right now. But for 2014, I decided I wanted to enhance those 50 by reading several classics I’ve always heard about, thought sounded intriguing, but had never read.
Reading and great books open doors to a better world, and reading helps us to become more fully ourselves. I read an excellent article in the New York Times this past week on how reading transforms us.
11 Favorite Quotes from Classic Literature (I’ve read this year)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This is my favorite title of all books, and it’s because of the title I wanted to read The Sound and the Fury. Modern Library ranks The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, but because much of it is written in stream of consciousness technique, it was difficult reading, to say it lightly.
My favorite quotes:
- “When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight o’ clock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire … I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
- “I suppose that people, using themselves and each other so much by words, are at least consistent in attributing wisdom to a still tongue…”
- “I could smell the curves of the river beyond the dusk and I saw the last light supine and tranquil upon tideflats like pieces of broken mirror, then beyond them lights began in the pale clear air, trembling a little like butterflies hovering a long way off.”
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
I remember first hearing about Tolstoy’s novel when I was in high school reading Moby Dick, and thought if I could ever do tackle such a brick of a novel, I wanted to read War and Peace all the way through to the last page. When we lived in Prague, one of my son’s classmates was a Tolstoy, and for that reason, and for the fact that Prague is in some of the action, I bought a beautiful copy and dug in this year.
My favorite quotes:
- “”Darkness and gloom,” repeated Pierre. “Yes, yes, I appreciate that!”
“I cannot help loving light, and I am not to blame for it. And I am very happy…”
Pierre gazed at his friend with tender, melancholy eyes. Prince Andrei’s fate seemed to him all the brighter from the vivid contrast with the darkness of his own.””
- “The last day of Moscow dawned.”
- “Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women.”
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
My relatives emigrated from Sweden to Kansas and took up land in and during the dust bowl, similar to the setting in Oklahoma where The Grapes of Wrath begins. Adding to that, I traveled through Salinas, California, this summer when the land was dry and dusty in the heart of their drought. I bought a copy of Grapes to read right afterward, and it was meaningful because of the travels I’d done.
My favorite quotes:
- “In the evening a strange thing happened: the twenty families became one family, the children were the children of all. The loss of home became one loss, and the golden time in the West was one dream. And it might be that a sick child threw despair into the hearts of twenty families, of a hundred people; that a birth there in a tent kept a hundred people quiet and awestruck through the night and filld a hundred people with the birth-joy in the morning… In the evening, sitting about the fires, the twenty were one.”
- “The quality of owning freezes you forever in “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”
- “How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past?”
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I’ve always loved lighthouses. And I’ve heard much about Virginia Woolf, all of which appeals to me — as a woman, writer, artist, Virginia Woolf might be the original brilliant mind. A Room of Her Own [“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”] is apt and perfect and inspiring. While the stream of consciousness form of much of the novel is difficult, I loved To the Lighthouse.
My favorite quotes:
- “…she took her hand and raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstacy in the air. Where to begin?–that was the question at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions. All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by steep gulfs, and foaming crests. Still the risk must run; the mark made.”
- “To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.”
Other favorite pieces of classic literature …
The Great New Books.org team has made a list of our favorite classic books, which published yesterday. Stop by to see my favorite piece of classic literature (not one of the books above, actually). While you’re at GreatNewBooks.org, sign up to receive the weekly book recommendations direct to your inbox, and please share your favorite piece of classic literature with us, too!