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My book of books

November 18, 2019

Does anyone else have a book of books? You know, a notebook where you copy down beautiful quotes, phrases and ideas from books you read. Just me? 

 

I had a really interesting conversation with Jesse recently about the languages we speak. I'm not talking about languages like English or Italian or Mandarin or Swahili. I'm talking about the uncontrollable languages our minds speak, not the learned languages our mouths speak.

 

This conversation came about because we had just watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Jesse - despite reading the books (upon my threatening to break up with him if he didn't) only a couple of years back - was genuinely surprised to learn who the Half Blood Prince was, and what happened during the course of the film. HE DOESN'T REMEMBER THE STORIES. He has no idea how the seventh one is going to end. This is not an unusual phenomenon in his world. Often we'll pick a film to watch and about an hour in he'll squint at the screen and say, "I think I might have seen this before." I am an absolute story nutter. Whether via books or films, I LOVE stories, I am utterly captured by them, and I almost never forget one. It baffles me that he almost always does, nearly immediately after having consumed them.

 

Putting aside my personal sense of insult that he has forgotten one of the greatest stories ever told, when we talked about it afterwards and he explained the way stories just don't stick, but non-fiction books always do, I considered that maybe the language of storytelling just isn't a language he speaks. Stories don't resonate with him. Other things do, things I fail to fully grasp, precisely because I don't think I speak those languages the way he does. I don't think we choose what languages of this kind we speak - I think it's a way in which we are hardwired.

 

For me, one of the things that gives me the greatest joy is reading wonderful stories, and especially those moments when you stumble upon a truly breathtaking turn of phrase hidden amongst their pages. That's what my book of books is. It's a place where I write down all those little bits that get me. They all go in there because they make my heart swell or my breath catch or my mind sizzle when I read them. Putting them altogether in one place means I can revisit them all, and reading one piece after another of such moving writing is honestly one of my very favourite things.

 

For anyone out there also fluent in the language of stories, you might enjoy some of these as much as I do... it's just a small sample, but you get the idea!

 

  • "His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in your draw and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers." (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr)

  • "Came away poorer than when I went. But such a place to live! Those silences at the back of the north wind got me. I've never belonged to myself since." (The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery)

  • "I thought, you could have moved away to the city. You could have jumped on a bus and made your own way. You could have walked the streets, walked all day and night and no one would have cared. You would have been invisible to others yet entirely known to yourself. You would have turned yourself into a work of art, and this is what people would have seen." (Everyone is Watching, Megan Bradbury)

  • "The days eased themselves around our lives like visitors in a sick room. I hardly noticed their coming and going." (Maya Angelou, Gather Together in my Name

  • "We thought and worried and talked about all the things that seem important when the time ahead and the time behind are more or less in balance." (Meet Me at the Museum, Anne Youngson)

  • "History isn't something you need to bring to life. History already is alive. We are history. History isn't politicians or kings and queens. History is everyone. It is everything. It's that coffee. You could explain much of the whole history of capitalism and empire and slavery just by talking about coffee. The amount of blood and misery that has taken place for us to sit here and sip coffee out of paper cups is incredible." (How to Stop Time, Matt Haig)

  • "The world could be going straight to hell in a hand basket, but happy hour was happy hour, and pretty girls would still find the bars in Huntsville, Texas." (The Passage, Justin Cronin)

  • "All people at root are optimists. We always think there's enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and we're left standing there holding onto words like 'if'." (A Man Called Ove, Fredrick Backman)

  • "I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I'll ever be able to tell." (The Secret History, Donna Tart)

  • "Their conversation is like a gently wicked dance: sound meets sound, curtsies, shimmies, and retires. Another sound enters but is upstaged by still another: the two circle each other and stop." (The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison)

  • "It was the way of things, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned just for a moment on your shoulder, when all you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and never could be broken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core and all." (Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng)

  • "Everyone knows they're going to die, but no one believes it. If we did, we would do things differently." (Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom)

 

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