Remembering words of wisdom from some of my favourite reads this year.
This year has been rubbish — I think we can all agree on that.
But it has been a blessing in many ways, at least for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of free time due to the pandemic, and as a result, I was able to fall back in love with reading. I’ve read over 50 books, which is a lot for me, considering I was averaging between 10–15 during my time at university.
During this process, I’ve also started to hoard quotes, so I thought I would share with you some of my favourites from books I’ve read this year.
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Why and How Do I Keep Quotes from my favourite reads?
You may be thinking, sure, you read some good books, but why are you hoarding quotes from them?
I spent many years whizzing through books to read as much as possible once I realised my reading time was limited, and as a result, used to forget a lot of what I had read. I didn’t reflect on anything or think about aspects of the book that resonated with me.
Ever since I started writing book reviews, I guess you could say I think deeply about what I’m reading. But also, I like to remember what I have read.
As a lover of words, prose and all that good stuff, I’m inclined to think language is a pretty incredible thing. Some of my favourite reads this year alone have been because of the prose — Hot Milk is a great example.
I have a small, Moleskine notebook that I like to record either my thoughts on a book, quotes from it or critical ideas that resonated with me whilst reading. In this way, everything is in one place, and it’s great to look back on.
Also, it’s good to have for writing inspiration. When I feel stuck, I get it out, have a flick through and remind myself of how fantastic writing is, and I may even get a few ideas or two.
With that in mind — here are some of my favourite quotes from books I’ve read this year.
“The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.” — George Orwell, Why I Write (1946)
Like him or despise him, the literary world is divided over George Orwell. Although I recognise his faults, as he wasn’t the nicest of men, I am a pretty big fan of his writing.
His writing is original, clear, concise and beautifully allows politics and art to exist side by side, which is why he a pioneer of the political fiction genre.
I think this quote is pretty unique as it sums up his ambitions as a writer in one sentence. Why I Write is a short essay explaining Orwell’s purposes for writing, what he aims to achieve as well as some background for what he’s responding to. He sought to make political writing into an art form, and he does just that.
As a lover of the arts and someone passionate about politics and matters of social inequality — this quote resonated with me.
“Sixty three sunsets I saw revolve on that perpendicular hill — mad raging sunsets pouring in sea foams of cloud through unimaginable crags like the crags you grayly drew in pencil as a child, with every rose-tint of hope and beyond, making you feel just like them, brilliant and bleak beyond words. –“ Jack Kerouac, Lonesome Traveller, (1960)
This is an example of an occasion where I pick out quotes just because of the words alone.
I love the sense of chaotic energy and beauty Jack Kerouac manages to capture in just a few sentences. Whenever I read anything by Kerouac, my daily thoughts just dissipate as I get lost in his prose.
What does this paragraph even mean? Who knows, and I think that’s part of the beauty of it. Kerouac usually creates more questions than answers in his writing, and I love that.
Beauty and emptiness sit together side by side — in a chaotic frenzy likened to the unpredictability of nature itself.
“All summer, I had been moonwalking in the digital Milky Way. It’s calm there. But I am not calm. My mind is like the edge of motorways where foxes eat owls at night. In the starfields, with their faintly glowing paths running across the screen, I have been making footprints in the dust and glitter of the virtual universe…” Deborah Levy, Hot Milk, (2016)
I can’t believe I only discovered Deborah Levy this year, but I immediately fell in love with her dreamy, soporific prose. It reads like poetry, but it is so easy to digest and read again, again and again.
I love this quote as I find it so relatable. Sophia, the protagonist of the novel, is a lost twenty-something who doesn’t know what to do with her life. She spends a lot of time panicking over her future and what to do with it — so naturally, I resonated.
This quote encapsulates the sense of a constant racing mind, drifting through your life aimlessly and as if you’re a bypasser in your own life, just watching it as it’s floating away.
Beautiful, honest and rather dreamy.
“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss”. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, (1859)
In a nutshell, this quote speaks volumes about the essence of the French Revolution, but mainly about periods of uncertainty and upheaval in general.
Reading this book in the middle of the pandemic was actually, quite calming. It made me realise that humanity has faced many challenges in the past, and have more often than not, always managed to come out stronger.
There’s a certain comfort in knowing people have felt the same before — and this feeling is encapsulated in a brilliant story by Charles Dickens.
“The politics of whiteness transcends the colour of anyone’s skin. It is an occupying force in the mind.” Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, (2017)
As well as it being a year for global recognition, having more meaningful conversations about race and the recognition of systemic racial inequality — it has been a year of learning for me, too.
Since I started regularly writing online, I felt the responsibility to diversify my reading habits, but also learn about racism in Britain.
Although I have a history degree and a pretty good understanding of the history of racial inequality, race in Britain is not taught in compulsory school education. As a white person who doesn’t have to suffer in this way, I knew I had to start further educating myself.
This book opened up my mind to all issues to do with race, with contemporary examples. But it also taught me how to have these conversations and when it is crucial for white people to listen. We will never be able to understand the struggle fully, but we’re here in support and will always listen.
“Suppose within each book there is another book, and within every letter on every page another volume constantly unfolding; but these volumes take no space on the desk. Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place…” Hillary Mantel, Wolf Hall #1, (2009)
This was the first book I read in lockdown, and I loved it. I’ve never been a massive fan of historical fiction, mainly because having a history degree hinders the reading experience, as you tend to always look for factual inaccuracies.
But Hillary Mantel was a pleasant surprise, and I thought she executed a delicate balance between conveying the period well and adding enough of a fictional twist for it to be good escapism.
Her writing is beautiful and a wonderful experience to read. From that quote alone, I’m sure you’ll experience a certain amount of writing envy right there — I sure did.
In that snapshot — Mantel conveys the endless stream of knowledge and books that litter humanity and human history — as a reader, we’ll never be satisfied or be able to read them all, but we must make the most of the ones we do.
“It’s these small moments that make life worth living. The moments you take for granted. The ones you think will always be in plentiful supply. But if this past year has shown me anything, it’s the need to cherish each and every moment, whether good or bad, whether joyful or painful, as the precious fleeting gifts that they are.” Mike Gayle, Half a World Away, (2019)
Half a World Away deals with issues close to my heart and is executed poignantly and touchingly.
It’s a reminder to us all that life is far too short and should be lived to the full. And all of this feels very relevant during the pandemic.
Mike Gayle tells the story of two siblings who have not seen each other in decades, due to going their separate ways from time spent in care. In their adult lives, they finally take the opportunity to get back together. This quote summarises the true essence and feel of a beautiful book.
I hope that these quotes may have inspired you to read some of these books, or left you feeling a certain amount of awe and wonder for the written word.
Feel free to highlight these and store them in whatever way you enjoy best.
Thank you for reading.
This was originally posted on November 20, 2020 at Medium.com