Commonplace books are a catchall term come to mean collections of quotes, sayings, ideas, or topoi (literary tropes). I am using this space to document quotes from books I have read, arranged by theme. This page will be updated

“I, Satan. I am fond of the smell of red peppers frying in olive oil, rain falling into a calm sea at dawn, the unexpected appearance of a woman at an open window, silences, thought and patience…Of course because I’m the one speaking, you’re already prepared to believe the exact opposite of what I say. But you’re smart enough to sense that the opposite of what I say is not always true.”

My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk

“We don’t look for smiles in pictures of bliss, but rather, for the happiness in life itself. Painters know this, but this is precisely what they cannot depict. That’s why they substitute the joy of seeing for the joy of life”

My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk

“From this high look-out the Earth would have appeared no different before the dawn of man. No visiting angel, or explorer from another planet, could have guessed that this bland orb teemed with vermin, with world-mastering, self-torturing, incipiently angelic beasts.”

Starmaker – Olaf Stapledon

“I’m not joking, boss. I think of God as being exactly like me. Only bigger, stronger, crazier. And immortal, into the bargain. He’s sitting on a pile of soft sheepskins and his hut’s the sky.”

Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantzakis

“Leaning in His super-divine forehead which conceived the world, on the super-powerful han which created it–the Creator was reading and smiling. I dared, shivering with sacred horror, to peep over His radiant shoulder. The book was a popular edition, paper-covered. The Eternal was reading Voltaire in the new, three-franc, cheap edition, and smiling.”

The City and the Mountains – Eca de Queiroz

We are all dying to give our lives away to something, maybe. God or Satan, politics or grammar, topology or philately — the object seemed incidental to this will to give oneself away, utterly.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

History

“[History’s] sole content is sheer human egotism and the struggle for power. Those engaged in the struggle forever overestimate it, forever glorify their own enterprises-but it is nothing but brutal, bestial, material power they seek…World history is nothing but an endless, dreary account of the rape of the weak by the strong. To associate real history, the timeless history of Mind, with this age-old stupid scramble of the ambitious for power and the climbers for a place in the sun—to link the two let alone to to try to explain the one by the other—is in itself betrayal of the living spirit.”

Magister Ludi – Herman Hesse

“The era which dares to claim that it is the most rebellious that has ever existed only offers a choice of various types of conformity. The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.”

The Rebel – Albert Camus

“The acceleration of events that is part of our times also affects the fabrication of truth, which, accomplished at this speed, becomes pure fantasy.”

The Rebel – Albert Camus

You will subjugate the unknown beings on other planets who may still be living in the primitive condition of freedom, to the beneficent yoke of reason. If they fail to understand that we bring them mathematically infallible happiness, it will be our duty to compel them to be happy.

We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

“How wild the tastes of the ancients, whose poets could be inspired by those absurd, disorderly, stupidly tumbling piles of vapor.”

We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

The primitive peasants, prompted perhaps by religious prejudice, stubbornly clung to their “bread.”*

*This word has survived only as a poetic metaphor; the chemical composition of this substance is unknown to us.

We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea, an unselfish belief in the idea-something you can set up and bow down before, and offer sacrifice to…”

The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

“Some men are born to lead, to envision, to shape and mold the politics and opinions, the attitudes, the mores, the outcomes of their times, from individual to individual or on a world scale. Others take it upon themselves to intervene rather than to forge, to serve, to help, to intuitively recognize problems or the potential for problems and give whatever is necessary to prevent or at least rectify them. Still others merely exist. Trembling at the thought of the horrible responsibilities that making a decision entails, and willing to let their lives –and, by association, the lives of others—unfold or collapse according to dumb luck, they seek out obscurity. They choose or arrive at insignificance and soon enough become willing to suffer the consequences. There was a time when the Minotaur and his ilk were important, creating and destroying worlds and the lives of mortals at every turn. No more. Now, most of the time, it is all the Minotaur can do to meet the day-to-day responsibilities of his own small world. Some days he can passively witness the things that go on around him. Other days he can’t stomach any of it.”

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break – Steven Sherrill

“They didn’t understand, they just didn’t understand. You fight the war with guns, you fight the peace with stories.”

American War – Omer el-Akkad

Relationships

“Her letters–long, ill-spelt letters, full of absurd jokes and protestations of love for him–meant far more to him than she could ever understand. They were a reminder that there was still somebody in the world who cared for him.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“But it is worth point out that the chunk of granite on which it was inscribed weighed close on five tons and was quite certainly put there with the intention, though not the conscious intention, of making sure that Gran’pa Comstock shouldn’t get up from underneath it. If you want to know what a dead man’s relatives really think of him, a good rough test is the weight of his tombstone.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“I am ashamed and disgusted with myself and hate what I have done. It may turn out badly, too. But I must not think about that. I will return to the anaesthetic I have used for seventeen years and will not need much longer. Although it is probably a vice now for which I only invent excuses. Though at least it is a vice for which I am suited. But I wish I could help that poor man whom I am wronging.
‘Drive me back to Freddy’s,’ he said.”

To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemingway

“Almost felt you liked the Forest! That’s good! That’s uncommonly kind of you. Turn around and let me have a look at your faces. I almost feel that I dislike you both, but do not let us be hasty.”

The Two Towers – J.R.R. Tolkien

“Someone who’s on top of the world isn’t much of an observer: happy people are poor psychologists.”

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

“Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone.”

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

“I don’t mean ‘why not me instead of him’…Just ‘why not me too.’”

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

Society

“None of them had the guts to lose it (money) in sensational ways such as squandering it on women or at the races; they simply dribbled it away and dribbled it away…”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“They were just by-products. The throw -outs of the money god.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“Money worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion—the only really felt religion—that is left to us.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“They accepted the money-code, and by that code they were failures. They had never had the sense to lash out and just live, money or no money.”

Keep the Aspidistra Flying – George Orwell

“Sleep, though, that’s still the one thing you can’t begrudge yourself, the only thing that doesn’t cost money: the hours when you throw your spent, wan, now gaunt, still-untouched body on the mattress, unconscious of this ongoing apocalypse for six or seven hours.”

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

“There’s a strange contradiction revealed by the naïveté and kindness demonstrated by humanity when faced with the universe: On Earth, humankind can step onto another continent, and without a thought, destroy the kindred civilizations found there through warfare and disease. But when they gaze up at the stars, they turn sentimental and believe that if extraterrestrial intelligence exist, they must be civilizations bound by universal, noble, moral constraints, as if cherishing and loving different forms of life are parts of a self-evident universal code of conduct.”

Cixin Liu, The Three Body Problem, author’s postscript

Writers and Writing

“In order to ascertain that Dostoevsky is a writer, do you really need to ask him for an ID? You just look at any five pages of his novels, and you will surely know, even without any ID, that you’re dealing with a writer.”

Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Emotion

“The lips of all the women you see must be sweet (the men, too, of course). This interferes to some extent with the flow of logical thought.”

We – Yevgeny Zamyatin

“She leans back comfortably in her chair, hardly breathing, eyes closed, and basks in the strange and wonderful feeling of permissible idleness”

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

“She tries harder, this twenty-eight-year-old woman, to remember what it is to be happy, and with alarm she realizes that she no longer knows, that it’s like a foreign language she learned in childhood but has now forgotten, remembering only that she knew it once.”

The Post-Office Girl – Stefan Zweig

“Like most North Americans of his generation, Hal tends to know way less about why he feels certain ways about the objects and pursuits he’s devoted to than he does about the objects and pursuits themselves.”

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

“He hated injustice as he hated cruelty and he lay in his rage that blinded his mind until gradually the anger died down and the red, black, blinding, killing anger was all gone and his mind now as quiet, empty-calm and sharp, cold seeing as a man is after he has had sexual intercourse with a woman that he does not love.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

“It’ll never come again. I don’t mean that 1913 will never come again. I mean the feeling inside you, the feeling of not being in a hurry and not being frightened…”

Coming up for Air – George Orwell

“The architecture of the Minotaur’s heart is ancient. Rough hewn and many chambered, his heart is a plodding laborious thing, built for churning through the millennia. But the blood it pumps–the blood it has pumped for five thousand years, the blood it will pump for the rest of his life–is nearly human blood. It carries with it, through his monster’s veins, the weighty, necessary, terrible stuff of human existence: fear, wonder, hope, wickedness, love. But in the Minotaur’s world it is far easier to kill and devour seven virgins year after year, their rattling bones rising at his feet like a sea of cracked ice, than to accept tenderness and return it.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break – Steven Sherrill

“‘Gentlemen,’ he said, ‘—by which I mean, of course, latter adolescents who aspire to real manhood—gentlemen, here is a truth: Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is. Such endurance is, as it happens, the distillate of what is, today, in this world neither I nor you have made, heroism. Heroism…’

‘Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality—there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth—actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.'”

The Pale King – David Foster Wallace

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