Thursday, November 19, 2009

Favourite Quotes from Not-Necessarily-Favourite-Books

I don’t expect that much from God. Maybe I used to. But the older I get, the easier I am on him. God’s getting older, too, I figure. -- Ten Miles West of Venus, Judy Troy (short story -- spoken by a priest): I like this even though it doesn't really make sense. It says much more about the speaker than it does about God. It makes him the kind of priest whose church I would want to belong to if I still belonged to one.

"The night advanced, the earth rotated on its axis, and they talked about the problem of why a flag in the wind, a stiff current of air, flutters and why the waves in Max’s hair did not move as his hair grew but remained in the same place, just the opposite of the sea, where the waves moved horizontally but the water remained in the same place; and about the war, about Adolf Hitler, whom they called the “A.H.-Erlebnis”; and about the twin daughters of Max Planck, the founder of quantum mechanics: the first gave birth to a daughter and died in childbirth; the other looked after the child and married the widower, became pregnant herself two years later, and also died in childbirth. Added to that, one son died in the First World War, while his second son was shot in the Second. Planck’s constant!" -- The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch: This was a great, sprawling, metaphysical epic that I'm still not sure I understand. I like this because it's sort of a microcosm of the book's wide range in the conversation between two characters. Also, I had read about the fate of Max Planck's children in A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and thought it was unutterably sad. I guess then I should be offended that it is reduced, here, to a fairly shallow witticism, but I'm not. It's more indicative of how these characters see everything mathematically and can reduce even messy, tangled humanity to equations.

I’ll tell you the problem with being happy. Because you cannot conceive of ways to make your life better than it already is, you end up repeating yourself: today is a facsimile of yesterday, and tomorrow of today. Slowly, inevitably, the image loses its sharpness. The decline is so predictable, you could chart it mathematically. Euphoria + time = Happiness, Happiness + Time = Contentment, Contentment + Time = complacency, Complacency + Time + Boredom. -- The Amnesiac, Sam Taylor: How funny, I didn't realize when I put this one down that it's also a mathematical equation for human experience. I just thought it articulated something very well that I've often sensed dimly. Also, it's a way to put a positive spin on a shitty day when the library was way too hot and all the books to be reshelved had to go on the bottom shelf, which makes me feel like my head is going to explode from bending over, which reminds me I really need to lose some weight, and makes me really cranky about all the kids that go around pulling out books on sharks and spiders and paper airplanes and hot rods and volcanoes and NEVER EVER EVER EVER putting them back IN THE RIGHT PLACE... anyway. Clearly I dodged that being-happy-for-too-long bullet today.

Their photo album alternated between drought and glut. They would add no new pictures for years. Then someone would shoot a dozen exposures of five people hanging around the front door, giving a misleading significance to a moment whose importance, if any, was soon forgotten. -- Prisoner's Dilemma, Richard Powers: I should write a review of this book, because this doesn't nearly capture it, but the family is crazy and normal at the same time, and doesn't this just say it all about photo albums? Before digital cameras, anyway?

I can’t see the point of Mozart. Of Mozart I can’t see the point. The point of Mozart I can’t see. See I can’t of Mozart the point. Can’t I of Mozart point the see...I can’t see the point of Mozart... That’s not a tune, that’s an algorithm. An algorithm in a powdered wig. -- Engleby, Sebastian Faulks: I'm not even sure I really liked this book. It's one of those unreliable-narrator things, quite a departure for this author, and although I don't really object to the unpleasant subject matter, I think some of it could have been done with more subtlety. But this snotty quote by the snotty narrator -- I mean, counterpoint? Get it? Fucking brilliant!

And what amazes me as I hit the motorway is not the fact that everyone loses someone, but that everyone loves someone. It seems like such a massive waste of energy – and we all do it, all the people beetling along between the white lines, merging, converging, overtaking. We each love someone, even though they will die. And we keep loving them, even when they are not there to love any more. And there is no logic or use to any of this, that I can see. -- The Gathering, Anne Enright: Well, yeah. Again, even though I liked this quote, it doesn't really capture the beautiful bleakness of the book. But almost every other quote had florid descriptions of sexual organs in it. And it's only Thursday.

"This is because it is never really very cold in England. It is drizzly, and the wind will blow; hail happens, and there is a breed of Tuesday in January in which time creeps and no light comes and the air is full of water and nobody really loves anybody, but still a decent jumper and a waxen jacket lined with wool is sufficient for every weather England’s got to give. -- On Beauty, Zadie Smith: and this is why I love Zadie Smith.

1 comment:

Mary Lynn said...

Those are fun...makes me wish I'd made note of quotes I'd liked in books I've read.

I LOVED White Teeth by Zadie Smith, but On Beauty didn't appeal to me nearly so much. Wish I'd read them in the opposite order.

Sebastian Faulks is one of my favourite authors. I found Engleby interesting (and like you, I wasn't overly disturbed by the subject matter) but I felt it stretched on a little bit too long and ultimately didn't quite work.