My third grade teacher, Mrs. Pierce, once reprimanded me for turning down the page of my book. She informed me that this was called “dog-earing” and it was very, very bad, on a par with wasting food at lunchtime and talking in the halls — two other crimes I had committed. Now I’m almost as old as Mrs. Pierce was then, and I can dog-ear my books anytime I want. If you borrow a book from me and there are lots of pages turned down, you know that this is a really good book filled with passages worth rereading and remembering.
In high school, one of my favorite English teachers, Mr. Regan, told us that “quote” is a verb and “quotation” is a noun. Mr. Regan, the co-author of our textbook, the English Competence Handbook, devoted an entire chapter to the proper use of “Quotations”. To the chagrin of English teachers everywhere, the word “quote” has become commonly used as a noun. Even the people in charge of websites devoted to cataloging quotes seem confused. One website calls itself The Quote Garden (“celebrating 17 years online”) but lists quotations in hundreds of categories, from “curmudgeonesque” to “ladybugs”.
Ever since I left Mrs. Pierce’s classroom, I’ve dog-eared quite a few pages. Here are some of my favorite quotes (sorry, Mr. Regan!) about books and reading:
When a book is a time machine, taking me back and sideways to other minds and times and cities and planets but mostly forward, forward to dinnertime, to when my mother would walk in the door and the unsympathetic girl would leave and I could re-emerge into my life, and it would be only the two of us again, my mother and me, and although I felt like I barely had her at least she was mine alone — who would give such magic away?
Holly LeCraw, The Half Brother
There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.
Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck
At eight, Arthur was walking five miles every other Tuesday to Mrs. Robert J. Taylor’s in Glassville to borrow a book from her considerable collection of eighty-five volumes. He was Robinson Crusoe sneaking through the jungle, scouting for ambush. He was Gulliver negotiating the fleshy landscapes of the Brobdingnags. He was Ahab, substituting green moss boulders for the white whale and losing his leg a thousand times. For Arthur, the words gathered in waterfall thoughts that spilled off the page into the pools of imagination collecting in his head.
Christopher Scotton, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Little Princess
So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.
Roald Dahl, Matilda
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Her library would have been valuable to a bibliophile except she treated her books execrably. I would rarely open a volume that she had not desecrated by underlining her favorite sections with a ball-point pen. Once I had told her that I would rather see a museum bombed than a book underlined, but she dismissed my argument as mere sentimentality. She marked her books so that stunning images and ideas would not be lost to her.
Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides
It was easy enough to write a sentence, but if you were going to create a work of art, the way Melville had, each sentence needed to fit perfectly with the one that preceded it, and the unwritten one that would follow. And each of those sentences needed to square with the ones on either side, so that three became five and five became seven, seven became nine, and whichever sentence he was writing became the slender fulcrum on which the whole precarious edifice depended. That sentence could contain anything, anything, and so it promised the kind of absolute freedom that, to Affenlight’s mind, belonged to the artist and the artist alone. And yet that sentence was also beholden to the book’s very first one, and its last unwritten one, and every sentence in between.
Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
When I read a book, I want you to be reading it at the same time. I want to know what would Amelia think of it. I want you to be mine. I can promise you books and conversation and all my heart, Amy.
Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied LIfe of A.J. Fikry
I never deliberately learned to read, but somehow I had been wallowing illicitly in the daily papers. In the long hours of church — was it then that I learned? I could not remember not being able to read hymns. Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the lines above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory . . . Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved reading. One does not love breathing.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Do you turn down pages, highlight, underline, or use Post-It notes to remember favorite passages?
For more inspiring and thought-provoking literary quotes, check out The Broke and the Bookish, host of Top 10 Tuesday.