Commonplace Book

A Collection of Favorite Quotes from Various Sources

(Connect the Thoughts)

The only time you ever really see a place is the first time and the last time you’re there – the day you move in and the day you move out. – Greg Baxter, The Apartment

Most of us . . . have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people. – Studs Terkel, Working

One of the main causes of personal unhappiness is the inability to match one’s talents in real-world employment. – Paraphrase of Richard Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy

[W]hat is imagined and yearned for is more exciting than what is possessed; anticipation is a more pleasurable state than occupation. – Phyllis Rose, The Year of Reading Proust

As if one is entitled to a world that works the way one thinks it ought to. — Doug Dorst, Alive in Necropolis

You take it away, you show them what they had. – Following, Christopher Nolan, writer/director

Of all the crazy things she had ever done. . . It comes from being alone too much. Things matter that wouldn’t if you had a regular life. – Marilynne Robinson, Lila

Because I was alone, however, the mundane seemed charged with meaning. – John Krakauer, Into the Wild

Do not cling so hard to your own version of truth, says Buddha, else you will fail to see the real truth when it comes knocking. – quoted in Samantha Harvey, Dear Thief

Nothing is true, but everything is real. – Jack Kerouac

He had pursued the meaning of life, more than that, he believed – poor clown – that at times he had glimpsed it. Was it his fault that he lacked the talent to communicate those glimpses to other men? – John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman

I listened to the wind, to the wind of my soul . . . I listened to my words, but they fall far below. – Cat Stevens, “The Wind”

There is much to be said for failure. It is more interesting than success. – Max Beerbohm

[W]rithing with the dread of being a nobody, but appalled by what it takes to be a somebody. – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 10/20/14

[He knew that] those things we most desire to hold in our hearts are often taken from us while that which we would put away seems often by that very wish to become endowed with unexpected powers of endurance. – Cormac McCarthy, Cities of the Plain

There being a law of the unconscious which impels us to do things to ourselves that have been done to us against our will, to prove to ourselves our freedom and consent in matters where we did not consent and had no freedom. – Phyllis Rose, The Year of Reading Proust

Every person is essentially what he will become by the time he is ten years old. And yet you will find that almost all bear damage from their childhood that they cannot overcome even when they attain the age of seventy. And every unfortunate idiosyncrasy tends to stem from some erroneous impression received in childhood. – Kierkegaard

[F]or aren’t all of us booby-trapped by two or three figures, various combinations of two or three tyrannies repeating themselves and cropping up everywhere they have no place being, where they are not wanted? – Louis Black, Austin Chronicle

Though the functions we call “mother” and “father” are embodied by actual people who go by those names, those functions do not vanish when they die. The “I” recreates them, filling the void they left . . . I write about you all the time, I said aloud. Every time I say “I” it refers to you. – Dan Chiasson, quoted in The New Yorker

You spend the first half of your life learning that you are something after all, now you have to spend the second half learning to see yourself as nothing. You have been a negative nothing, now you want to be a positive nothing. – Lydia Davis, Samuel Johnson is Indignant: Stories

Our greatest pretenses are built up, not to cover our lies, but to hide our emptiness, and the most difficult thing to hide is something not there. – Alexander Theroux, Laura Warholic

[T]he conflict between what we wish to be and what society insists we become, between our ideals and our comfort. – Anna Quindlen, Introduction to Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth

The questions of how to know whether one is choosing or whether one is giving in to something one hasn’t understood. – Caleb Crain, Necessary Errors

Sensitivity and strength of will are not a simple combination. – Karl Knausgaard, My Struggle, Vol. I


Novelists who take the bitterest view of our modern condition make the most of the art of the novel. The writer’s art appears to seek a compensation for the hopelessness or meanness of existence. – Saul Bellow

[Paul de Man’s] criticism was a demonstration of a way of reading. He used to warn his students not to confuse it with life. – Louis Menand, “The De Man Case,” The New Yorker

Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life. – Henry Miller, Reflections on Writing

Never ignore the fascinating surface in favor of the mere depths. — David Thorburn, “Masterworks of Early 20th Century Literature”

Studying was the one thing he knew how to do, but the knowledge so gained only revealed to him that knowledge does not help us to live; on the contrary it corrodes those happy errors, or illusions as he came to call them, that give life meaning, shifting energy to the mental and rational and away from the physical and instinctive, where, in complicity with illusion, happiness lies. – Tim Parks, about Giacomo Leopardi, in NYRB

To have life without illusion is to be in a state of paralysis, is to die in effect. – Robert Brustein, about Eugene O’Neill

We read in part to lose ourselves and thereby to find ourselves; from self-loss comes self-construction. – Willard Spiegelman, Seven Pleasures: Essays on Ordinary Happiness

[A] tragic, wounded character who becomes a hero only when he realizes that action is character and has to come through. – Elvis Mitchell, review of “Donnie Darko,” New York Times

But, though he knew with certainty what he ought to do and say at that moment, he didn’t do that either. – Mario Vargas Llosa, The Feast of the Goat

[L]ay your eggs honestly in front of everybody and let the sun hatch them out; it is better to bite into life than to bite one’s tongue; honor the mole and his kind but don’t make them your patron saint. – Ernst Pavel, Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka

The notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous. – Cormac McCarthy

The flip side of depression is curiosity. Elizabeth Wurtzel (paraphrased, condensed)

How many beginnings before you see the lie in your excitement? Don DeLillo, Point Omega


[T]he impulse of capitalism that leads to the constant destruction of social relationships, the uprooting of communities and the atomization of social life. Kevin Railey, quoted in Jay Parini, One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner

We are a pleasure-loving world. The things we love will eventually ruin us. – Neil Postman, paraphrased, paraphrasing Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Avoid the defects of your country. – Baltazar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Aeschylus fought with the Greeks against the Persians at the battle of Marathon. This fact was recorded on an ancient grave marker; his plays were not mentioned. – Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge

Every government in every country and every state has an interest in keeping society unenlightened, for if society were once enlightened, it would very soon destroy them. – Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence: A Memoir

Of what purpose civilization if those welcome to the best it can offer wrap themselves in selfishness and delusion. — David McCullough, Jr. You Are Not Special


Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love – and to put its trust in life. — Joseph Conrad, Victory

Much has been written about and sung of the things we do for love and friendship. Not as much about the mistakes we make trying to banish loneliness. – Jimmy A Lerner, You Got Nothing Coming

The best armor is to keep out of range. – old Italian proverb

To my way of thinking, there is nothing more delightful than to be a stranger. And so I mingle with human beings because they are not of my kind, and precisely in order to be a stranger among them. – The Thousand and One Nights

Insomnia is a variant of Tourette’s – the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. – Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

The strangeness of life, the more you resisted it, the harder it bore down on you. The more the mind opposed the sense of strangeness, the more distortions it produced. What if, for once, one were to yield to it? – Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift

I remember one morning getting up at dawn . . . there was such a sense of possibility. And I remember thinking to myself, So this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more.

It never occurred to me, it wasn’t the beginning.

It was happiness.

It was the moment.

Right then. – “The Hours,” Screenplay by David Hare, from the Michael Cunningham novel


People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception. Their decisions are not really decisions at all – a real decision makes one humble, one knows that it is at the mercy of more things than can be named – but elaborate systems of evasion, of illusion, designed to make themselves and the world appear to be what they and the world are not. – James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

The worlds we sought were never those we saw; the worlds we bargained for were never the worlds we got. – Saul Bellow, Dangling Man

To imagine a different life was to imagine a different self with which to live it. – Richard Russo, Bridge of Sighs

The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn’t fit, you make alterations. – Stella, the saloon keeper played by Linda Hunt, in Silverado

When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. – Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Even my dreams were asleep. – Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift

Unfortunately these dreams had beauty. Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian


Stories begin when things start to go wrong. You have to visit trouble upon characters one way or another to get some definitive action from them. – Charles Baxter, interview,

The stagnating heart welcomes an irruption, even a harsh and dangerous one; the appeal of unreason cannot be legislated out of Utopia. – John Updike, The New Yorker (review of Jose Saramago’s The Double)

We make choices at a time when they are all possibility, air and flight. Years later, we find ourselves exploring the walls surrounding us, the hardened shape of choice. – Sharman Apt Russell, Hunger: An Unnatural History

Everything in the world has its reasons for doing what it does. – Haruki Murakami, “The Kidney-Shaped Stone that Moves Every Day”

There’s a reason, but it’s outside my vision. – Mary Gaitskill, Veronica


That which intoxicates, the sensually ecstatic, the sudden surprise, the urge to be profoundly stirred at any price – dreadful tendencies. – Nietzsche (cf. Updike above)

I was a different person. I was a younger person. – Clint Eastwood, on Charlie Rose

Proust, who was ashamed of having been an ungrateful young man, came passionately to believe in the human duty to be grateful – even grateful for the opportunities for emotional growth brought by anguish and despair. – Richard Davenport-Hines, Proust at the Majestic

I have a chronology of my own . . . Fifteen years with the armies have lasted less long than a single morning at Athens; there are people whom I have seen much of throughout my life whom I shall not recognize in Hades. – Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian

Who would want change since change will come without wanting? – John McGahern, Love of the World

Observe a decent interval, I’m looking at a new fucking world. – Al Swearingen, Deadwood

The monosyllable of the clock is Loss, Loss, Loss, unless you devote yourself to its opposite. – Tennessee Williams, Introduction to A Streetcar Named Desire

I paid the barkeep and we backed off our stools and moved toward the door. Again I noticed the leather jackets and the blandness of the faces and the feeling that there wasn’t much joy or daring in any of them. There was something totally missing in the poor fellows and something in me wrenched, for just a moment, and I felt like throwing my arms around them, just for a moment, consoling and embracing them like some Dostoevsky, but I knew that would finally lead nowhere except to ridicule and humiliation for myself and for them. The world had somehow gone too far, and spontaneous kindness could never be so easy. It was something we would all have to work for once again. – Charles Bukowski, Hollywood

To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. – Robert Louis Stevenson

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