Quotations about   literature

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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
“Papyrus to Paperbacks: The World That Books Made,” Washington Post (30 Dec 1979)
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Added on 15-Feb-18 | Last updated 15-Feb-18
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I’m not sure why it happened, and I’m not certain at all when it happened, but at some point, wanting a happy ending became uncool. Maybe it’s the relentless (and again, highly flawed) criticism that “such things aren’t realistic.” To which my response is, so the fuck what? It’s call fiction. If you want real, step outside.

Greg Rucka (b. 1969) American comic book writer and novelist
Lazarus: X+66 #3, letter column (Sep 2017)
Added on 12-Oct-17 | Last updated 12-Oct-17
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This ideal University of Life … would never take the importance of culture for granted. It would know that culture is kept alive by a constant respectful questioning — not by an excessive and snobbish attitude of respect. Therefore, rather than leaving it hanging why one was reading Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, an ideal course covering nineteenth-century literature would ask plainly “What is it that adultery ruins in a marriage?” Students in the ideal University of Life would end up knowing much the same material as their colleagues in other institutions, they would simply have learned it under a very different set of headings.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
“Reclaiming the Intellectual Life for Posterity,” Liberal Education (Spring 2009)
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Added on 18-Aug-17 | Last updated 18-Aug-17
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The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what’s cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don’t like ’em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in ’em, ’cause that’s cool.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Paths of the Dead (2002)

In the essay "Some Notes Toward Two Analyses of Auctorial Method and Voice" by Teresa Nielsen Hayden.
Added on 17-Mar-17 | Last updated 17-Mar-17
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All of your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be vain if at the same time you did not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
Speech to students, Agra, in Young India (19 Sep 1929)
Added on 7-Feb-17 | Last updated 9-Feb-17
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I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning; for that is a sure good. I would let him at first read any English book which happens to engage his attention; because you have done a great deal when you have brought him to have entertainment from a book. He’ll get better books afterwards.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson “16 April 1779” (1791)
Added on 26-Jan-17 | Last updated 26-Jan-17
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If you would understand your own age, read the works of fiction produced in it. People in disguise speak freely.

Arthur Helps (1813-1875) English writer and bureaucrat
Thoughts in the Cloister and the Cloud(1835)
Added on 15-Dec-16 | Last updated 15-Dec-16
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In a very real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. […] It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.

Samuel Ichiye "S. I." Hayakawa (1906-1992) Canadian-American academic and politician
Language in Thought and Action (1978)
Added on 1-Dec-16 | Last updated 1-Dec-16
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Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a thousand years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Society and Solitude, “Books” (1870)
Added on 11-Aug-16 | Last updated 11-Aug-16
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The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.

Clarence Day (1874-1935) American author and cartoonist
The Story of the Yale University Press (1920)
Added on 9-Jun-16 | Last updated 9-Jun-16
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Why are not more gems from our early prose writers scattered over the country by the periodicals? Selections are so far from preventing the study of the entire authors that they promote it. Who could read the extracts which Lamb has given from Fuller, without wishing to read more of the old Prebendary? But great old books of the great old authors are not in every body’s reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly than to know them only here and there, yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have neither time nor means to get more. Let every bookworm, when, in any fragrant, scarce old tome, he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration, that does his heart good, hasten to give it the widest circulation that newspapers and magazines, penny and halfpenny, can afford.

Coleridge - fragrant scarce old tome - wist_info quote

Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849) English poet, biographer, essayist, teacher
Biographia Borealis: or, Lives of Distinguished Northerns, “Roger Ascham” (1833)
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Speaking of the practice of including brief extracts -- quotations -- from famous authors in magazines and newspapers to fill up columns or create a break between stories. Ironically, this extracted quotation -- slightly paraphrased -- was widely circulated in the mid-late 19th and early 20th Century misattributed to his father, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or simply labeled as "Coleridge" without citation, leading to the same confusion.

Usually quoted more succinctly as: "Why are not more gems from our great authors scattered over the country? Great books are not in everybody's reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly, than to know them only here and there; yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have neither time nor means to get more. Let every bookworm, when in any fragrant, scarce old tome he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration, that does his heart good, hasten to give it."
Added on 12-May-16 | Last updated 12-May-16
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No matter how poor I am; no matter though the prosperous of my own time will not enter my obscure dwelling; if the sacred writers will enter and take up their abode under my roof, if Milton will cross my threshold to sing to me of Paradise; and Shakespeare to open to me the worlds of imagination and the workings of the human heart, and Franklin to enrich me with his practical wisdom, I shall not pine for want of intellectual companionship, and I may become a cultivated man though excluded from what is called the best society in the place where I live.

William E. Channing (1780-1842) American moralist, author, cleric, Unitarian theologian
“Self Culture,” lecture, Boston (Sep 1838)
Added on 5-May-16 | Last updated 5-May-16
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Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature, dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. The are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world, and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

Barbara W. Tuchman (1912-1989) American historian and author
“The Book,” Lecture, Library of Congress (17 Oct 1979)
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Reprinted in Authors' League Bulletin (Nov-Dec 1979)
Added on 7-Apr-15 | Last updated 7-Apr-15
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Life without literature is a life reduced to penury. It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing. It shows you possibilities you haven’t thought of. It enables you to live the lives of other people than yourself. It broadens you, it makes you more human. It makes life enjoyable.

M. H. Abrams (b. 1912) American literary critic [Meyer (Mike) Howard Abrams]
“Built to Last,” interview with Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Times: Sunday Book Review (23 Aug 2012)
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Added on 1-Aug-14 | Last updated 1-Aug-14
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Science fiction is also a great way to pretend you are writing about the future when in reality you are attacking the recent past and the present.

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) American writer, futurist, fabulist
Interview, Playboy (1996)
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Added on 12-May-14 | Last updated 12-May-14
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Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory.

François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) French writer, politican, diplomat
Les Natchez (1826)
Added on 18-Mar-14 | Last updated 18-Mar-14
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In the old times, women did not get their lives written, though I don’t doubt many of them were much better worth writing than the men’s.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American author
The Pearl of Orr’s Island (1862)
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Added on 26-Feb-14 | Last updated 26-Feb-14
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Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.

Adrian Mitchell (1932-2008) English poet, novelist, playwright
Poems, Preface (1964)
Added on 5-Dec-13 | Last updated 5-Dec-13
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Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
Added on 4-Dec-13 | Last updated 20-Jun-14
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A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

First attributed to Twain in 1945, but not found in his works. Earliest appearances of the quote date back to 1910, but are unattributed. It's often attributed to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), but she didn't say it until 1966. See here for more information. Variants:
  • "Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can? [Original form.]
  • "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read." ["Dear Abby", 19 Oct 1966]
  • "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
Added on 13-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
State of the Union (8 Jan 1790)
Added on 7-Sep-12 | Last updated 28-Jul-15
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If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place in which to live.

John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) US President (1961-63)
Speech, Harvard University (14 Jun 1956)
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Added on 9-Jan-12 | Last updated 2-Jan-14
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You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks that he is alone. This is why art is important. Art would not be important if life were not important, and life is important.

James Baldwin (1924-1987) American author [James Arthur Baldwin]
“An interview with James Baldwin” by Studs Terkel (1961), in Conversations With James Baldwin (1989)

See also this related quotation.
Added on 31-Dec-10 | Last updated 17-Mar-16
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Sure it’s simple, writing for kids. Just as simple as bringing them up. All you do is take all the sex out, and use little short words, and little dumb ideas, and don’t be too scary and be sure there’s a happy ending. Right? Nothing to it. Write down. Right on. If you do all that you might even write Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and make twenty million dollars and have every adult in America reading your book.

But you won’t have every kid in America reading your book. They will look at it, with their clear, cold, beady little eyes, and they will put it down, and they will go away. Kids will devour vast amounts of garbage (and it is good for them) but they are not like adults; they have not yet learned to eat plastic.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
“Dreams Must Explain Themselves” (1973)
Added on 19-Oct-07 | Last updated 20-Jun-16
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