A group of us got together and decided that the last blog post of 2013 should be a shared effort, with each of us offering a notable quote from something he or she read during the 2013 calendar year. So we each humbly offer you our last words for the year that was 2013. Just a note: we’ve preserved any idiosyncratic formatting when it seems important to the meaning and impact of the quote.
In the midst of a tough year I oddly found myself reading Dante for the first time in my life. Here’s one of many quotes that stuck with me.
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
—Inferno, Canto I by Dante Alighieri
The best invitation to a classic novel ever comes in the form of this quote from the book itself: Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse:
Anarchist Evening Entertainment
Entrance Not For Everybody
For Madmen Only!
I am not from West Virginia but I married a true mountain man who grew up in the hollows of the southern part of the state. Reading Dean King’s The Feud over the summer gave me a new perspective of this bloody family history that helped mold the state, its inhabitants and the nation.
Mountains make fighting men. No matter where in the world you go, you’ll find that’s true. – Ralph Stanley
The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys. The True Story by Dean King; 2013; Forward
I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.
I can identify with Scott: 2013 was a tough year, so this lady was diving head first into self-help books, while she’d spent most of her life rejecting them. At the end of the year, I was recommended the best self-help-book-that-isn’t-a-self-help-book: Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke. Rilke praised solitude so highly, and I’ve found solitude to be a great friend. So apologies for getting a little emo – but this is the quote hit me the hardest this year. And here’s to 2014, may it bring you all peace, love, healing and good books!
Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it.
There’s a gorgeous quotation near the end of Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips’s astonishing novel based on actual events, that captures what I’ve been feeling about the darkest nights of the year, and the return of the light. The passage is taken from composer David Lang‘s work “again (after ecclesiastes),” which you can listen to here.
these things make me so tired
I can’t speak, I can’t see, I can’t hear
what happened before will happen again
I forgot it all before
I will forget it all again
I took one book with me on my epic bike tour and it was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (somehow in the midst of all those Women’s Studies classes during undergrad I missed reading it). I’m not sorry because I read it exactly when and where I needed to.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”
I’ve written about Phlip Caputo’s The Longest Road : Overland In Search Of America, From Key West To The Arctic Ocean before, but it merits another mention. In an age dominated by “social media”, how connected are we as Americans; how tolerant are we as individuals? Which is greater, the ties or the divisions? What is it about being Americans that we discover as Caputo, his wife Leslie and their 2 dogs traverse almost 12,000 miles from Key West to the Arctic Circle and back?
“Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.” – Philip Caputo
In 2013 I fell in love with the illustrations of Kay Nielsen. Fairytales have always been one of my favorite genres, and his illustrations perfectly capture how beautiful and disturbing the stories are. The stories in East of the Sun and West of the Moon are more adult than you might imagine, full of violence and even (implied) sex. Unlike many other fairy tales I’ve read, in which the princess waits for the prince to rescue her, several of these stories feature strong heroines who need to go to great lengths to rescue their handsome princes (or themselves). In one of my favorites, The White Bear, the heroine is constantly reaffirming her bravery and strength. This repeated refrain perfectly illustrates what I love about this character:
“Are you afraid?,” said the North Wind.
No, she wasn’t.
David Levithan‘s newest young adult novel, Two Boys Kissing, is groundbreaking on a level rarely seen. It speaks to the very truth about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be your own true self. As one of my favorite books of 2013, it’s an incredibly affecting (and very important) read for teens and adults alike.
The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.
May your 2014 be full of confident first sentences.
I’ve been a bit of a hermit these past few years, so I found inspiration in 2013 from artist and writer Miranda July to go outside on occasion and take a look around. In her book/art project It Chooses You she writes:
Most of life is offline, and I think it always will be; eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body. But it’s not impossible to imagine losing my appetite for those things; they aren’t always easy, and they take so much time. In twenty years I’d be interviewing air and water and heat just to remember they mattered.
Also, when life gets either too heavy or too dull, a little absurdist British humor never hurts:
“What problems? We’re on the pig’s back, charging through a velvet field.” — Bernard Black, from the BBC television show Black Books
The following is the first line of Chapter 3 of Robert Kaplan’s book Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. This chapter is about Macedonia. This line encapsulates a lot of how Kaplan looks at the world he navigates in this book. Maybe we can take a tip from him, and not just look at the world around us, but read the world around us. Happy New Year!
The landscape here needs to be read, not just looked at.
I read a lot of young adult books and I have loved many of them. However, I find it rare for many other readers to love young adult books. This quote and this book though have stuck with me for a long time, and the book has been enjoyed by many other readers I know, adult fiction and young adult fiction lovers in general.
“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”
From The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
My new favorite quote this year relates to all the big changes in my life the last few years, something I instinctively struggle against, preferring the calm waters of routine. As soon as I read it, I instantly felt better.
The only thing constant in life is change. — François de La Rochefoucald, Maxims
I offer this bit of wisdom from Professor Farnsworth (of Futurama fame) as the perfect antidote for taking-yourself-too-seriously.
There’s no scientific consensus that life is important.
From Into the Wild Green Yonder by, erm, some TV dudes.
Happy New Year!