It’s a Quote Party and You’re All Invited

We talk a lot about the classics around here, but I think we can all agree that a break from the classics is sometimes often welcome necessary. Since great writing can be found everywhere, in every genre, on every subject, let’s spend a little time at the other end of the bookshelf.

Here’s a handful of my favorite quotes from non-classic books:

Only once. It was a doozy.

–Marc Mondfrans, Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak

Caz and I have maracas. We are shaking them in a manner that can only be described as ‘sarcastic percussion.’

–Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

–Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I want to tell you again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust.

–Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Perhaps it’s my natural pessimism, but it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can.

–Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

It was only Harris’s third worst hat.

–Mhairi McFarlane, Here’s Looking At You

You can’t pick your family, they say, but I would pick them.

–Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Please shut up. I am very busy and important.

–Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.
“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

–A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can’t believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant. But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.

–Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

And now, Harry, let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.

–J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I May or May Not—No, Wait, I Definitely and Doubtlessly—Have a Huge Crush on a 63-year-old

Remember when I tried to sell you all on Nick Hornby?

Well, consider this my official sales pitch for Bill Bryson, travel* writer to the stars. Hilarious, astute, and terribly, wonderfully relatable, Bill Bryson is an exceptional travel companion, a discerning guide on adventures both far and near, and a cautionary tale (in all the best ways).

*He’s also written on a diverse list of non-fiction topics like science. I couldn’t figure out a clever way to work that in, though.

I’ve only read a few of his books, but only because I’m saving and savoring them with as much restraint as I am capable of. I can’t bear the thought that, eventually, he will die—probably before I do—leaving a finite bibliography behind him, and that at some point in the future, I will finish reading every last word he ever penned.

Earlier this week, I began reading A Walk in the Woods, one of his most beloved travelogues, in preparation for the soon-to-be-released movie version starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, and Emma Thompson. The book is so funny, and charming, and warmly written that I catch myself daydreaming about what my own eventual hypothetical hike along the Appalachian Trail will would be like.

The point is: Read Bill Bryson as much and as often as you can. He’s like a lollipop for the soul. And if you don’t believe me, I dare you not to laugh at any of the excerpts below:

From I’m a Stranger Here Myself:

‎For reasons I cannot begin to understand, when I was about eight years old my parents gave me a pair of skis for Christmas. I went outside, strapped them on, and stood in a racing crouch, but nothing happened. This is because there are no hills in Iowa. 

Also from Stranger:

The other day I called my computer helpline, because I needed to be made to feel ignorant by someone much younger than me.

From The Mother Tongue:

It was the practice of aggrieved citizens at that time to scratch a curse on a lead tablet and toss it with a muttered plea for vengeance into the spring. The curses were nothing if not heartfelt. A typical one went: ‘Docimedes has lost two gloves and asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his minds and his eyes.’ 

From In a Sunburned Country:

It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect.

And, finally, from A Walk in the Woods:

Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.

#87 Rabbit, Run, John Updike

I’ve spent a lot of effort trying not to work very hard this week and failed miserably. A Hemingway blog post is coming VERY soon-ish, I swear, and next week I plan to work less hard FOR REAL THIS TIME to free up a few moments for blogging stuffs.

In the meantime, here’s my rant about Rabbit, Run, from back in February. Happy reading (unless you’re reading Rabbit, Run).

The 100 Greatest Books Challenge

35406So far, I have not hated any book on this List as much as I hated Rabbit, Run. Runners up include The Grapes of Wrath and Things Fall Apart—but even they fell short of provoking the kind of thorough and profound hatred I feel for this unintentional horror story.

Here’s a sneak peek at John Updike’s most famous novel, featuring Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom in the role of Dude. It’s filled with spoilers, which should save you the trouble of actually reading the book:

Dude quits his pregnant wife, Janice, and two-year-old son, for the same reason he quits smoking: just because he felt like it. Dude tries to cope with the fact that he peaked in high school as the star of the basketball team. Dude solicits sometimes-prostitute/soon-to-be-girlfriend Ruth and whines about using contraception. Dude spends Ruth’s money. Dude hits on minister’s wife. Dude interrogates Ruth about her…

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Mark Twain Would Laugh It Off… So I Guess I Will, Too

A few weeks back, I almost committed all of the Seven Deadly Writer Sins.

What are those, you ask ever so politely? Well, I took the time to write up the entire list in detail:

  1. Missing a deadline.
  2. Missing a deadline.
  3. Missing a deadline.
  4. Missing a deadline.
  5. Missing a deadline.
  6. Missing a deadline.
  7. Gluttony.

Guys, I almost missed a deadline. And then I almost ate all the cheese in my refrigerator as a snack punishment.

It was even possibly sort of totally my fault. If it was my fault, I simply wrote down the wrong date (very unlike me, but apparently it maybe happens?). If it wasn’t, then someone is conspiring against me in secret by altering dates in a shared Google spreadsheet just to imagine my suffering (not cool, but also not likely).

In any case, I had 24 hours’ notice that my Mark Twain piece was going to go live on Headstuff. And all I’d prepared was an introduction, a smattering of illegible notes scribbled in a palm-sized writer’s pad, and a title they didn’t even end up using.

I did what any sane person would do: ignored the pile of work waiting in my inbox, typed furiously for half the day (pausing only to screech into the next room that the music was too loud), and then debated whether to eat a buffet of cheese.

But I finished, fueled by panic and old iced tea. I may not have done Mark Twain justice, but I was never going to, was I? Sometimes the perfectionist in me needs to move aside so the she-demon I call The Salem Bitch Troll can step up to the pyre and set herself ablaze.

This is a long preface to a short and depressing, bald and divorced reality: I could have done better. What with the time constraints, and the panic, and all, I veered toward the safe and easy territory of “Standard-Mark-Twain-Bio-Insert-Stock-Image-of-Mississippi-River-Here.” In other words, I put a chicken in the oven, but I didn’t season it. I tossed some paprika on top just before the timer went off, but I knew it wouldn’t make much of a difference. And then, as soon as I washed down that dry, lukewarm chicken with a zesty glass of relief, it turned to solid, spiky guilt in the pit of my stomach.

I didn’t tell any of the funniest anecdotes from my tour of The Mark Twain House & Museum. I didn’t tell the one about how, in Venice, he and his wife were swindled into overpaying for a dark walnut bed frame, complete with creepy cherubim carved into the headboard—and how he insisted on sleeping backwards (at the foot of the bed) so he could get his money’s worth from the view. I didn’t tell the one about how his daughters would often remove the angels from the headboard to bathe and dress them up like dolls. I didn’t tell the one about how he used to narrate stories in the library every evening based on objects from the mantelpiece; the objects remained the same each night, but his stories always differed.


I even managed to screw up this photo. His house had a roof, I swear.

I didn’t mention that The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is loosely based on Twain’s boyhood, or that one of Twain’s most quoted lines—”I am not an American; I am the American”—should, in fact, be attributed to his friend Frank Fuller. I also forgot to include Helen Keller’s first impression of him:

He has his own way of thinking, saying, and doing everything. I feel the twinkle of his eye in his handshake. . . . He makes you feel that his heart is a tender Iliad of human sympathy.

So yeah, I suck forever and ever, and there’s just no forgiving myself. (Or, rather, the person who conspired against me. That brilliant bastard.)

All I can do now, I suppose, is get a six-week head start on my Edith Wharton article for the same literary series over at Headstuff. Twain might have a sense of humor about all this, and high-five me in the afterlife, but Wharton—the first woman to win the Pulitzer, and a comprehensive badass—could probably liquefy my entire being just by pursing her lips.

Let’s not find out, shall we?