Pamela Paul’s recent book My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Books of Books, Plot Ensues has a collection of great quotes about the power of reading and the wonderful world of books. So this week, since I’m still floating on a cloud of Paul’s bookish tendencies I’m sharing some of her insights and great bookish quotes from her and other authors.
On books, by W.H. Auden:
Occasionally, I come cross a book which I feel has been written especially for me and for me only. Like a jealous lover, I don’t want anybody else to hear of it.
On reading, from Virginia Woolf:
If we could banish such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If you hang back, and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possThible value from what you read. Instead, open your mind as widely as possible […] and it will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other.
Pamela Paul on every book lovers conundrum:
Every reader’s Catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing. There is no way to finish, and perhaps that shouldn’t be the goal. The novelist Umberto Eco famously kept what the writer Nassim Taleb called an “anti-library,” a vast collection of books he had not read, believing that one’s personal trove should contain as much of what you don’t know as possible.
Franz Kafka on why you should read “dark” books:
I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it or? […] We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
Pamela Paul, on reading books and authors you disagree with:
There’s a personal and intellectual challenge in being forced to inhabit another point of view, to reexamine your opinions an learn to make a case for them. As all debaters know, sometimes you figure out what you really think only when in opposition. If reading people who think along the same lines as you do is a comfort, reading the people with whom you disagree is discomfiting — in a good way. It’s invigorating. To actively grapple with your assumptions and defend your conclusions gives you a sense of purpose. You come to know where you stand. Even if it means standing apart.
For more great quotes on books and reading, pick up Paul’s new book! It’s a quick and enjoyable read, and you’ll remember why you love books in the first place. For more on why you, too, should keep a book on books, check out this post from last week.
[Photo: Reading by Lamplight (1858), by James Abbott McNeil Whistler. Women Reading collection tour at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.