It’s strange but as I grow older, I find myself developing more optimism. I keep inching toward the point where I believe that it’s more difficult to have hope than it is to embrace cynicism. In the deep dark end, there’s no point unless we have at least a modicum of hope. We trawl our way through the darkness hoping to find a pinpoint of light. But isn’t it remarkable that the cynics of this world–the politicians, the corporations, the squinty-eyed critics–seem to think that they have a claim on intelligence? They seem to think that it’s cooler, more intellectually engaging, to be miserable, that there’s some moral heft in cynicism. But I think a good novel can be a doorstep to despair. I also think that real bravery comes with those who are prepared to go through that door and look at the world in all its grime and torment, and still find something of value, no matter how small.
-Let The Great World Spin, Colum McCann
I say that ambition is absurd and yet I remain in its thrall. It’s like being a slave all your life, then learning one day that you never had a master, and returning to work all the same. Can you imagine a force in the universe greater than this? Not in my universe. You know, even from earliest childhood it dominated me. I longed for achievements, to be influential–that, in particular. To sway people. This has been my religion: the belief that I deserve attention, that they are wrong not to listen, that those who dispute me are fools. Yet, no matter what I achieve, the world lives on, impertinent, indifferent, I know all this, but I can’t get it through my head.
-The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
He knew everything about literature except how to enjoy it.
-Catch 22, Joseph Heller
Without the poor to do awful work, we would spend our lives doing awful work. If the poor were not poor, if the poor were paid the way we’re paid, we couldn’t afford to buy an apple, a shirt, we couldn’t afford to take a trip, to spend a night at an inn in a nearby town.
-The Fever, Wallace Shawn
True enough, the Reverend Billing, when they caught up with him, turned out to be a thief, an adulterer, a libertine, and a zoophilist, but that didn’t change the fact that he had communicated some good things to a great number of receptive people. Billing went to jail, but no one ever arrested the good things he had released. And it doesn’t matter much that his motives were impure. He used good material and some of it stuck.
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Just because you’re an atheist, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love for things to have reasons for why they are.
-Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
In order to sustain any activity, all people are obliged to regard what they are doing as useful and good. It follows that, whatever situation people may find themselves in, they will always work out an attitude to human life in general that accommodates their activity as something that seems useful and good. People usually imagine that a thief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, knowing their occupation to be evil, must be ashamed of it. But the very opposite is true. Men who have been placed by fate and their own sins or mistakes in a certain position, however irregular that position may be, adopt a view of life as a whole which makes their position appear to them good and respectable. In order to maintain this attitude people instinctively cling to groups of people who accept their concept of life and their place in it. We are shocked by thieves taking pride in their clever touch, prostitutes in their depravity and murderers in their callousness. But it is shocking only because the atmosphere of the circles they move in is restricted, and- what matters most- we are on the outside. But isn’t the same thing happening when rich men take pride in their wealth (which is theft), military commanders in their victories (which are murder) and rules is their power (which is violence) ? We do not see them as people who corrupt the concept of life, or good and evil, in order to justify their own situation, but only because the circle of people who share these corrupt concepts are wider, and we belong to them.
–Leo Tolstoy, Resurrection
Was everyone else really as alive as she was?…If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was.
-Ian McEwan, Atonement
Leave your opinions their own quiet undisturbed development, which, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressed or hurried by anything.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
What has happened to Molly in her first eight years? More or less nothing. We have protected her from the world as best as we can. She has been brought up in a loving home, she has two parents, she has never been hungry, and she receives an education that will prepare her for the rest of her life; and yet she is sad, and that sadness is not, when you think about it, inappropriate. The state of the relationship between her parents makes her anxious; she has lost a loved one (and a cat); and she has realized that such losses are going to be an unavoidable part of her life in the future. It seems to me that the plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.
-Nick Hornby, How To Be Good
And look at me, Little Igor, the bruises go away, and so does how you hate, and so does the feeling that everything you receive in life is something you have earned.
-Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated
But then Natasha committed the rookie mistake of trying to say something sincere and complicated at a party.
-David James Duncan, The Brothers K
Dignity is an affectation, cute but eccentric, like learning French or collecting scarves. And it’s fleeting and incredibly mercurial. And subjective. So fuck it.
-Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
-Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
“‘Love is like falconry,'” he said. “Don’t you think that’s true, Cleveland?”
“Never say love is like anything,” said Cleveland. “It isn’t.”
-Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
Anything that goes wrong in other parts of the world can usually be attributed to the brutishness of foreigners. It’s a nice, simple world view.
-Jay McInerney, Bright Lights Big City