The sweet smell of a great sorrow lies over the land;
Plumes of smoke rise and merge into the leaden sky;
A man lies and dreams of green fields and rivers;
But awakes to a morning with no reason for waking.
If I could somehow sit in my chair and read for the rest of my life, I think I would take the opportunity to do so. I love nothing more than reading beautiful writing. And when I get to those parts that make me stop, consider, and look away only to read again and perhaps shed a tear, I wonder if anything else is worth as much. I truthfully doubt there is.
When I was younger, I didn’t have much time for many things that I now find worthwhile. I didn’t have the maturity. I was too busy conquering and learning and trying to date beautiful girls to wonder much about what literature had in store for me. By the time I had graduated high school and then college, I had probably read only a small handful of marginal books. Flimsy little things that I would hardly even consider novels. I can surely tell you that nothing I had read up to that point had prompted me to wander aimlessly and think about what I had just absorbed. Nothing. Inspiration had yet to hunt me down and it wasn’t until a time I found a book that I truly adored that I wanted to do that too. Write, I mean. I had stumbled across something I found wonderful and beautiful and lustrous and I wanted to write the same. A short snippet, a paragraph, a story. I didn’t care. I wanted to offer thoughts and provocations to a person who might read what I had written – just as the book I had read offered to me. It wasn’t until I had truly fallen in love with something that I had found the inspiration to scrawl my own ideas down on paper – ideas that forced me to stop and stand, to take breaks, to walk in no particular direction with my heart in angst until I found the courage to sit back down. Without my experiences alone behind my keyboard or pen and paper, I’d be a mere fraction of what I am today. I am eternally grateful for who I am. For who I chose to be and for what I choose to appreciate.
“She told me that she wanted me to trust her and that things would be okay. She told me that she had been ready for what was waiting for her for a long time now and that the only thing holding her back was me. She needed to know that I would be all right.
And as the old lady and I talked, a sort of desperation grew in her voice. I heard the cracking on the other end of the phone. I heard her voice breaking into something I hadn’t yet heard from her. She kept asking for me to trust her. She kept asking for me to let her go, which I couldn’t do. As you can well imagine.
My calls were being taken more sporadically than ever, probably about half the number of times they were when I had first started calling her. I knew why, too, which drove me nearly insane.
There were times when I would call and the phone on the other side wasn’t answered – it would ring twenty to thirty times – and I would slam the phone down and scream at it. I would hammer that phone down and lose myself in tears because I knew what was happening. I would slam the phone down and sit for hours wondering how things would change in just a short time.
I continued to call. And eventually, my calls weren’t answered at all.”
I wrote the above in 2011. This was undoubtedly the best year of my life. I was calm and happy and focused – my mind was in the perfect state in which to wander – whether I was standing in the shower, mowing the lawn, or riding my bike. Inspiration would strike at the oddest moments. The excerpt above is part of a story in which I locked myself in my room for three days to write. Laura didn’t see much of me during that time, but that was fine. She was busy doing her own things. Part of what I loved so much about back then was our independence from one another. The two of us had some sort of an unmentioned understanding. We knew what we were doing was making us better. We knew that someday it would help. I believe it has.
Last night after dinner, Laura and I discussed the blog post I’m writing at this very moment. I’m not sure she was aware of what she was precisely discussing, but we certainly had a good time doing it. We talked about all sorts of things, but we primarily shared stories about growing up. Friends we had and places we went. While I was the more adventurous between the two us, Laura enjoyed a rich and wonderful childhood. She belonged to a family of people who loved her and she did so many things she can still recall with clarity and comprehension. I enjoy Laura’s stories because they’re so relatable and entertaining. We lived fairly close to one another at that time, which helps tremendously when it comes time to picture something or imagine something else.
Last night, I told her about how much I love spending time alone. Experiencing the feeling of nothing and everything at the same time. Having the freedom to think and to express some of those thoughts various places – here being one of them. I told her about how I used to get in my car late at night, only to find myself driving above and below, through and around the most random and interesting nooks of giant sprawling cities. I’d wait until the world fell asleep to explore what it had created. It truly was the only way to do it and to appreciate what I was doing. The idea of meandering past thousands and thousands of people while they were asleep was thrilling to me. Alone in my car, watching those buildings as they passed me by, wondering what it would be like to walk the halls of each. To stand in a kitchen, a dining room, answer a front door.
I thought it would be nice to share some of the more beautiful quotes from a few short stories and books that I’ve come to cherish through the years. I hope that you’ll take the time to carefully read through each one, as they’re nothing short of genius. And if you become so inspired, perhaps you could find a copy of the book from which a quote stems to read in its entirety. I can vouch for each that share below. These are part of my soul by this point. This is what I love.
These boys, now, were living as we’d been living then, they were growing up with a rush and their heads bumped abruptly against the low ceiling of their actual possibilities. They were filled with rage. All they really knew were two darknesses, the darkness of their lives, which were now closing in on them, and the darkness of the movies, which had blinded them to that other darkness, and in which they now, vindictively, dreamed, at once more together than they were at any other time, and more alone.
James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues
I know I’ve mentioned Sonny’s Blues here before, but I’d be remiss if I left this quote out. As I’ve said before, I’m not sure how I let this story slip through the cracks. It’s certainly longer than I remember, but the final pages make the entire read very worth the effort. It’s an excellent capture of an experience and the essence of how an individual might perceive the life of someone they love. This is an inspirational story to all writers, to say the least. And by the way, this is just one of many exceptional quotes. The final pages are full of them. And each one is captivating and insightful and may just be better than the last.
“He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”
Cormac McCarthy, The Road
A few years back, my younger sister wrote to me asking for advice on which books to read. She asked, “If you were to suggest three books that a person absolutely must read during their years, which would they be?” I answered that The Road by Cormack McCarthy is at the top of the list. Never before have I experienced such a piece of literature. Even though I read this book over a decade ago, Laura recently purchased another copy so I can store it on my bookshelf close by. Forget the story if it doesn’t appeal to you; appreciate the craft that went into writing it.
“She leaned down and looked at his lifeless face and Leisel kissed her best friend, Rudy Steiner, soft and true on his lips. He tasted dusty and sweet. He tasted like regret in the shadows of trees and in the glow of the anarchist’s suit collection. She kissed him long and soft, and when she pulled herself away, she touched his mouth with her fingers…She did not say goodbye. She was incapable, and after a few more minutes at his side, she was able to tear herself from the ground. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flowing down their faces and they stagger on…”
Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
If you were to read The Book Thief, I can say with certainty that you’ll forever remember it. And if you don’t become emotional while reading the quote I shared above, well, I can’t help you. The Book Thief is one of those stories that will touch your soul. It’s one of those stories, that if you were to imagine yourself being one of the characters, Leisel for instance, you would tell yourself that you’ve lived the life of none other. That you could wander through life remaining and comfortably pass through your years with as little care as you could muster. The good majority of what you’d likely feel had already occurred when you were a child and nothing close and of such importance would or could happen since.
“I have for the first time found what I can truly love–I have found you. You are my sympathy–my better self–my good angel–I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my centre and spring of life, wrap my existence about you–and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one.”
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
I listened to Jane Eyre as an audiobook. It was narrated by Thandie Newton. At the half way point, I decided that it had become one of my favorite stories. And by the end, I had decided that I had fallen in love with it. I still sit and think about the ending. Mr. Rochester and Jane…all that suspense and building up to the final scene. The character development was slow and steady in this story and by the end, those who mattered had shed any inhibitions they had once held close and had accepted who they were and how they felt. I’d say that was one of the most memorable aspects of this entire story. The transition of Mr. Rochester. Without a doubt.
“How fragile life was, how fragile they were.
It was the beginning and end of everything, the foundation and the ceiling and the air in between. It didn’t matter that she was broken and ugly and sick. He loved her and she loved him, All her life she had waited – longed for – people to love her, but now she saw what really mattered. She had known love, been blessed by it.”
Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
Rarely do I read more than a chapter a day. When I find myself reading more than five chapters, or the final 100 pages of a book, I know it means something to me. I don’t need to say much about The Nightingale. I will say that I’m looking at the book on my shelf as I type today and I’ll also say that I’ll remember the experience I had while finishing this book on my couch that afternoon. For those of you who have read this story, you know what I’m trying to say here. There’s nothing like this book. Absolutely nothing at all. It’s wonderful.
“He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of lucidity—a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of the life we had been meant to lead all along.”
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow
How a man could work in banking and then turn author and have his first novel appear on the New York Times Best Seller list and rated one of the best books of 2011, is beyond me. Granted, Mr. Towles did graduate from Yale with a degree in English, but still. I’ll tell you that this author is one of my favorites. He writes in such an interesting fashion. It’s difficult to explain – it’s almost as if he dances on the page after sucking helium. He touches topics, but doesn’t delve into them needlessly. He brushes lightly. He offers a gentle writing style that you’ll come to appreciate.
“Anyone who has ridden the subway twice a day to earn their bread knows how it goes: When you board, you exhibit the same persona you use with your colleagues and acquaintances. You’ve carried it through the turnstile and past the sliding doors, so that your fellow passengers can tell who you are – cocky or cautious, amorous or indifferent, loaded or on the dole. But you find yourself a seat and the train gets under way; it comes to one station and then another; people get off and others get on. And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away. The super-ego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades.”
Amor Towles, Rules of Civility
This book left me speechless. As I was reading the last page, I felt chills and I wished that I had the talent of Mr. Towles. His writing style reminded me of my own, but he’s the craftsman here, not me. I adored this story. It was incredibly unassuming. In reality, I can’t tell you what the story was actually about, but I can tell you that it happened. Again, the author, with his gentle and sophisticated writing style, draws you in to what he’s conveying on the pages. He certainly has a mastery of his art and I would be more than happy to listen to him as he explained his method.
“We stood up from the table and made our way outside. We walked through the grounds, all the way up the stone sidewalk and around the surrounding buildings. We slowly strolled across the great lawn and even walked down the staircase to nothing. When we made it to the bottom step, we stopped and I held her tightly in my arms as we fell into a trance, witnessing the absence of everything across the wide open area of wilderness. We lost ourselves in the blackness of the night as the tree tops contrasted with the dark blue backdrop of the star lit sky. We simply stood there in silence as our breath evaporated in the bitter winter’s air.”
Jay Gaulard, My Christmas Story
I wrote this story one afternoon in, yes, 2011. I can’t recall what inspired me and what possessed me to release this one with very little proofreading or editing, but I can tell you that if I were to ever spend the time to make it what it has the potential to be, I’d be a happy man. The above quote is one of my favorites. It meant and still means something to me.
This is another of my favorites from that same story:
“We talked over dinner about what we were doing. About what we were experiencing. I quietly repeated something under my breath and lifted my head to see that her cheeks were flushed and tears were welling up in her eyes. She looked angelic with the warm flicker of the candle glowing against the side of her face. Against the side of her face with total darkness behind her.”
“My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day. The image of them gently swaying to the music is how I picture love in my mind even after all these years.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
I’ve already said too much about Patrick Rothfuss. You’re likely getting bored with me. I’ll leave it at that.
“I thought of all the others who had tried to tie her to the ground and failed. So I resisted showing her the songs and poems I had written, knowing that too much truth can ruin a thing. And if that meant she wasn’t entirely mine, what of it? I would be the one she could always return to without fear of recrimination or question. So I did not try to win her and contented myself with playing a beautiful game. But there was always a part of me that hoped for more, and so there was a part of me that was always a fool.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
I’m not sure I’ll write anything further about these quotes. I’m not even sure who I’m writing this post for anymore; you or me. I suppose I wanted to get these down somewhere because this type of post is my favorite to look back on. I’m sure I’ll read this again tonight and then again tomorrow and make some edits. I do hope you enjoy what I’ve shared here though and that you might get something out of it. It would warm my heart if I discovered that you might choose to read one of these stories. Warm my heart indeed.
I would also like to invite you to share your own favorite quotes down in the comment section below. I’d certainly love to read them as I’m sure others would too. If you’re reading this post via email, all you need to do is click through the link up at the top to visit the post directly on my blog. You’ll have the ability to comment there.
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.”
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
“Man cannot survive except through his mind. He comes on earth unarmed. His brain is his only weapon. Animals obtain food by force. man had no claws, no fangs, no horns, no great strength of muscle. He must plant his food or hunt it. To plant, he needs a process of thought. To hunt, he needs weapons,and to make weapons – a process of thought. From this simplest necessity to the highest religious abstraction, from the wheel to the skyscraper, everything we are and we have comes from a single attribute of man -the function of his reasoning mind.”
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
“She told me how she – frozen in time – couldn’t do anything beyond stand there and watch her husband bury her son’s head close to his chest as he knelt on the lawn in the wind that day. Knelt like a broken man. Like nothing she had seen before. She told me about how she watched as her husband’s head fell the moment the child died and how he wailed that day in the front yard. The sound that penetrated the tall window she was standing before. The scream of her husband. She told me she didn’t know what upset her more, watching her son die before her very eyes or watching her husband become a corpse. On that front lawn with his head tilted back. Watching the old man’s silhouette scream towards the dark gray sky.”
Jay Gaulard, The Old Man
“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby