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Quotes About Literature And Reading

Updated on October 1, 2020
Colleen Swan profile image

Colleen, a lover of the written word, has a master's degree in English literature and enjoys finding unique and poignant quotes.


♦In good writing, words become one with things. Emerson

♦In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. He who has once known its satisfactions is provided with a resource against calamity. Emerson

♦What can we see, read, acquire, but ourselves. Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out, you will never find there what I find. Emerson

♦For the most part, our novel-reading is a passion for results. Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25th 1803 and died on April 27th 1882. He was an American author, lecturer, and poet.


♥If you really feel like you have to write a novel, at least have the decency to start it with a man and a woman making love. Daniel Smith

♥Writers can often prove ruthless in their quest for material. Thus, author Henry James once attended a funeral of the son of a family with who he was on less than cordial terms. When asked why he had done so, James replied that wherever deep emotion was likely to be displayed, he would make his utmost effort to be there. Henry James

♥When a man can observe himself suffering and is able, later, to describe what he’s gone through, it means he was born for literature. Edouard Bourdet

♥To one who has enjoyed the full life of any scene, of any hour, what thoughts can be recorded about it seem like the commas and semicolons in the paragraph; mere stops. Margaret Fuller

♥Writing is survival. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. Ray Bradbury

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12th 1817 and died on May 6th 1862. He was an American author, historian, critic, and philosopher.


♣Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are. Thoreau

♣Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written. Thoreau

Mark Twain
Mark Twain | Source

♠Thank God for books! And yet thank God that the great realm of truth lies yet outside of books, too vast to be mastered by types or imprisoned in libraries. Henry Ward Beecher

♠The work of a writer is to write, and most of us will be forgotten faster than you can say “eternity” and stamp your foot three times. Anne Roiphe

♠Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guesswork. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up. Margaret Banning

♠It is extremely natural for us to desire to see such our thoughts put into the dress of words, without which indeed we can scarce have a clear and distinct idea of them ourselves. Eustace Budgell

♠I think you must remember that the writer is a simple minded person to begin with and go on that basis. He’s got a great mind; he’s not a great thinker; he’s not a great philosopher, he’s a story teller. Erskine Caldwell

♠Even monarchs have need of authors, and fear their pens more than ugly women the painter’s pencil. Baltasar Gracian

♠No one, not even a pretty woman who wakes up to find a pimple on her nose, feels so vexed as an author who threatens to survive to his own reputation. Denis Diderot

♠The fact that many people should be shocked by what he writes practically imposes it as a duty upon the writer to go on shocking them. Aldous Huxley

Melvin Maddocks
Melvin Maddocks | Source

Elwyn Brooks White (E. B White) born on July 11th 1899 died on October 1st 1985. He was an American writer and co-author of the English language style guide.


♦I hate the guts of English grammar. … The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity…. You can say anything that comes into your head; never forget that. E. B White

♦When describing the creation of his classic novel Charlotte’s Webb, E. B. White stated: “In writing of a spider, I did not make the spider adapt her ways to my scheme. I spent a year studying spiders before I started writing the book. In this, I think I found the key to the story.” E. B White

♦Writing is an act of faith not a trick of grammar. E. B White

♦I love the elements of style. I love the idea of it. I love its execution. E. B White

LA Bruyere
LA Bruyere | Source

♥I know every book of mine by its scent, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things. George Gissing

♥A word carries far, very far; deals destruction through time as the bullets go flying through space. Joseph Conrad

♥A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience. O. Henry

♥The easiest books are generally the best; for, whatever author is obscure and difficult in his own language, certainly does not think clearly. Lord Chesterfield

♥A story has been thought to its conclusion when it has taken its worst possible turn. Friedrich Durrenmatt

♥In every story it was the extra I had; now it is gone, and I am just like you. F. Scott Fitzgerald

♥The unpublished manuscript is like an unconfessed sin that festers in the soul, corrupting and contaminating it. Antonio Machado

♥We find little in a book but what we put there. But in great books, the mind finds room to put many things. Joseph Joubert

♥A tragic writer does not have to believe in God, but he must believe in man. Joseph Wood Krutch

♥Literature flourishes best when it is half a trade and half an art. William Ralph Inge

♥What a convenient and delightful world is the world of books; if you bring to it not the obligations of the student, or look upon it as an opiate for idleness, but enter it rather with the enthusiasm of the adventurer. David Grayson

Earnest Dimnet
Earnest Dimnet | Source

♣The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately; the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. Colette

♣Obscenity is such a narrow domain; one immediately begins to suffocate there and to feel bored. Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born on 28th January 1873 and died 3rd August 1954 She was a French novelist and actress.


♠Mama moon, teach me to see like a poet, And speak like a wild songbird, Carrying words, like grain in tight fists- Food for a hungry wind. Ellen Burstyn

♠There is a warning, love sends and the cost of it is never written till long afterward. Carl Sandburg

♠What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed with form, where final words are pronounced, where people possess one another completely, and where life assumes the aspect of destiny? Albert Camus

♠Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or hers love affairs. Rebecca West

♠There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. Oscar Wilde

♠I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves. E. M. Forster

♠There is but one way to save a classic; and that is to give up revering him and use him for his own salvation. Jose Ortega Y Gasset

♠To start writing about your life is, from one standpoint, to stop living it. You must avoid adventures today so as to make time for registering those of yesterday. Ned Rorem

♠An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children. Benjamin Disraeli

Walter Savage Landor was born on the 30th January 1775 and died on the 17th September 1864. He was an English author and poet.


♦Authors are like cattle going to a fair; those of the same field can never move on without butting one another. Walter Savage Landor

♦Clear writers, like fountains, do not seem as deep as they are; the turbid look the most profound. Walter Savage Landor

♦Every great writer is a writer of history. Let him treat on almost what subject he may. He carries with him for thousands of years a portion of his times. Walter Savage Landor

♦What is reading but silent conversation? Walter Savage Landor

Don Marquis
Don Marquis | Source

♥The book-worm wraps himself up in his web of verbal generalities, and sees only the glimmering shadows of things reflected from the minds of others. William Hazlitt

♥A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. Charles Peguy

♥Action can give us the feeling of being useful, but only words can give us a sense of weight and purpose. Eric Hoffer

♥A bad book is as much of labour to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul. Aldous Huxley

♥The pen is a formidable weapon, but a man can kill himself with it a great deal more easily than he can other people. Dennison Prentice

♥It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression. Unknown

♥Speak of the moderns without contempt and the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their age. Lord Chesterfield.

♥Our admiration of fine writing will always be in proportion to its real difficulty. Charles Caleb Colton

♥Many books require no thought form those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them. Charles Caleb Colton

♥Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. Francis Bacon

♥When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted, for we expected to see an author, and we find a man. Pascal

♥No one who cannot limit himself has ever been able to write. Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux

Thomas Carlyle was born on the 4th December 1795 and died on 5th February 1881. He was a Scottish satirical writer, and historian.


♣Considering the multitude of mortals that handle the pen in these days, and can mostly spell, and write without glaring violations of grammar, the question naturally arises; how is it, then, that no work proceeds from them, bearing any stamp of authenticity and permanence; of worth for more than one day? Thomas Carlyle

♣In books lies the soul of the whole past time. Thomas Carlyle

♣How inexpressibly comfortable to know our fellow creature; to see into him, understand his going forth, decipher the whole heart of his mystery; nay, not only to see into him, but even to see out of him, to view the world altogether as he views it. Thomas Carlyle

♣The true university of these days is a collection of books. Thomas Carlyle

♠Make the reader laugh and he will think you a trivial fellow, but bore him in the right way and your reputation is assured. Somerset Maugham

♠Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute; or you might not at all. Franklin P. Adams

♠The only impeccable writers are those who never wrote. William Hazlitt

♠In literature, there are only oxen. The biggest ones are the geniuses; who toil eighteen hours a day without tiring. Jules Renard

♠The man who reads only for improvement is beyond the hope of much improvement before he begins. Jonathan Daniels

♠I would venture to say the garment industry in this century has given birth to more writers, scholars and professors than any other American profession. Mark Schechter

♠Between the reputation of the author living and the reputation of the same dead there is ever a wide discrepancy. Thomas Baily Aldrich

♠I seek in the reading of books, only to please myself, by an honest diversion. Montaigne

♠What pursuit is more elegant than that of collecting the ignominies of our nature and transfixing them for show, each on the bright pin of a polished phrase? Logan Pearsall Smith

♠Meanings receive their dignity from words instead of giving it to them. Pascal

♠Human language is like a cracked kettle, on which we beat out tunes to make bears dance, when what we really want is to move the stars. Source: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

♠Our passions shape our books, repose writes them in the intervals. Marcel Proust

André Paul Guillaume Gide born 22nd November 1869 and died on the 19 February 1951. He was a French author awarded the 1947 Nobel Prize for Literature.


♦Enduring fame is promised only to those writers who can offer to successive generations a substance constantly renewed, for every generation arrives upon the scene with its own particular hunger. Andre Gide

♦It is with noble sentiments that bad literature gets written. Andre Gide

♦To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him, and travel in his company. Andre Gide


♥No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in. Henry Miller

♥In reading some books we occupy ourselves chiefly with the thoughts of the author; in perusing others, exclusively with our own. Edgar Allan Poe

♥Nothing a man writes can please him as profoundly as something he does with his back, shoulders and hands. For writing is an artificial activity. It is a lonely and private substitute for conversation. Brook Atkinson

♥For the creation of a masterpiece of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment. Mathew Arnold

♥Autobiography is now as common as adultery, and hardly less reprehensible. John Cagney

♥The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some adventurers on behalf of us all. John Updike

♥Anyone who thinks writing is easy is a fool. Ernest Hemingway

♥English orthography satisfies all the requirements of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection. Thorstein Veblen

♥Damn the subjunctive. It brings all our writers to shame. Mark Twain

♥The person who sits in a marketplace, horn-tipped pen in hand, tablet on knee, ready to interpret to all and sundry whatever the hierarchy, royal or scholarly, does not have time to listen to or to record. Hortense Calisher

♥In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the double standard; they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never be unfaithful to them. W. H. Auden

Samuel Johnson: born on the 18th September 1709 and died on the 13th December 1784. Known as Doctor Johnson, he was an English writer, critic, and poet.


♣What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. Samuel Johnson

♣A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good. Samuel Johnson

♣Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. Samuel Johnson

 Dylan Marlais Thomas
Dylan Marlais Thomas | Source

♠Writing is not what people think it is. It is not just something which, when it is operating, you can see from outside. Quote source unknown

♠No human being ever spoke of scenery for above two minutes at a time, which makes me suspect that we hear too much of it in literature. Robert Louis Stevenson

♠The writer William Thackeray was once asked by one of his small daughters, “Papa, why don’t you write nice books like Mr. Dickens?” Thackeray is said to have answered, “My dear, I wish I could”.

♠Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty, writing in pre internet days, devised her own cutting and pasting system. Ms. Welty, after a day’s writing, would cut her various pages into a number of strips, then arrange them in the order she felt most suitable, after careful reading.

♠A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. William Styron

♠When writing of oneself one should show no mercy. Yet why at the first attempt to discover one’s own truth does all inner strength seem to melt away in floods of self-pity and tenderness and rising tears? George Bernanos

♠The writer’s greed is appalling. He wants or seems to want everything and practically everybody; in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all. James Baldwin

♠A best-seller is a gilded tomb of a mediocre talent. Lagan Pearsall Smith

♠The literary world is made up of little confederacies, each looking upon its own members as the lights of the universe; and considering all others as mere transient meteors, doomed soon to fall and be forgotten, while its own luminaries are to shine steadily on to immortality. Washington Irving

Monument to the poet Rainer M. Rilke in the city of Ronda, Spain. In the gardens of hotel Reina Victoria.


♦This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night, “Must I write?” Dig down into yourself for a deep answer, and if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, “I must.”, then build your life according to this necessity.” Rainer Maria Rilke

♦No book, any more than helpful word, can do anything decisive if the person concerned is not already prepared through quite invisible influences for a deeper receptivity and absorption, if his hour of self-communion has not come anyway. Rainer Maria Rilke

Writer Nick Hornby in his book “More Baths, Less Talking” states regarding Charles Dickens: “One thing is clear: Dickens was not thinking about posterity. In fact, I'm betting that he would have said that he'd comprehensively blown his chance of a literary afterlife. He wrote too much too quickly, to feed his family and his ego, and to please his public.”

In describing her process of writing, Emily Fox Gordon recounts: “What I seem to want to do (enjoy is the wrong word here), is not to have experiences, but to think about and tell about them. I'm always looking for excuses not to sit down at my desk to write, but I enjoy my life only to the extent that even as I'm living it, I'm also writing it in my mind.”

Columnist and writer Nick Hornby advises readers: “No time spent with a book is ever entirely wasted. Even if the experience is not a happy one, there is always something to be learned. It’s just that every now and again you can hit a patch of reading that makes you feel as if you're puttering about.

There’s nothing like a couple of sleepy novels, followed by a moderately engaging biography of a minor cultural figure to make you aware of your own mortality. But what can you do about it? We don't choose to waste our reading time, it just happens; the books let us down.”

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill was born on October 16th 1888 and died on November 27th 1953. He was an Irish American playwright and dramatist.


♥Having grown aware that his increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease would impair his writing ability, Nobel-prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill tore up and burned the manuscripts of his unfinished plays. While such destruction seems tragic, one must respect his right to prevent future writers from attempting to complete them. Eugene O’Neill

Poignant Extracts

Reading Lolita in Tehran: Azar Nafisi

During a classroom discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, one student wondered aloud why Gatsby wasted his entire life seeking or pining for the eternal debutante, Daisy Buchanan. Why, the student continued, did he not find and marry a woman who would have appreciated his worth.” In response, a fellow student asked, “Why don't you write your own novel?”

Caro: The Fatal Passion: Henry Blyth.

Lord Byron wrote a memoir which, after his death, was destroyed due to the wish of his former wife, Arabella. Feeling aggrieved by his treatment of her, including, she claimed, an intimacy with his half-sister, she pleaded, at a meeting of poets, for this memoir to be destroyed. This was done, allowing a sense of chivalry to deprive the world of the perspective of a major figure in both literature and life.

Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir: A. E. Hotchner

Hadley Hemingway, first of the four wives of Nobel Prize winner writer Ernest Hemingway, was asked by him to bring copies of all his manuscripts from Paris to him in Geneva. She did so. Having gone for a drink of water, she found the portfolio had been stolen. Overwrought, upon meeting him, she confessed her oversight.

At first he felt nonchalant in that he had remaining copies at home. Then she said she had brought those copies as well, thinking they might be of use to him. Although wretched at the time, Hemingway told a later biographer that Hadley had not signed on as guardian of his writing. Instead, she had signed on for wifehood at which she did an excellent job.

What is your main goal when choosing to read a book?

See results

© 2014 Colleen Swan


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