Working with the library in Boston has really made me think a lot about the books that have helped me. When I say help, I don't mean that they taught me things (they did) but they made me feel less alone in the world. I didn't have the prettiest childhood and was a very alienated and weird child-I felt stupid. ugly and unloveable for a lot of my youth. It was in books, those assigned by my teachers at UDJHS and those that I picked up on my own that gave me a window into my own life. I found myself in books. I found out that I could survive in the world.
It had nothing to do with the authors of the books being from the same background as me. It wasn't just reading about black people. I am black. They wrote characters that said the things that I thought and felt, that saw the world as I saw it. They wrote characters that had the same lives that I did.
They wrote characters that were me. Because I saw myself in books, I could see a future for myself.
None of the writers were thinking about me when they wrote these books. None of them knew that a black child in Detroit needed their message. They just did their work.
- Nick Caraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby
"I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart."
- Adah Price in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible
"You would be free too. And I didn't want that. I wanted you to remember what he did to us."
- Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
"I want you to be aware that I know you have treated me infernally—infernally! Do you hear? And if you flatter yourself that I don't perceive it, you are a fool; and if you think I can be consoled by sweet words, you are an idiot."
Cathy in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
“You shall not leave me in that temper. I should be miserable all night, and I won’t be miserable for you!”
- Rufus Scott in James Baldwin's Another Country
“People don't have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you're dead, when they've killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn't have any character. They weep big, bitter tears - not for you. For themselves, because they've lost their toy.”
- Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
"As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash."
- Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem
Good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension yet--and this is its horror--it can spread like a fungus over the surface of the earth and lay waste the entire world. Evil comes from a failure to think.
- Austin in Sam Shephard's True West
"Lee? I'll make ya' a deal. You let me get outa' here. Just let me get to my car. All right, Lee? Gimme a little headstart and I'll turn you loose. Just gimme a little headstart. All right?"
- Fiver in Richard Adams's Watership Down
"Look. Look. That's the place for us. High, lonely hills, where the wind and the sound carry, and the ground's as dry as straw in a barn. That's where we ought to be. That's where we have to get to."
- Thérèse in Toni Morrison's Tar Baby
She realized then that all her life she thought they felt nothing at all. Oh, well, yes, she knew they talked and laughed and died and had babies. But she had never attached any feeling to any of it.
- Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises
"It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing."
- Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz
Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen. Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking any more? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again? If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.
- Belize in Tony Kushner's Angels in America
“I hate America. I hate this country. It’s just big ideas, and stories, and people dying, and people like you. The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing. He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it. That was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me. You come to room 1013 over at the hospital, I'll show you America. Terminal, crazy and mean. I live in America, that’s hard enough, I don’t have to love it. You do that. Everybody’s got to love something.”
- Andrew Holleran in Dancer from the Dance
For the fact was drugs were not necessary to most of us, because the music, youth, sweaty bodies were enough. And if it was too hot, too humid to sleep the next day, and we awoke bathed in sweat, it did not matter: We remained in a state of animated suspension the whole hot day. We lived for music, we lived for Beauty, and we were poor. But we didn’t care where we were living, or what we had to do during the day to make it possible; eventually, if you waited long enough, you were finally standing before the mirror in that cheap room, looking at your face one last time, like an actor going onstage, before rushing out to walk in the door of that discotheque and see someone like Malone.
- Paul D. in Toni Morrison's Beloved
The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one.
- The Creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
"I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other."
- Addie Bundren in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying
"One day I was talking to Cora. She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”
- The Lieutenant in Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory
Something you could almost have called horror moved him when he looked at the white muslin dresses—he remembered the smell of incense in the churches of his boyhood, the candles and the laciness and the self-esteem, the immense demands made from the altar steps by men who didn't know the meaning of sacrifice.
- Danny Torrance in Stephen King's The Shining
"Danny? You listen to me. I’m going to talk to you about it this once and never again this same way. There’s some things no six-year-old boy in the world should have to be told, but the way things should be and the way things are hardly ever get together. The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us, either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper. The world don’t love you, but your momma does and so do I. You’re a good boy. You grieve for your daddy, and when you feel you have to cry over what happened to him, you go into a closet or under your covers and cry until it’s all out of you again. That’s what a good son has to do. But see that you get on. That’s your job in this hard world, to keep your love alive and see that you get on, no matter what. Pull your act together and just go on.”
- The Sisters of the Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert's Dune
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
- Dolores "Lolita" Haze in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita
"You revolting creature. I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you've done to me. I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me. Oh, you dirty, dirty old man."
- Lila Mae Watson in Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist
“Dressed, she’s in front of the mirror. Armed. She puts her face on. In her case, not a matter of cosmetics, but will. How to make such a sad face hard? It took practice. Not in front of a mirror or in front of strangers, gauging her success by their expressions of horror, disgust, etc. She did it by lying in her bed, feeling and testing which muscles in her face pained under application of concerted tension. To choose the most extreme pain would be to make a fright mask. A caricature of strength. She achieved calibration one night while testing a small muscle attached to her upper lip hitting upon a register of pain a few inches below the high-tide mark of real pain. This register of discomfort became the standard for all the muscles in her face, above the eyebrows under the jaw, across the nostrils. She didn’t check with the small mirror in the janitor’s closet, didn’t need to. She knew she’d hit it.”
- Jacob Kahn in Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev
"Become a great artist. That is the only way to justify what you are doing to everyone's life."
Asher Lev in Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev
"I did not feel I had to justify anything... I did not want to paint in order to justify anything, I wanted to paint because I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint the same way my father wanted to travel and work for the Rebbe. My father worked for Torah. I worked for - what? How could I explain it? For beauty? No. Many of the pictures I painted were not beautiful. For what, then? For a truth I did not know how to put into words. For truth I could only bring to life by means of color and line and texture and form."
- The Captain in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer
But what I felt most was my being a stranger to the ship; and if all the truth must be told, I was somewhat of a stranger to myself.
- Emma Bovary in Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary
All she wanted, now, was to be able to lean on something more solid than love.
- Johnnie in James Baldwin's "The Outing" in the collection, Going to Meet the Man
"Your old man was kind of rough this morning," David said, watching the mountains pass. "Yes," Johnnie said. He looked at David's face against the sky. He shivered in the sharp, cold air and buried his face in David's shoulder. David looked down at him and tightened his hold.
"Who do you love?" he whispered. "Who's your boy?"
"You," he muttered fiercely, "I love you."