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Be not content with the best book; seek sidelights from the others.

LORD ACTON, The Study of History

Well, people have been wondering what’s going to happen to the novel for two hundred years; its death has been announced many times. You know, I think the novel keeps redefining the world we live in. What you should look for in a novel is a window nobody else is looking out of, that nobody else can look through. What you look for is a voice. You pick up a novel by someone such as Faulkner or Hemingway and you just read three pages and you know who wrote it. And that’s what one should demand of a novelist.

MORDECAI RICHLER, 1989 interview, Brick 81

The popular books are the novels, dealing with life under all possible conditions, and they are widely read not only because they are entertaining, but also because they in a measure satisfy an unformulated belief that to see farther, to know all sorts of men, in an indefinite way, is a preparation for better social adjustment--for the remedying of social ills.

JANE ADDAMS, Democracy and Social Ethics

Books are the legacies that a great genius leaves to mankind, which are delivered down from generation to generation, as presents to the posterity of those who are yet unborn.

JOSEPH ADDISON, The Spectator, Sep. 10, 1711

I want to do something splendid ... something heroic or wonderful that won't be forgotten after I'm dead ... I think I shall write books.


Pindar and Sophocles--as we all so glibly, and often with so little discernment of the real import of what we are saying--had not many books; Shakespeare was no deep reader. True; but in the Greece of Pindar and Sophocles, in the England of Shakespeare, the poet lived in a current of ideas in the highest degree animating and nourishing the creative power; society was, in the fullest measure, permeated by fresh thought, intelligent and alive; and this state of things is the true basis for the creative power's exercise--in this it finds its data, its materials, truly ready for its hand; all the books and reading in the world are only valuable as they are helps to this.

MATTHEW ARNOLD, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time", Essays

The thing one reads and likes, and then forgets, is of no account. The thing that stays, and haunts one, and refuses to be forgotten, that is the sincere thing.


I can't understand why a person will take a year or two to write a novel when he can easily buy one for a few dollars.

FRED ALLEN, attributed, Books: Their History, Art, Power, Glory, Infamy and Suffering According to Their Creators, Friends and Enemies

It is so very easy and so very pleasant, too, to read only books which lead to nothing, light and interesting books, and the more the better, that it is almost as difficult to wean ourselves from it as from the habit of chewing tobacco to excess, or of smoking the whole time, or of depending for stimulus upon tea or coffee or spirits.

CHARLES FRANCIS ADAMS, American Library Journal, 1876

I would like to write a Book which would drive men mad, which would be like an open door leading them where they would never have consented to go, in short, a door that opens onto reality.

ANTONIN ARTAUD, Selected Writings

You know, not every good book needs to be a movie, or a television series, or a video game. There's great work in those mediums, of course, but sometimes a book should remain a book. I still believe nothing tells a story with the richness and complexity of a good novel. When people say they think a book would make a good movie, they say this sometimes because, if it worked, they already saw all the images in the movie theatre that is in their brains. And sometimes that is the way it should stay.

CARLOS RUIZ ZAFON, "Carlos Ruiz Zafon's love letter to literature", New Zealand Listener, Mar. 14, 2013

Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.

W. H. AUDEN, "Reading", The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays

I think a book that is over 400 pages should be split in two. I don't know that there's anything that interesting that can go on for 700 pages. I think that is a little bit indulgent.

CHRIS ABANI, The Boston Globe, Mar. 22, 2014

One only makes books in order to keep in touch with one's fellows after one has ceased to breathe, and thus to defend oneself against the inexorable fate of all that lives--transitoriness and oblivion.

STEFAN ZWEIG, Selected Stories

It is only a novel ... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

JANE AUSTEN, Northanger Abbey

For every good book is worth the reader's while when there is a real communion of the spirit, and this is possible only when he feels he is being taken into the author's confidence and the author is willing to reveal to him the innermost searchings of his heart and talk, as it were, in an unbuttoned mood, collar and tie loose, as by a friend's fireside.

LIN YUTANG, Between Tears and Laughter

What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore, it knows it's not fooling a soul.

NEIL GAIMAN, American Gods

A book has to be easy to open and you don't have to be a bodybuilder to lift it. I like books I can read in bed. Those big tombstones would kill me.

KARL LAGERFELD, "Media People: Q&A With Karl Lagerfeld", Women's Wear Daily, Sep. 12, 2014

Few books today are forgivable. Black on canvas, silence on the screen, an empty white sheet of paper are perhaps feasible.

R. D. LAING, introduction, The Politics of Experience

Your borrowers of books--those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes.

CHARLES LAMB, "The Two Races of Men", Essays of Elia

I don't hate anything about e-books or e-book readers or tablets. There's a lot of discussion about that, and I think it's misplaced. The problem I have is whether we believe in the book itself. To me a book is not just a particular file. It's connected with personhood. Books are really, really hard to write. They represent a kind of summit of grappling with what one really has to say. And what I'm concerned with is when Silicon Valley looks at books, they often think of them as really differently as just data points that you can mush together. They're divorcing books from their role in personhood.

JARON LANIER, "Jaron Lanier: The Internet Destroyed the Middle Class", Salon, May 12, 2013

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.

ANNE LAMOTT, Bird by Bird

As many as six out of ten American adults have never read a book of any kind, and the bulletins from the nation’s educational frontiers read like the casualty reports from a lost war.

LEWIS H. LAPHAM, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy

All her life she had known that books were living things, not just a convergence of concept and ink, intellect and paper. They did not breathe or think, but they grew and gave a sense of potential so much larger than whatever was written on their pages.


When I was very little, say five or six, I became aware of the fact that people wrote books. Before that, I thought that God wrote books. I thought a book was a manifestation of nature, like a tree. When my mother explained it, I kept after her: What are you saying? What do you mean? I couldn't believe it. It was astonishing. It was like--here's the man who makes all the trees. Then I wanted to be a writer, because, I suppose, it seemed the closest thing to being God.

FRAN LEBOWITZ, interview, The Paris Review, summer 1993

It is certainly possible to obtain without difficulty some learning by reading books. The skill of book-printing has been invented, or rather improved and perfected, with God's assistance, particularly in our time. Without doubt it has brought many benefits to men and women since, at small expense, it is possible to possess a great number of books. These permit minds to devote themselves very readily to scholarly studies. Thus there can easily result, particularly among Catholics, men competent in all kinds of languages; and we desire to see in the Roman church, in good supply, men of this type who are capable of instructing even unbelievers in the holy commandments, and of gathering them for their salvation into the body of the faithful by the teaching of the christian faith . Complaints from many persons, however, have reached our ears and those of the apostolic see. In fact, some printers have the boldness to print and sell to the public, in different parts of the world, books -- some translated into Latin from Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldean as well as some issued directly in Latin or a vernacular language -- containing errors opposed to the faith as well as pernicious views contrary to the christian religion and to the reputation of prominent persons of rank. The readers are not edified. Indeed, they lapse into very great errors not only in the realm of faith but also in that of life and morals . This has often given rise to various scandals, as experience has taught, and there is daily the fear that even greater scandals are developing.... We therefore establish and ordain that henceforth, for all future time, no one may dare to print or have printed any book or other writing of whatever kind in Rome or in any other cities and dioceses, without the book or writings having first been closely examined, at Rome by our vicar and the master of the sacred palace, in other cities and dioceses by the bishop or some other person who knows about the printing of books and writings of this kind and who has been delegated to this office by the bishop in question, and also by the inquisitor of heresy for the city or diocese where the said printing is to take place, and unless the books or writings have been approved by a warrant signed in their own hand, which must be given, under pain of excommunication, freely and without delay.

POPE LEO X, Papal bull on printing books, May 4, 1515

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn't have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you're fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you're reading a whole new book.

URSULA K. LE GUIN, "Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading", Harper's Magazine, February 2008

When a book's pattern and the shape of its inner life is as plain to the reader as it is to the author -- then perhaps it is time to throw the book aside, as having had its day, and start again on something new.

DORIS LESSING, Partisan Review, 1973

The prosperity of a book lies in the minds of readers. Public knowledge and public taste fluctuate; and there come times when works which were once capable of instructing and delighting thousands lose their power, and works, before neglected, emerge into renown.

GEORGE HENRY LEWES, The Principles of Success in Literature

What's happening in digital books generally is that a whole bunch of rights that you would effectively have with ordinary books -- like I could loan it to my friend, I could destroy it, I could copy a chapter out of it, I could read it to my children, I could sell it somebody else - all of those rights are erased in the digital context because these shrink wrap licenses and the code built into these books makes it impossible for you legally to give it to a friend, or to sell it to somebody afterward or to copy a chapter out of it or in this case, to read it to your child. So what they are doing is using contracting code to restrict the rights that you used to have. The reason they can do this is that copyright law has always permitted some amount of contracting in addition to the rights granted by copyright. The fact is people didn't waste their time entering into those contracts before because they were essentially unenforceable. You could, in principle, write whatever you want into the shrink wrap license selling the book, but what are they going to do? You can't give this to a friend, how are they going to police that? So because it is impossible to police, there is no reason to require it. But now the technology makes it so that you can begin to police it, so the copyright interest says, "We've always been able to add these restrictions. Now we're adding these restrictions and they should be as enforceable as they were before."

LAWRENCE LESSIG, "Code + Law: An Interview with Lawrence Lessig", OpenP2P, January 29, 2001

A book is a mirror: if an ape looks into it an apostle is hardly likely to look out.


Books seem to me to be pestilent things, and infect all that trade in them ... with something very perverse and brutal. Printers, binders, sellers, and others that make a trade and gain out of them have universally so odd a turn and corruption of mind, that they have a way of dealing peculiar to themselves, and not conformed to the good of society, and that general fairness that cements mankind. Whether it be, that these instruments of truth and knowledge will not bear being subjected to anything but those noble ends, without revenging themselves on those who meddle with to any other purpose, and prostitute them to mean and misbecoming designs; I will not inquire. The matter of fact, I think you will find true; and there will leave it to those who sully themselves with printer's ink, till they wholly expunge all the candour that nature gives, and become the worst sort of black cattle.

JOHN LOCKE, letter to Anthony Collins, June 9, 1704

For books are more than books, they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives.

AMY LOWELL, "The Boston Athenæum", A Dome of Many-coloured Glass

Reading a book is a dangerous thing, Justine. A book can make you find room in yourself for something you never thought you'd understand. Or worse, something you never wanted to understand.

GLEN DUNCAN, By Blood We Live

Books: a beautifully browsable invention that needs no electricity and exists in a readable form no matter what happens.

NICHOLSON BAKER, attributed, New York Times Book Review, 1994

The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger (tutor to Nero) complained that his peers were wasting time and money accumulating too many books, admonishing that "the abundance of books is a distraction." Instead, Seneca recommended focusing on a limited number of good books, to be read thoroughly and repeatedly.

DANIEL J. LEVITIN, The Organized Mind

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