For what are we but books, and when those are gone, nothing’s to be seen.
— Ray Bradbury, "The Exiles," The Illustrated Man

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, DAVE EGGERS

"I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so–this has always been my dream–so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep."

HHHH, LAURENT BINET

Illustration: Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, "Dykes' Cabin" Slim and The Beast: A Novel

Illustration: Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, "Dykes' Cabin" Slim and The Beast: A Novel

“Of course I could, perhaps I should—to be like Victor Hugo, for example—describe at length, by way of introduction, over ten pages or so, the town of Halle, where Heydrich was born in 1904. I would talk of the streets, the shops, the statues, of all the local curiosities, of the municipal government, the town’s infrastructure, of the culinary specialities, of the inhabitants and the way they think, their political tendencies, their tastes, of what they do in their spare time. Then I would zoom in on the Heydrichs’ house: the color of its shutters and its curtains, the layout of the rooms, the wood from which the living-room table is made. Following this would be a minutely detailed description of the piano […] So I’ve decided not to overstylize my story. That suits me fine because, even if for later episodes I’ll have to resist the temptation to flaunt my knowledge by writing too many details for this or that scene that I’ve researched too much, I must admit that in this case—regarding Heydrich’s birthplace—my knowledge is a bit sketchy. There are two towns in Germany called Halle, and I don’t even know which one I’m talking about. For the time being, I think it’s not important. We’ll see.”

Ah, Harry, we have to stumble through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our homesickness.
— Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf

The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach

“Henry knew better than to want freedom. The only life worth living was the unfree life, the life Schwartz had taught him, the life in which you were chained to your one true wish, the wish to be simple and perfect. Then the days were sky-blue spaces you moved through with ease. You made sacrifices and the sacrifices made sense. You ate till you were full and then you drank SuperBoost, because every ounce of muscle meant something. You stoked the furnace, fed the machine. No matter how hard you worked, you could never feel harried or hurried, because you were doing what you wanted and so one moment simply produced the next.” 

Traveler of the Century, Andrés Neuman

“When I was young, because I was young once like you, I heard many organ grinders play, and I can assure you no two tunes ever sounded the same, even on the same instrument. That’s how it is, isn’t it? The less love you put into things the more they resemble one another. The same goes for stories, everyone knows them by heart, but when someone tells them with love, I don’t know, they seem new. Well, that’s what I think, anyway.” 

BLOOD MERIDIAN, CORMAC MCCARTHY

“A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse’s whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen’s faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools. Oh my god, said the sergeant.”

‘What’s the world’s greatest lie?’ the boy asked, completely surprised. ‘It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.’
— Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

“When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.” 

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

“‘Why don’t you show me that Paris,’ she said, ‘that you have written about?’ One thing I know, that at the recollection of these words I suddenly realized the impossibility of ever revealing to her that Paris which I had gotten to know, the Paris whose arrondisements are undefined, a Paris that has never existed except by virtue of my loneliness, my hunger for her. Such a huge Paris! It would take a lifetime to explore it again. This Paris, to which I alone had the key, hardly lends itself to a tour, even with the best of intentions; it is a Paris that has to be lived, that has to be experienced each day in a thousand different forms of torture, a Paris that grows inside you like a cancer, and grows and grows until you are eaten away by it.” 

"Al Roosten," Tenth of December, George Saunders

Illustration: Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, "Dykes Pond," Slim and The Beast: A Novel

Illustration: Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, "Dykes Pond," Slim and The Beast: A Novel

“There had been that period in junior high, yes, when he had been somewhat worried that he might perhaps like guys, and had constantly lost in wrestling because, instead of concentrating on his holds he was always mentally assessing whether his thing was hurting inside his cup because he was popping a mild pre-bone or because the tip was sticking out an airhole, and once he was almost sure he’d popped a mild pre-bone when he found his face pressed against Tom Reed’s hard abs, which smelled of coconut, but, after practice, obsessing about this in the woods, he realized the he sometimes popped a similar mild pre-bone when the cat sat on his groin in a beam of sun, which proved he didn’t have sexual feelings for Tom Reed, since he knew for sure he didn’t have sexual feelings for the cat, since he’d never even heard that described as being possible. And from that day on, whenever he found himself wondering whether he liked guys, he always remembered walking exultantly in the woods after the liberating realization that he was no more attracted to guys than to cats, just happily kicking the tops of mushrooms in a spirit of tremendous relief.” 

In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.
— Anne Frank

"Up, Simba," Consider the Lobster, David Foster Wallace

“Here’s what happened. In October of ’67 McCain was himself still a Young Voter and was flying his 26th Vietnam combat mission and his A-4 Skyhawk plane got shot down over Hanoi, and he had to eject, which basically means setting off an explosive charge that blows your seat out of the plane, and the ejection broke both McCain’s arms and one leg and gave him a concussion and he started falling out of the skies over Hanoi. Try to imagine for a second how much this would hurt and how scared you’d be, three limbs broken and falling toward the enemy capital you just tried to bomb. His chute opened late and he landed hard in a little lake in a park right in the middle of downtown Hanoi. (There is still an NV statue of McCain by this lake today, showing him on his knees with his hands up and eyes scared and on the pediment the inscription “McCanfamous air pirate” [sic].) Imagine treading water with broken arms and trying to pull the life vest’s toggle with your teeth as a crowd of North Vietnamese men all swim out toward you (there’s film of this, somebody had a home-movie camera and the NV government released it, though its grainy and McCain’s face is hard to see). The crowd pulled him out and just about killed him. Bomber pilots were especially hated, for obvious reasons. McCain got bayoneted in the groin; a soldier broke his shoulder apart with a rifle butt. Plus by this time his right knee was bent 90 degrees to the side, with the bone sticking out. This is all public record. Try to imagine it. He finally got tossed on a jeep and taken only about five blocks to the infamous Hoa Lo prison—a.k.a. the Hanoi Hilton, of much movie fame—where for a week they made him beg for a doctor and finally set a couple of the fractures without anesthetic and let two other fractures and the groin wound (imagine: groin wound) go untreated. Then they threw him in a cell. Try for a moment to feel this. The media profiles all talk about how McCain still can’t lift his arms over his head to comb his hair, which is true. But try to imagine it at the time, yourself in his place, because it’s important. Think about how diametrically opposed to your own self-interest getting knifed in the nuts and having fractures set without a general would be, and then about getting thrown in a cell to just lie there and hurt, which is what happened. He was mostly delirious with pain for weeks, and his weight dropped to 100 pounds, and the other POWs were sure he would die; and then, after he’d hung on like that for several months and his bones had mostly knitted and he could sort of stand up, the prison people came and brought him to the commandant’s office and closed the door and out of nowhere offered to let him go. They said he could just…leave. It turned out that US Admiral John S. McCain II had just been made head of all naval forces in the Pacific, meaning also Vietnam, and the North Vietnamese wanted the PR coup of mercifully releasing his son, the baby-killer. And John S. McCain III, 100 pounds and barely able to stand, refused the offer. The US military’s Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War apparently said that POWs had to be released in the order they were captured, and there were others who’d been in Hoa Lo a much longer time, and McCain refused to violate the Code. The prison commandant, not at all pleased, right there in his office had guards break McCain’s ribs, rebreak his arm, knock his teeth out. McCain still refused to leave without the other POWs. Forget how many movies stuff like this happens in and try to imagine it as real: a man without teeth refusing release. McCain spent four more years in Hoa Lo like this, much of the time in solitary, in the dark, in a special closet-sized box called a “punishment cell.” Maybe you’ve heard all this before; it’s been in umpteen different media profiles of McCain this year. It’s overexposed, true. Still, though, take a second or two to do some creative visualization and imagine the moment between John McCain’s first getting offered early release and his turning it down. Try to imagine it was you. Imagine how loudly your most basic, primal self-interest would cry out to you in that moment, and all the ways you could rationalize accepting the offer: What difference would one less POW make? Plus maybe it’d give the other POWs hope and keep them going, and I mean 100 pounds and expected to die and surely the Code of Conduct doesn’t apply to you if you need a doctor or else you’re going to die, plus if you could stay alive by getting out you could make a promise to God to do nothing but Total Good from now on and make the world better and so your accepting would be better for the world than your refusing, and maybe if Dad wasn’t worried about the Vietnamese retaliating against you here in prison he could prosecute the war more aggressively and end it sooner and actually save lives so yes maybe you could actually save lives if you took the offer and got out versus what real purpose gets served by you staying here in a box and getting beaten to death, and by the way oh Jesus imagine it a real doctor and real surgery with painkillers and clean sheets and a chance to heal and not be in agony and to see your kids again, your wife, to smell your wife’s hair….Can you hear it? What would be happening inside your head? Would you have refused the offer? Could you have? You can’t know for sure. None of us can. It’s hard even to imagine the levels of pain and fear and want in that moment, much less to know how we’d react. None of us can know. But, see, we do know how this man reacted.”

Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.
— Don DeLillo