A Quest for Meaningful Reading: A Year in Quotes

There is an art to reading slowly; to appreciating every word read, rather then gulping the book down without a breath. Often, I find myself reading too fast, and quickly forgetting what I’ve read. Reading can become competitive. I’ve read 100 books this year, but serious readers have read double that amount; it’s hard not to feel pressured to read more, faster. The pressure builds, you find yourself picking up books based on their length, rather than their merit. It limits scope and enjoyment.

This year I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to write a nice review for the books I’ve read, a kind of journal entry to help me remember how I felt after closing a book. I also started highlighting passages in my books—something I’ve hesitated to do in the past, but I’ve decided it’s my way of putting a physical stamp on my reading: I was here, and this is what I loved.

I’ve decided that since it’s the end of the year, I would take all of those passages and highlighted moments and collect them in one notebook. It will give me a chance to reflect on what I’ve read this year. I thought I would share ten of those quotes here, and what each quote meant to me when I read it.

1. Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

“Do you know why I hate you? You and every other man in the world? Because you ask so much of us, as if it were your natural right…Mark my words, for it can happen without a single word being uttered…it’s how men look at us and smile at us. It’s how they raise their hands. To put it simply, it’s how they treat us…you’d have to be blind not to see how much confidence they have, and how stupidly they achieve it. And if you need a measure of their arrogant pride, all you need is to see how shocked they are when an advance is rejected. They are the hunters, you see. And we their miserable prey. And our duties? To bow down and obey, and give them whatever they want…But we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t give away a single bit of ourselves. It’s revolting, this arrogant male pride…Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Why I love this should be self- explanatory. I mean, this quote captures so many feelings I’ve had, even before Donald Trump and #metoo. It’s so shockingly on point. Every time I read it, it makes me feel tingly, and not in a good way.

 2. She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

“The bear petted her arm with one grubby paw like there there, there there. It made her feel better. It didn’t matter the bear wasn’t real. It only mattered that he was true.”

This is a wonderful book for fans of The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. A father/daughter thriller with a nasty bad guy and a sweet but tough-as-nails heroine. The bear from the quote is the heroine’s teddy bear, which possesses anthropomorphic qualities that made me want to find my closest stuffed thing and squeeze it tight.

 3. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

“By the power of Phil Collins, I rebuke you!” she said. “By the power of Phil Collins, who knows that you coming back to me is against all odds, in his name I command you to leave this servant of Genesis alone.”

This is no William Peter Blatty exorcism. This was funny, and about the power of female friendship, and was just a great read for a gloomy year. I laughed many times. Think: John Hughes meets the Exorcist.

 4. What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffe

“And so people believe that the world exists for the ‘I’, which, fortunately, does not come remotely close to the full truth. The world doesn’t exist for the I. It doesn’t exist for anything. It exists to continue existing. But knowing this does not change a thing for all the I’s who wander the world.”

From the best translated book I read this year. Noemi Jaffe’s mother survived Auschwitz, and the first 91 pages of the book is her mother’s diary. The second half is from Jaffe’s perspective, only instead of writing in first person, she attempts to take the “I” out of the memoir, and tells it in third person. Her mother’s diary is more a collection of events and is wrought with little emotion, so Jaffe’s third person narration attempts to suppress her own feelings, so she can make sense of her mother’s life without her own added ego. It is nearly impossible to remain neutral, and that is most likely Jaffe’s point.

 5. Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi

“I read as if books could loosen the noose tightening around my throat. I read to understand that there is somewhere else. A dimension where possibilities shimmer.”

Another great translation I read this year from the island of Mauritius. I read this in one sitting and was unsure if I was reading prose or poetry. I had a highlighter in my hand the whole time I was reading. This was my favorite quote though, because readers can relate to that noose.

6. Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

“Alas, we are what we are, and we need the stories, we need the public transportation, the anxiety meds, the television shows by the dozens, the music in bars and restaurants saving us from the terror of silence, the everlasting promise of brown liquor, the bathrooms in national parks, and the political catchphrases we can all shout and stick on our bumpers. We need revolutions. We need anger. How many times will the Old Town of Prague host the people who’ve been slighted bellowing for a change? And are the people truly speaking to the charlatans of Politik, calling to the bone and flesh of their leaders, or is this a disguised plea to the heavens? For fuck’s sake, either give us a hint or let us perish altogether.”

I read this in March, and like a lot of books I read at the beginning of the year, my feelings were embroiled in the recent inauguration of a President that made me question everything. Calling my Senators, marching in the Women’s March, and shouting at supper about the world gave me little satisfaction. Because: “for fuck’s sake: give us a hint!” she shouts endlessly to the heavens.

 7. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

“She had tumbled off the safe, hallowed shore of childhood, and now she was in no-man’s-water, neither one thing nor another, like a mermaid. Until she dragged herself up on the rock of marriage, she was difficult.”

I’ve loved almost everything that Frances Hardinge has written, but this book was my absolute favorite. Faith, the protagonist, begins the story like one of Charles Dickens’s “good women”; she did what she was told, was meek, and unquestioning, but after her father is killed things change, and Faith finds her voice.

 8. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

“To a very grave extent women obtaining the right to vote was more a victory for racist principles than a triumph of feminist principles.”

I read this fast. I’d never read bell hooks before. I’d never known about the systemic racism that plagued the suffragist movement. I changed my mind about Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Damn, this has been one hell of a year.

9. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

“Men are so simple. They will believe anything.”

A polygamist tale turned on its head. This is for people that had problems with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I picked this up at random, and it ended up being one of the best books I read this year. There’s a pattern: women writers from Nigeria have some of the strongest feminist voices I’ve found in literature. Baba Segi’s wives…try not to admire them, I dare you. This is for anyone who read and loved Stay With Me.

10. Sourdough by Robin Sloan

“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we want to be sorted.”

I’ve been thinking about J.K. Rowling’s affect on my generation a lot lately. Our humanity, and our renewed predilection for reading, I think can be attributed to a generation obsessed with a young wizard and his wizarding world. Millennials are more voracious readers than any other generation. We also are more frequent users of the library. What I’m getting at: millennials are the coolest, thanks J.K. Rowling.

As part of Season 2 of our podcast series Annotated, we are giving away 10 of the best books about books of 2017. Go here to enter for a chance to win, or just click the image below:
Sarah Ullery: Sarah suffers from chronic sarcasm, and an unhealthy aversion to noise. She loves to read, and would like to do nothing else, but stupid real life makes her go to work. Sarah has had many different jobs, but her two favorites have been librarian and public school educator. She lives in the middle of a cornfield and shares a house with two spoiled dogs and a ton of books.