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On Reading, Writing and Favorite Lines

I don’t read when I’m working on a book. I’m too easily influenced by what is happening around me when I write: events, conversations, songs, people—they all comes into play and get filtered into my work. So, I avoid reading to avoid another writer’s influence. Since In His Eyes was released on August 1, I’ve been trying to catch up on my reading. Most recently I picked up “The Best of Saki,” by H.H. Munro, a British writer whose witty, mischievous, and sometimes macabre stories satirize Edwardian society and culture. I fell in love with his prose. Often there were lines that were sublime: concise, biting. As read, I made notes highlighting those special lines. This post is about favorite lines from books I’ve recently read.

H.H. Munro (Saki): His casual comments on marriage were a particular favorite of mine:

You’re married to him—that’s different; you’ve sworn to love, honour, and endure him: I haven’t.

To have married Mortimer Seltoun, ‘Dead Mortimer,’ as his more intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women, was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and adroitness to carry through
—The Music on the Hill

Saki on art:

His “Noontide Peace,” a study of two dun cows under a walnut tree, was followed by “A Mid-day Sanctuary,” a study of a walnut tree with two dun cows under it.
—The Stalled Ox

And family relations and motives for staying close:

He’s a kind of distant cousin of my mother’s, and so enormously rich that we’ve never let the relationship drop out of sight.

And this during a flood, when one character was asked if any lives had been lost:

Heaps, I should say. The second housemaid has already identified three bodies that have floated past the billiard-room window as being the young man she’s engaged to. Either she’s engaged to a large assortment of the population round here or else she’s very careless at identification. Of course, it may be the same body coming round again and again in a swirl; I hadn’t thought of that
—The Lull

Other favorites of mine were:

“I’m always having depressing experiences,” said the Baroness, “But I never give them outward expression. It’s as bad as looking one’s age…” –The Way to the Diary
In Whitehall and places where they think, they doubtless thought well of him.
Cousin Teresa

This bread and butter is cut far too thin; it crumbles away long before you can get it to your mouth. One feels so absurd, snapping at one’s food in mid-air, like a trout leaping at may-fly.

This observation about the Salvation Army is easily my favorite of all:

…though I did get mixed up with a Salvation Army procession. It was quite interesting to be at close quarters with them, they’re so absolutely different to what they used to be when I remember them in the ‘eighties. They used to go about then unkempt and disheveled, in a sort of smiling rage with the world, and now they’re spruce and jaunty and flamboyantly decorative, like a geranium bed with religious convictions.

I’m now reading the novel Shortcomings, by actor Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc, Hot Guys with Guns) and, on page 6, I fell in love with this line:

"His heartbeat echoes in his ear and slowly grows faint like a marching band drummer wandering away in a wide open field under a clear blue sky."

For me it was so evocative, so beautifully wrought. Later I came cross this line and read it over and over: it captures so much so simply, summing up a world of difference in just a few words:

He glimpsed the moment like a snapshot: one boy only saw two approaching girls; the other only saw the spot where the other boy had touched him.

I tend to remember these sentences, highlighting them, or writing them down. I’m a wordsmith. Or a word nerd, maybe. I was amused when I read a GoodReads review of In His Eyes and the reviewer referred to herself as a nerd because she included sentences she loved.

I don't think anyone ever really saw me until Reid looked at me. I sort of feel like I only exist in his eyes. And now that he's looked away - now that he only has eyes for...her - I may cease to exist.

I opened the door and he walked in, a dream from my past, and my every hope for the future.

She declared this one, perhaps her favorite sentence ever:

Though Calvin lived in the world of books and laws, his real home was in the corner of someone's eye.

Re-reading her choices, I as a bit surprised by …their brevity. I tend to write long, complex sentences (Hemingway, I am not.) I think my favorite sentence from In His Eyes is:

I suppose love is really just a patchwork quilt made up of random shared experiences, each in and of itself insignificant, but which, when stitched together by a depth of feeling, a determination to find peace, told a remarkable story.

That reviewer made me realize I am not alone in singling out specific sentences in the books I read. So, what about you? Do you have favorite lines from books you’ve read? If you do, feel free to share them in the comments below.


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