If you’re anything like me, you keep a notebook of your favourite book quotations. It’s a fancy book, perhaps gilded or with some nice patterns on it, because as we all know, pretty covers make books just a little bit more interesting. (Incidentally, the same rule applies to all of the following: movie posters, mediocre wine, cheap t-shirts, and all the men you met before the age of twenty seven.) But sometimes there are also some incredible quotations inside those covers. I’m using today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt to explore some of my favourites.

My Top Ten Favourite Quotations

‘How far we are!’ he sighed.

‘From what?’

‘From ourselves.’

Of Love and Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Marquez’s writing is so beautiful that it’s hard to pick just one quotation to focus on. But for me it’s always been this one from Of Love and Other Demons, because reading it for the first time was like being struck by a lightning bolt. For me it captures the complexities of self-knowledge so well, and so very simply.

We are made of starstuff.

Cosmos, Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan’s famous quotation comes at the end of a passage about the fact that every atom in our body was originally forged in the heart of a dying star. It’s an incredible realisation, one that takes you out of your mundane, everyday existence, and carries you out into the universe, if only for a moment.

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

The motto of eager travellers the world over, “Not all those who wander are lost” has a beautiful simplicity to it. Forget for a moment that it’s from a book about miniature, hairy-legged men walking across a fantasy landscape to dispose of a jacked-up wedding ring. It gets at the heart of some very basic human fears: the fear of losing your way, both in a physical and in a figurative sense.

Did I exist before my birth? No. Shall I exist after my death? No. What am I but an organized handful of dust?

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo (trans. Norman Denny)

I’ve scoured other translations of Les Misérables into English for this quotation, but I can’t say I like any of them as much as I like Norman Denny’s. The phrase “organised handful of dust” echoed in my head long after I finished reading Les Misérables.

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.

Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

We spend a great deal of time thinking about what’s good or bad – which is of course a very good thing – but this quotation from Good Omens illustrates how often we divide people’s actions into very black and white categories, rather than appreciating that human behaviour is, more often than not, simply a reflection of a person’s humanity.

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Mr Bennet, despite being a pretty terrible father, does have some cracking lines in Pride and Prejudice. This is one of my favourites, because it acknowledges the inherent silliness of human society.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Trying to pick your favourite Shakespeare quotation is like trying to pick your favourite kind of chocolate. What to choose? Milk chocolate (“To be or not to be”)? Bitter chocolate (“All the world’s a stage”)? Or just plain nutty (“You Banbury cheese!”)? Like a Cadbury bar, this quotation may not be the very best available, but it’s still pretty darn amazing.

I may have forgotten what I was talking about. I just know I’m craving chocolate now.

HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett

It’s so difficult to pick just one Terry Pratchett quotation. Not only are there thousands of wickedly funny ones, but so many of them are also incredibly profound to boot. But since I read Hogfather recently, this quotation has been on my mind a lot. It perfectly illustrates Pratchett’s ideas about stories and why they’re such a huge part of what it means to be human.

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.

Jane Austen’s Letters

Anybody who doubts Jane Austen’s title as the original Queen of Snark should be referred to the above quotation – posthaste.

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

Dumbledore makes so many powerful speeches in the Harry Potter series that it’s almost impossible to decide which one is the best, but this particular one has always been my favourite. It cheerfully pokes fun at the nature of reality, and I very much enjoy that.

What are some of your favourite quotations?

19 replies on “My Top Ten Favourite Quotations”

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