Quotes from Alif the Unseen

Book: Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson

This was an interesting read: on magic and jinn, on cyberwarfare and oppressive governments, on religion and belief and stories.

“‘So the stories aren’t just stories, is what you’re saying. They’re really secret knowledge disguised as stories.’

‘One could say that of all stories, younger brother.'”

“Alif found himself succumbing to the silence of the place, a quiet so open and broad that it seemed almost to roar, as though it was not silence at all but music in some ancient inaudible key.”

“‘All translations are made up […] Languages are different for a reason. You can’t move ideas between them without losing something.'”

“‘A game has a reset button. You have infinite chances for success. Real life is awfully permanent compared to that, and a lot of religious people make it seem even more permanent—one step the wrong way, one sin too many, and it’s the fiery furnace for you.'”

“As he slipped deeper into sleep, he heard her begin to sing: a soft, wordless cat-song of love gone and children grown, trilling and sad.”

“Perhaps this was all freedom was—a moment in which all things were possible, overtaken too soon by man’s fearsome instinct to punish and divide.”

“‘Dear child, some stories have no morals. Sometimes darkness and madness are simply that.’

‘How terrible,’ said Farukhuaz.

‘Do you think so? I find it reassuring. It saves me from having to divine meaning in every sorrow that comes my way.'”

“‘Why do you get mad when religion tells you that the things you want to be true are true?’

‘When it’s true, it’s not fun anymore. All right? When it’s true it’s scary.'”

“‘You have that sullen expression young men get when they’ve been jilted. It’s why men are meant to have beards—growing all that hair leaves no energy for moodiness. Much more dignified.'”

“Anger is not always bad. Hatred and malice are always bad, but sometimes anger is the pure and determined light that shows you the way forward.”

Quotes from Hogfather

Book: Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was my favorite author throughout most of high school, a humorist who invented an entire weird, brilliant, satirical universe. Hogfather is his take on Christmas, and mythology, and belief, and it is one of my favorite books by him. I make a point of rereading it every Christmas, in the holiday spirit.

“If [the children] got the hang of the playground, she thought, adult life would hold no fears. Besides, it was nice to hear the voices of little children at play, provided you took care to be far enough away not to hear what they were actually saying.”

“Scrote had a lot of outskirts, spread so widely—a busted cart here, a dead dog there—that often people went through it without even knowing it was there, and really it only appeared on the maps because cartographers get embarrassed about big empty spaces.”

Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.

‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’

Yes. As practice. You have to start out learning to believe the little lies.

‘So we can believe the big ones?’

Yes. Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.

“Most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves (who, on the whole, are quite keen on blood provided it’s being shed by the deserving), and then wondered where the stories went.”

“Susan was bright enough to know that the phrase ‘Someone ought to do something’ was not, by itself, a helpful one. People who used it never added the rider ‘and that someone is me.'”

“One should always be wary of people who talk unashamedly of ‘fellowship and good cheer’ as if it were something that can be applied to life like a poultice. Turn your back for a moment and they may well organize a maypole dance and, frankly, there’s no option then but to try and make it to the tree line.”

“Dullness. Only humans could have invented it. What imaginations they had.”

Image: By vlod007 (wild boar in the winter) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Quotes from Lilith’s Brood

Book: Lilith’s Brood trilogy, by Octavia Butler

This excellent science fiction trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago) by Octavia Butler is an engrossing, often unsettling exploration of what it means to be human, touching on fear, survival, genetics, race, and gender, among other things.

From Dawn:

“‘Intelligence does enable you to deny facts you dislike. But your denial doesn’t matter. A cancer growing in someone’s body will go on growing in spite of denial.'”

From Adulthood Rites:

“‘Human beings fear difference. […] Humans persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status.'”

From Imago:

“Humans said one thing with their bodies and another with their mouths and everyone had to spend time and energy figuring out what they really meant. And once we did understand them, the Humans got angry and acted as though we had stolen thoughts from their minds.”

Quotes from H Is for Hawk

Book: H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

This was an excellent read: half a nature book on raptors and on the history and practices of falconry, half a memoir of the wildness of grief, mourning, and healing. Macdonald’s writing is literary and vividly descriptive.

“We carry the lives we’ve imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost.”

“I love it because of all the places I know in England, it feels to me the wildest. It’s not an untouched wilderness like a mountaintop, but a ramshackle wildness in which people and the land have conspired to strangeness.”

“I was starting to see how mortality was bound up in things like that cold, arc-lit sky. How the world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might see them. Once, twice. Perhaps never again. […] A starling with a crooked beak. A day of hoarfrost and smoke. A cherry tree thick with blossom. Thunderclouds, lightning strikes, comets and eclipses: celestial events terrifying in their blind distances but reassuring you, too, that the world is for ever, though you are only a blink in its course.”

“I read that after denial comes grief. Or anger. Or guilt. I remember worrying about which stage I was at. I wanted to taxonomise the process, order it, make it sensible. But there was no sense, and I didn’t recognize any of these emotions at all.”

“When I was small I’d loved falconry’s historical glamour. I treasured it in the same way children treasure the hope that they might be like the children in books: secretly magical, part of some deeper, mysterious world that makes them something out of the ordinary.”

“‘Need to excel in order to be loved,’ [T. H.] White had written in his dream diary. But there is an unspoken coda to that sentence. What happens if you excel at something and discover you are still unloved?”

“Being a novice is safe. When you are learning how to do something, you do not have to worry about whether or not you are good at it. But when you have done something, have learned how to do it, you are not safe any more. Being an expert opens you up to judgement.”

“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are.”

“That little space of irresolution is a strange place to be. You feel safe because you are entirely at the world’s mercy. It is a rush. You lose yourself in it. And so you run towards those little shots of fate, where the world turns. That is the lure: that is why we lose ourselves, when powerless from hurt and grief, in drugs or gambling or drink; in addictions that collar the broken soul and shake it like a dog.”

“The archaeology of grief is not ordered. It is more like earth under a spade, turning up things you had forgotten. Surprising things come to light: not simply memories, but states of mind, emotions, older ways of seeing the world.”

“Give me a paper and pencil now and ask me to draw a map of the fields I roamed about when I was small, and I cannot do it. But change the question, and ask me to list what was there and I can fill pages. The wood ants’ nest. The newt pond. The oak covered in marble galls. The birches by the motorway fence with fly agarics at their feet. These things were the waypoints of my world.”

“In the imagination, everything can be restored, everything mended, wounds healed, stories ended.”

Image: Nevit Dilmen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Quotes from Purple Hibiscus

Book: Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was the first book I had read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I loved it. She brings you into the mind and the thought patterns and the surroundings of her narrator so vividly. I did not want to put it down, and whenever I wasn’t reading it, my mind kept straying back to the story. It was superb.

(Her TED talk is also great, if you have 18 minutes to spare. Which you ought.)


“She walked fast, like one who knew just where she was going and what she was going to do there. And she spoke the way she walked, as if to get as many words out of her mouth as she could in the shortest time.”

“There are people, she once wrote, who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once.”

“Gold-yellow lights of kerosene lamps flickered from behind windows and on verandahs of homes, like the eyes of hundreds of wild cats.”

“‘Do you try to treat cancer sores or the cancer itself? We cannot afford to give pocket money to our children. We cannot afford to eat meat. We cannot afford bread. So your child steals and you turn to him in surprise? You must try to heal the cancer because the sores will keep coming back.'”

Image: Yercaud-elango [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons