Within the past year, when the days feel particularly lonely in isolation, there’s no better source than literature to provide us with that feeling of connection. It’s one of the most special moments as a bibliophile, when we encounter that certain set of words that move us to a place of profundity or make us feel like we’re not alone in our thoughts. Here are just a few powerful lines of literature that have greatly resonated with us through the years, and we hope they speak to you as well.
"It doesn't take long to persuade each other to stop seeing a person as a person. And when enough people are quiet for long enough, a handful of voices can give the impression that everyone is screaming."
Allie says: It was in a recent Off the Shelf list that I was talking about how excited I am to watch the BEARTOWN adaptation on HBO Max. And it's for a good reason. It is a book that has stayed with me for years. Picking a favorite quote from BEARTOWN is nearly impossible for me, because, as Backman reminds us in the book, "words are not small things." The whole book strings words together in a way that makes your heart physically clench. It's a beautiful look at flawed people who are all just trying to do their best.
“Her death hit in waves. Not a flood, but water lapping steadily at her ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe grief was the same.”
Molly says: Grief is an emotion I’m intimately familiar with but still struggle to understand. Before I experienced it, my perception was that it was a phase: eventually you move past it. So when my own grief didn’t evolve the way I expected it to, when I simply didn’t “get over it,” it was confusing and hurtful. I was bowled over in 2016 when a line in Brit Bennett’s debut novel, THE MOTHERS, articulated my emotions very succinctly: “Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.” I’ve returned to this line many times over the years, finding comfort in the knowledge that my journey with grief has not been wholly unique, that others have felt the same way I have. I didn’t expect to read another line about grief that hit so close to home, let alone by the same author, but Brit Bennett delivered in her remarkable second novel, THE VANISHING HALF, as the quotation above shows. Fiction can be a window, a way to help you understand others and perspectives different from your own, and fiction can be a mirror. I’m grateful for the way these words have helped me better understand (and accept) myself.
“As a quick aside, let me observe that in moments of high emotion—whether they’re triggered by anger or envy, humiliation or resentment—if the next thing you’re going to say makes you feel better, then it’s probably the wrong thing to say. This is one of the finer maxims that I’ve discovered in life. And you can have it, since it’s been of no use to me.”
Emily says: In Amor Towles’s books, the beauty of the words isn’t just the content of the sentence, but how well it expresses the character. He writes them in such a particular voice that it makes the words ring for days because you can practically hear the characters speaking it to you. RULES OF CIVILITY was especially fun to read because the witty banter and rebel adventures of Katey, Tinker, Eve, and their glamorous, self-obsessed friends in 1930s New York feel that much more alive—and soul-crushing when life take its inevitable wrong turns.
On the last night of 1937, Katey Content encounters Tinker Grey in a Greenwich Village jazz bar. Though they come from completely different worlds, they forge a friendship that will last decades and bring Katey, with her sass, smarts, and sincerity, to the heights of New York society.
Read a review of RULES OF CIVILITY here.
“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty, there is strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.”
Sharon says: EDUCATED was the first book I completed in 2021, and I have been turning it over in my mind continuously since finishing the final page. Tara Westover’s story is so much more than her educational journey: it is about family, place, trauma, mental illness, and abuse. Her prose is absolutely brilliant, and I found myself copying down whole paragraphs, but when I came across these sentences, I had to pause and read them over and over again. These sentences exemplify the vulnerability with which Westover writes, as she reflects upon her fear of appearing weak and admitting that she needs help. These sentences struck such a personal chord in me that I am now considering getting a tattoo with this theme in mind.
“The most we can do is to write—intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively—about what it is like living in the world at the time.”
Emily says: Those words were spoken on 4-22-15 by the late Oliver Sacks, or “O” as his life partner Bill Hayes calls him. Bill’s memoir INSOMNIAC CITY is filled with so many more little notes, endearing dialogues, and memories that encapsulate the brilliant, lovely mind of O—as well as Bill’s own observations while falling deeply in love with Oliver and NYC. There were so many lines that resonated with me, but I’ll refrain from listing them all here so you can experience that rush of a good line for the first time with the book in your hands.
“You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.”
Emily says: It probably goes without saying that a memoir about group therapy is filled with deeply insightful lines. After all, the whole narrative follows strangers becoming lifelong best friends by sharing their deepest secrets and fears with one another. There were many moments that resonated with me, but perhaps the line that stuck with me the most was: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness,” which the eccentric Dr. Rosen advises Christie at the beginning of her journey. While it’s definitely not a comprehensive prescription for most people, it certainly works for Christie and is a phrase that often encourages me to call a friend and talk it out whenever I find myself stuck in an emotional rut or cycle—a common occurrence during this past year . . .
“Hilarious and engrossing.” —People * “Fearless candor and vulnerability.” —Time * “Funny, emotional, and insightful.” —Good Morning America * “Honest, addictive” —HelloGiggles * “Wonderful...sparkle and intelligence.” —Booklist * “Dazzling.” —Publishers Weekly
The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself.
Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her in spite of her achievements?
Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.”
So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.
Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.
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