Become a duke of a large dukedom: Litbash 20

Excited about the royal wedding? Those princes bathing in opulence, in their large dukedoms... You can be a duke too. Just build your home library and, as William Shakespeare said, "My library was dukedom large enough." Here's a good start, writers who were...

Born this week:

Jerome K. Jerome, UK
"If there is one person I do despise more than another, it is the man who does not think exactly the same on all topics as I do."

Willi Bredel, Germany

George Bidwell, UK / Polish

Niccolo Machiavelli, Florence
"The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him."

Mikhail Alexeyev, Russia

Amos Tutuola, Nigeria

"But when the fire was about to quench, their children came with whips and stones then they began to whip and stone our heads; when they left that, they began to climb on our heads and jump from one to the second; after that they started to spit, make urine and pass excreta on our heads; but when the eagle saw that they wanted to nail our heads, then it drove all of them away from the field with its beak."

Gaston Leroux, France
"You must know that I am made of death, from head to foot, and it is a corpse who loves you and adores you and will never, never leave you!" The Phanton of the Opera

Henryk Sienkiewicz, Poland

"A man who leaves memoirs, whether well or badly written, provided they be sincere, renders a service to future psychologists and writers, giving them not only a faithful picture, but likewise human documents that may be relied upon."

Władysław Reymont, Poland
"I have gambled away my own happiness. Now I can only create it for others."

Angela Carter, UK
"A book is simply the container of an idea—like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters."

Peter Benchley, USA
"Writing is sweat and drudgery most of the time. And you have to love it in order to endure the solitude and the discipline."

Died this week:

Alfred de Musset, France
"Great artists have no country."

Paul Guimard, France
"Happy childhood is the invention of the old."

Jerzy Kosiński, Poland
"I am going to put myself to sleep now for a bit longer than usual. Call it Eternity."

Edith Nesbit, UK
"There is nothing more luxurious than eating while you read - unless it be reading while you eat."

Veniamin Kaverin, Russia

Maurice Maeterlinck, Belgium
"We are alone, absolutely alone on this chance planet: and, amid all the forms of life that surround us, not one, excepting the dog, has made an alliance with us."

Alcides Arguedas, Bolivia

Maria Luisa Bombal, Chile
"To be intelligent, one must start young."

Gustave Flaubert, France

"Do not read as children do to enjoy themselves, or, as the ambitious do to educate themselves. No, read to live."


See all quarters of the Earth without leaving the couch: LitBash 19

Summer isn't coming fast enough? Can't wait to travel, see the world? Do not fret - immerse yourself in books and travel the world. As John Lubbock said: "We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth."

Start with authors who were...

Born this week:

Daniel Defoe, UK
"All men would be tyrants if they could."

Mary Wollstencraft, UK

"The endeavor to keep alive any hoary establishment beyond its natural date is often pernicious and always useless."

Andre Baillon, Belgium

Paul Cazin, France
His works "the lost generation by transcending divisions of religion and secularism that characterized boyhood activities in France before the war."

Bruno Apitz, Germany

Jaroslav Hasek, Czech Republic
"Great times call for great men. There are unknown heroes who are modest, with none of the historical glamour of a Napoleon. If you analysed their character you would find that it eclipsed even the glory of Alexander the Great. Today you can meet in the streets of Prague a shabbily dressed man who is not even himself aware of his significance in the history of the great new era. He goes modestly on his way, without bothering anyone. Nor is he bothered by journalists asking for an interview. If you asked him his name he would answer you simply and unassumingly: 'I am Švejk….'"

Ignazio Silone, Italy
"Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority - literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social and even political."

Joseph Heller, USA
"The only wisdom I think I've attained is the wisdom to be skeptical of other people's ideology and other people's arguments. I tend to be a skeptic, I don't like dogmatic approaches by anybody."

Died this week:

Alan Sillitoe, UK
"Government wars aren't my wars; they've got nowt to do with me, because my own war's all that I'll ever be bothered about."

Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Norway
Henrik Ibsen on Bjornson: "The State has its root in time, and will ripe and rot in time."

Augusto Roa Bastos, Peru
"Let us be free, the rest matters not."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, USA
"Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know."

Gustav Freytag, Germany
"Not every age allows its sons to reap the results which remain great for all time, and . . . not every century is fitted to make the men who live in it distinguished and happy."

Nagai Kafu, Japan

Eldridge Cleaver, USA

"The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less."


Love, Life, and Pain: LitBash 18

"One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand. Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father's library had not contained the right books." Graham Greene.

Use this week as an opportunity to learn about life, love, and pain. Read books by authors who were born or died the following week.

Born this week:

Charlotte Bronte, UK
"Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life."

Anne de Stael-Holstein, France
"We cease loving ourselves if no one loves us."

William Shakespeare, UK
"Crabbed age and youth cannot live together:
Youth is full of pleasure, age is full of care"

Vladimir Nabokov, Russia
"What is this jest in majesty? This ass in passion? How do God and Devil combine to form a live dog?"

Halldor Laxness, Iceland
"while there's a breath left in my nostrils, it will never keep me down, no matter how hard it blows."

Maurice Druon, France
"Number is the Word but is not utterance; it is wave and light, though no one sees it; it is rhytm and music, though no one hears it. Its variations are limitless and yet it is immutable. Each for of life is a particular reverberation of Number."

Margit Sandemo, Norway

Anthony Trollope, UK
"No man thinks there is much ado about nothing when the ado is about himself."

Died this week:

Daphne du Maurier, UK
"All autobiography is self-indulgent."

James Ballard, UK

"I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring."

Bram Stoker, UK
"I am Dracula, and I bid you welcome"

Jean Baptiste Racine, France
"My only hope lies in my despair."

Mark Twain, USA
"Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest."

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain
"You are a king by your own fireside, as much as any monarch in his throne."

Pamela Lyndon Travers, UK
"A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns."

Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canada

Alejo Carpentier, Cuba
Travel, Music and Writing… my dream.


What's the bloody point in reading books?

What's the point in reading? "What good are novels, poetry, and other types of imaginative literature—except perhaps as escapes from our present miseries?" [...]

What literature offers us then are alternate visions of life. [...]

Literature can help us appreciate more the beauty and goodness that are there for the seeing, if only we train our eyes to see. [...]

At a time when the United States and the world generally seems as confused, intolerant, and without answers as ever, any steps forward out of our Babel-like existence toward more mutual understanding are to be welcomed.  Moreover, Matthew Arnold was correct, culture (in the sense of higher learning), especially literature, can be a “great help out of our present difficulties.”  It can help us see that the inane ads that constantly urge us to purchase more and pursue a false “American Dream,” as well as much of our mass-media culture that is driven by the profit motive, are dead ends.  Concern about culture is not a frivolous matter in our troubled world.  In an interview printed in 1977 Ralph Ellison, who did much to enlighten us on race relations, said, “While others worry about racial superiority, let us be concerned with the quality of culture.”  First-rate literature can stretch our minds and our sympathies and bring us closer to experiencing the beauty, goodness, and truth that humanity’s best minds have always sought.

If concern about culture is not something that propels us to read, we can always look at reading from a more pragmatic point of view, to find the "clear link between reading for pleasure and gaining a good job":

"The research, by Mark Taylor of Nuffield College, Oxford University, analysed the responses of 17,200 people born in 1970 who gave details of their extra-curricular activities at age 16, and their jobs at age 33.

The findings show that 16-year-olds who read a book at least once a month were "significantly" more likely to be in a professional or managerial position at the age of 33 than those who did not read.

For girls, there was a 39% probability that they would be in a professional or managerial position at 33 if they read at 16, compared to a 25% chance if they had not.

Amongst boys, there was a 58% chance of being in a good job at 33 if they had read as a teenager, compared to a 48% chance if they had not.

The research also looked at after-school activities including sports, socialising, going to the cinema, concerts or museums, cooking and sewing, but found that none of these had an impact on careers."


Never be alone again: LitBash 17


Feeling lonely? Pick up a book because: "Book lovers never go to bed alone." Here's a good opportunity, an entire week of celebrations...

Born this week:

Samuel Beckett, Ireland
"There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common."

Erich von Daniken, Switzerland
"Some people live so cautiously that they die practically brand-new - others use their brains exclusively for reading, never for thinking."

Henry James, USA
"It takes a great deal of history to produce a little literature."

Boris Strugatsky, Russia
"You can imagine anything at all... and real life is never what you imagine."

Anatole France, France
"Christianity has done a great deal for love by making it a sin."

Karen Blixen, Denmark
"Real art must always involve some witchcraft."

Thornton Wilder, USA
"Many who have spent a lifetime in it can tell us less of love than the child that lost a dog yesterday."

Died this week:

Erskine Caldwell, USA

Crebillon, France
"No gall has ever poisoned my pen."

Kurt Vonnegut, USA
"Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books ... why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with ... humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world."

Jean de la Fontaine, France
"People must help one another; it is nature's law."

Jean Genet, France
"Excluded by my birth and tastes from the social order, I was not aware of its diversity. I wondered at its perfect coherence, which rejected me."

Simone de Beauvoir, France
"Society cares about the individual only in so far as he is profitable. The young know this. Their anxiety as they enter in upon social life matches the anguish of the old as they are excluded from it."

Gaston Leroux, France

Robert Musil, Austria
"His appearance gives no clue to what his profession might be, and yet he doesn't look like a man without a profession either. Consider what he's like: He always knows what to do. He knows how to gaze into a woman's eyes. He can put his mind to any question at any time. He can box. He is gifted, strong-willed, open-minded, fearless, tenacious, dashing, circumspect — why quibble, suppose we grant him all those qualities — yet he has none of them! They have made him what he is, they have set his course for him, and yet they don't belong to him. When he is angry, something in him laughs. When he is sad, he is up to something. When something moves him, he turns against it. He'll always see a good side to every bad action. What he thinks of anything will always depend on some possible context — nothing is, to him, what it is: everything is subject to change, in flux, part of a whole, of an infinite number of wholes presumably adding up to a super-whole that, however, he knows nothing about. So every answer he gives is only a partial answer, every feeling an opinion, and he never cares what something is, only 'how' it is — some extraneous seasoning that somehow goes along with it, that's what interests him."

Jean-Paul Sartre, France
"I cannot make liberty my aim unless I make that of others equally my aim."

Yasunari Kawabata, Japan
"My own works have been described as works of emptiness, but it is not to be taken for the nihilism of the West. The spiritual foundation would seem to be quite different."

Roland Topor, Polish-French


How to meet new, and old friends: LitBash 16

Here comes a great opportunity to pick up a book: an entire week of daily celebration of fascinating writers and their work, a chance to pick up a book, to read, and re-read. Yes: re-read! And why not? As the Chinese proverb goes: To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one.

Some of the great writers who were...

Born this week:

Erich Muhsam, Germany
"I will probably have to bear the sin of betraying my ideals for the rest of my life."

Died this week:

Max Frisch, Switzerland
"I don’t care for politics in general. A writer’s place in a society and all that talk. The truth is that I write to express myself. I write for myself. Society, whatever it may be, is not my boss, I’m not a priest of a prof. The audience as a partner? I know more worthy partners. I do not publish because I feel the need to teach or preach, but because a writer, if he wants to discern his own self, needs some imaginary audience. I write only for myself."

Saul Bellow, USA
"There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book."

Isaac Asimov, USA
"[Creationists] make it sound as though a "theory" is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night."

Francois Rabelais, France
"I never follow the clock: hours were made for man, not man for hours."

Charles Dickens, UK
"The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none."

Evelyn Waugh, UK
"The human mind is inspired enough when it comes to inventing horrors; it is when it tries to invent a Heaven that it shows itself cloddish."