Words, Sentences, Paragraphs

ImageOne Friday a few weeks ago…

Daughter: Daddy, what’s your favorite line from a book?

Me: Are you kidding?!

I wait for her to say… Yes, I’m kidding!

But she doesn’t.

Me: Well, there are plenty of great lines I’ve highlighted, put brackets around, marked with an asterisk in many, many books.

Daughter: Can you give me your favorite line by the end of the weekend?

Me: You really want me to tell you just one line? That’s hardly a fair request.

Daughter: OK, five lines.

Me: Just any five lines from books that I’ve read?

Daughter: Yeah. Five lines.

Me: By the end of this weekend?!

Daughter: I’ll give you two weeks.

Me: (inaudible, grateful sigh) Thanks.

A week later I got around to scouring the shelves and pulling down books. I didn’t know exactly which lines or sentences (some turned out to be whole passages) I was looking for, but I knew that when my eyes caught the title of a certain book and I grabbed it, there would be something inside I would be looking for; there would be a reason I had taken it off the shelf. Criteria? I couldn’t say. Maybe I had read something that was life altering for me way back when. More than likely, I had probably marked or underlined something because I liked the way the words were put together, their cadence, the image in my mind they made. Maybe I just really loved the writing I was reading at the time.

Days went by, and I was up in the books again, digging for this title or that title or some book I had remembered in the middle of the night. Thousands of pages on the shelves, and I was being asked to find five lines. This was crazy. My deadline loomed.

The stack of books I pulled down grew and grew. I kept flipping through pages, finding those few words, a paragraph, that sentence or two or three that I loved years ago, or maybe even last week.

I’m happy my daughter asked me to do this. This little exercise (not little at all!) was insightful and eye opening and made me want to reread some of the books. And, since I’ve dated the beginning and ending (when and where I was when I started and finished) of most all my books, it proved to be a fun trip back in time, a reminder of where I was, what was going on in my life, and why I chose to mark that particular line. 

I hope my daughter’s OK with it, but I went over the five-line limit. I had no choice. Too many options. 

Here’s what I gave her:

A refreshing wind rushed in to ruffle his short hair and cool his brains, and he began to see the fiasco of the Laurel Players in its true perspective. It simply wasn’t worth feeling bad about. Intelligent, thinking people could take things like this in their stride, just as they took the larger absurdities of deadly dull jobs in the city and deadly dull homes in the suburbs. Economic circumstance might force you to live in this environment, but the important thing was to keep from being contaminated. The important thing, always, was to remember who you were.

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates


It depressed him to consider how much energy he had wasted, over the years, in the self-denying posture of apology. From now on, whatever else his life might hold, there would be no more apologies.

 – Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates


“Where are you keeping the Healey?” he says.

“Little problem there. A friend of mine totaled it.”

“You let some guy wreck your car?”

“Actually, I told him just to put a few dents in it but he got carried away.”

Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney


The first time I saw Brenda she asked me to hold her glasses. Then she stepped out to the edge of the diving board and looked foggily into the pool; it could have been drained, myopic Brenda would never have known it. She dove beautifully, and a moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-clipped auburn hair held up, straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem. She glided to the edge and then was beside me. “Thank you,” she said, her eyes watery but not from the water. She extended a hand for her glasses but did not put them on until she turned and headed away. I watched her move off. Her hand suddenly appeared behind her. She caught the bottom of her suit between thumb and index finger and flicked what flesh had been showing back where it belonged. My blood jumped.

Goodbye, Columbus, Philip Roth


Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez


I was the goddam manager of the fencing team. Very big deal. We’d gone in to New York that morning for this fencing meet with McBurney School. Only, we didn’t have the meet. I left all the foils and equipment and stuff on the goddam subway.

 – Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger


You take a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac – with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.

For Esmé with Love and Squalor, J.D. Salinger


“We want two Anis del Toro.”

“With water?”

“Do you want it with water?”

“I don’t know,” the girl said. “Is it good with water?”

“It’s all right.”

“You want them with water?” asked the woman.

“Yes, with water.”

“It tastes like licorice,” the girl said and put the glass down.

“That’s the way with everything.”

Hills Like White Elephants, Ernest Hemingway


Zelda had a very bad hangover.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway


You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintry light. But you knew there would always be the spring as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway


Far to the south, in the black, ice-choked waters of the Narrows, a sparkling light marked the ferry on its way to Manhattan, where only market men were up, waiting for the fishing boats to glide down through Hell Gate and the night.

Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin


Peter Lake looked at a book in one of the glass cases. A printed card next to it read “Gutenberg Bible.” Worthless, thought Peter Lake, since it could not have been very old, having come from Gutenberg, a town in New Jersey just south of North Bergen and north of West New York. Someone there was printing up tremendous unreadable Bibles.

Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin


It is difficult to be Emigila, walking by the gorge alone. But none of these things is difficult, you see, as trying to draw air through the rock.”

The train dashed into a tunnel. In the darkness, Giuliano Debernardi struggled in panic to loosen his collar. He felt that there was no air. He could not breathe.

The priest was laughing. For there was, of course, no Emiglia, and his timing had been just right.

La Volpaia, Mark Helprin


“Sherman! Be it known to the stars and moon above, that Sherman Oscovitz is in love. And it was for her, the darling lass, that Cupid’s arrow struck your ass! So, go with her to the South Pacific, where the girls are naked, and the sex terrific!”

 – Memoir From Antproof Case, Mark Helprin


Great riches are like a tiger – beautiful, captivating, and, once you find them, they eat you.

Memoir From Antproof Case, Mark Helprin


I have recounted it for the reason that a singer sings a song or a storyteller tells a story: once you have come to a place from which you cannon return, something there is that makes you look out and back, that makes you marvel at the strength of the smallest accidents to forge a life of sweetness, ferocity, and surprise. For the first songs are the gentlest and the most beautiful, they last forever, and they are the test of faith.

Memoir From Antproof Case, Mark Helprin


Though the world is constructed to serve glory, success, and strength, one loves one’s parents and one’s children despite their failings and weaknesses — sometimes even more on account of them.

Memoir From Antproof Case, Mark Helprin


In fact many of the shelves up here are half empty.

Although doubtless when I say they are half empty, I should really be saying they are half filled, since presumably they were totally empty before somebody half filled them.

Then again it is not impossible that they were once filled completely, becoming half empty only when somebody removed half of the books to the basement.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson


“Well, it was extreme of him. But his life was real colorful. I have one thing against him though: he had no sense of humor. You should never kill somebody if it isn’t funny.”

Ninety-Two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane


You try to date your life around the things that happen to you that you can’t understand.

Ninety-Two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane


Moorhen shot to the freezer and groped frantically within. He withdrew a frozen kingfish of perhaps twelve pounds. A member of the mackerel family, and therefore long and pointed, a frozen kingfish makes a formidable weapon. Myron raised the frosted blue shape over his shoulder in the “ready” stance Ted Williams has long advocated for batters.

Ninety-Two in the Shade, Thomas McGuane


I gazed at Roxy. She looked like a circus performer who had been shot from the cannon one too many times.

Panama, Thomas McGuane


For in Dean’s life, if there were such a thing, she would come wherever he asked, no matter how far. She would not hesitate. She would arrive to meet him, I know exactly what she would do, how generous she would be, how natural. And how sweet their first exchanges in the language that she taught him.

A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter


He drives off slowly, moving through flats of sunlight that lie along the way.

 A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter


When we finally come out the sky is still dark, but its authority is gone.

A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter


Rome was a southern city, a capital laid out on the iron axes of money and wealth, the banks were like mortuaries.

–  Light Years, James Salter


He could see across from him, as if it were already accomplished, the woman he had married, with whom he was destined to sit at table for all the remaining years of his life.

Light Years, James Salter


“There’s a time in life when everything becomes ex – ex-athlete, ex-president, expatriate, x-ray.”

Light Years, James Salter


He was drinking. He smiled when he drank; it didn’t affect him. It made him another man, a man who could not be offended, who swam in the warmth of life.

Light Years, James Salter


“A bad shirt is like the story of a pretty girl who is single and one day she finds herself pregnant. It’s not the end of life, but it’s serious.”

Light Years, James Salter


The day is white as paper. The windows are chilled. The quarries lie empty, the silver mine drowned. The Hudson is vast here, vast and unmoving. A dark country, a country of sturgeon and carp. In the fall it was silver with shad. The geese flew overhead in their long, shifting V’s. The tide flows in from the sea.

Light Years, James Salter


This is nothing. Just wait, you’ll be a lot hotter when you get to Comala. That town’s the hottest place in the world. They say that when somebody dies in Comala, after he arrives in Hell he goes back to get his blanket.

Pedro Páramo, Juan Rulfo


“Come, dear,” he said to Zelda, who was still standing. “Let’s have a drink with all these marvelously affected people. There’s caviar. What the blazes would we do without caviar?”

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain


A writer owes nothing except to his writing. He owes nothing to the reader except the availability of the printed page.

The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors have Taken Over the Ship, Charles Bukowski


“What now?” I asked. Sally looked disgusted. I left my motor running and got out to look. Godwin had his arms wrapped around the front bumper and his feet braced against the car in front of me. He looked grimly determined.

“You shan’t take her,” he said. “I shall hang on till death. You’ll have to crush me.”

All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, Larry McMurtry


The Hortons were beautifully reticent. They left their questions in the same place I left my explanations.

All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, Larry McMurtry


So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf


You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don’t understand.

The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald


The beginning, the origin, All the rest is masquerade. There, in our origin, Mexico still exists, is what is, is never what it can be but what it is. And what Mexico is, is fixed forever, incapable of evolution. Mother stone cannot be shifted. Any sort of slime may grow on that stone. But the stone doesn’t change, it is the same forever.

Where the Air is Clear, Carlos Fuentes


Then the bus was climbing between the high walls and wide lawns of the Lomas and Rosa made her way to employers, Don Federico Robles and Senora Norma, to wash dishes and make beds and wait for next Sunday, when she would go back to Balbuena and see if her son had died.

Where the Air is Clear, Carlos Fuentes


I had one frightening glimpse of my Armageddon, vivid as a lightening flash, and then, waiting, on the mound, the cold sweat standing out in beads that formed as soon as I brushed a finger through them, I tried to persuade myself that you don’t collapse out on the pitcher’s mound in front of 20,000 people. It isn’t done and therefore it couldn’t happen.

Out of My League, George Plimpton


I had to learn, as I soon did, that one must give up everything and not do anything else but write, that one must write and write and write, even if everybody in the world advises you against it, even if nobody believes in you. Perhaps one does it just because nobody believes; perhaps the real secret lies in making people believe.

Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller


This list could go on and on and even now as I’m ending it, I’m remembering others. Maybe there will be another list…


Thanks for reading,





10 Responses to “Words, Sentences, Paragraphs”

  1. Tim Hoch Says:

    A great list. I will go back to it again later and try to decipher why you chose the ones you chose. Thanks for putting this together. Hope to see you soon!

  2. Sybil Says:

    Your blog and list have inspired me to look at some of my books…First on the list: Illusions by Richard Bach.

  3. DSP Says:

    Perhaps your next list for your daughter could include more female writers?

  4. Linda Jefferson Hopson Says:

    My eyes had gotten so bad I couldn’t read printed books anymore and it was killing me. But, now that I have my Kindle, I need to read some and re-read others from your list.

  5. J. Pat Harris Says:

    “It’s pretty good,” I said. “They let the bulls out of the cages one at a time, and they have the steers in the corral to receive them and keep them from fighting, and the bulls tear in at the steers and the steers run around like old maids trying to quite them down.”

    “Do they ever gore the steers?”

    “Sure. Sometimes they go right after them and kill them.”

    “Can’t the steers do anything?”

    “No. They’re trying to make friends.”

    “What do they have them in for?”

    “To quite down the bulls and to keep them from breaking their horns against the stone walls, or goring each other.”

    “Must be swell being a steer.”

    The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway

  6. Becky Says:

    Quite the list, George. I love lists like these…makes me want to read all of these books. Hope you’re doing well.

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