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Categories: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Hester Lipp had written Where the Sidewalk Starts, an inexplicably acclaimed book of memoir, recounting - in severe language and strange, striking imagery - Lipp's childhood and adolescence on a leafy suburban street in Burlington. Her house was large and well-kept, her schooling uneventful, her family - the members of which she described in scrupulous detail - uniformly decent and supportive. Sidewalk was blurbed as a devastatingly honest account of what it meant to grow up middle class in America. Amy, who forced herself to read the whole thing, thought the book devastatingly unnecessary. The New York Times had assigned it to her for a review, and she stomped on it with both feet. Amy's review of Sidewalk was the only mean-spirited review she ever wrote. She had allowed herself to do this, not because she was tired of memoirs, baffled by their popularity, resentful that somehow, in the past twenty years, fiction had taken a backseat to them, so that in order to sell clever, thoroughly imagined novels, writers had been browbeaten by their agents into marketing them as fact. All this annoyed her, but then Amy was annoyed by just about everything. She beat up on Hester Lipp because the woman could write up a storm and yet squandered her powers on the minutiae of a beige conflict-free life. In her review, Amy had begun by praising what there was to praise about Hester's sharp sentences and word-painting talents and then slipped, in three paragraphs, into a full-scale rant about the tyranny of fact and the great advantages, to both writer and reader, of making things up. She ended by saying that reading Where the Sidewalk Starts was like "being frog-marched through your own backyard.

Jincy Willett
Marginalia Sometimes the notes are ferocious, skirmishes against the author raging along the borders of every page in tiny black script. If I could just get my hands on you, Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien, they seem to say, I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head. Other comments are more offhand, dismissive - Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" - that kind of thing. I remember once looking up from my reading, my thumb as a bookmark, trying to imagine what the person must look like who wrote "Don't be a ninny" alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson. Students are more modest needing to leave only their splayed footprints along the shore of the page. One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's. Another notes the presence of "Irony" fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal. Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers, Hands cupped around their mouths. Absolutely, " they shout to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin. Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!" Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points rain down along the sidelines. And if you have managed to graduate from college without ever having written "Man vs. Nature" in a margin, perhaps now is the time to take one step forward. We have all seized the white perimeter as our own and reached for a pen if only to show we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages; we pressed a thought into the wayside, planted an impression along the verge. Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria jotted along the borders of the Gospels brief asides about the pains of copying, a bird singing near their window, or the sunlight that illuminated their page- anonymous men catching a ride into the future on a vessel more lasting than themselves. And you have not read Joshua Reynolds, they say, until you have read him enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling. Yet the one I think of most often, the one that dangles from me like a locket, was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye I borrowed from the local library one slow, hot summer. I was just beginning high school then, reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room, and I cannot tell you how vastly my loneliness was deepened, how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed, when I found on one page A few greasy looking smears and next to them, written in soft pencil- by a beautiful girl, I could tell, whom I would never meet- Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.

Billy Collins
It's useful to make the distinction between reports and stories. A report is above all responsible for providing the facts, without manipulation or interpretation. Stories, on the other hand, are a way that people try to make sense of their lives and their experiences in the world. The test of a good story isn't its responsibility to the facts as much as its ability to provide a satisfying explanation of events. In a few paragraphs, the reader learns of the problem (sales and profits are down), gets a plausible explanation (the company lost its direction), and learns a lesson (don't stray, focus on the core). There's a neat end with a clean resolution. No threads are left hanging. Readers go away satisfied. Now, there's nothing wrong with stories, provided we understand that's what we have before us. More insidious, however, are stories that are dressed up to look like science. They take the form of science and claim to have the authority of science, but they miss the real rigor and logic of science. They're better described as pseudoscience. Richard Feynman had an even more memorable phrase: Cargo Cult Science. Here's the way Feynman described it: In the South Seas there is a cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas - he's the controller - and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land. That's not to say that Cargo Cult Science doesn't have some benefits. The folks who wait patiently by the landing strips on their tropical island, dressed up like flight controllers and wearing a pair of coconut headsets, may derive some contentment from the whole process - they may live in hope of a better future, they may enjoy having something to believe in, and they may feel closer to supernatural powers. But it's just that - it's a story. It's not a good predictor of what will happen next. The business world is full of Cargo Cult Science, books and articles that claim to be rigorous scientific research but operate mainly at the level of storytelling.

Phil Rosenzweig
The news that she had gone of course now spread rapidly, and by lunch time Riseholme had made up its mind what to do, and that was hermetically to close its lips for ever on the subject of Lucia. You might think what you pleased, for it was a free country, but silence was best. But this counsel of perfection was not easy to practice next day when the evening paper came. There, for all the world to read were two quite long paragraphs, in "Five o'clock Chit-Chat, " over the renowned signature of Hermione, entirely about Lucia and 25 Brompton Square, and there for all the world to see was the reproduction of one of her most elegant photographs, in which she gazed dreamily outwards and a little upwards, with her fingers still pressed on the last chord of (probably) the Moonlight Sonata... She had come up, so Hermione told countless readers, from her Elizabethan country seat at Riseholme (where she was a neighbour of Miss Olga Bracely) and was settling for the season in the beautiful little house in Brompton Square, which was the freehold property of her husband, and had just come to him on the death of his aunt. It was a veritable treasure house of exquisite furniture, with a charming music-room where Lucia had given Hermione a cup of tea from her marvellous Worcester tea service... (At this point Daisy, whose hands were trembling with passion, exclaimed in a loud and injured voice, "The very day she arrived!") Mrs. Lucas (one of the Warwickshire Smythes by birth) was, as all the world knew, a most accomplished musician and Shakespearean scholar, and had made Riseholme a centre of culture and art. But nobody would suspect the blue stocking in the brilliant, beautiful and witty hostess whose presence would lend an added gaiety to the London season. Daisy was beginning to feel physically unwell. She hurried over the few remaining lines, and then ejaculating "Witty! Beautiful!" sent de Vere across to Georgie's with the paper, bidding him to return it, as she hadn't finished with it. But she thought he ought to know... Georgie read it through, and with admirable self restraint, sent Foljambe back with it and a message of thanks-nothing more-to Mrs. Quantock for the loan of it. Daisy, by this time feeling better, memorised the whole of it. Life under the new conditions was not easy, for a mere glance at the paper might send any true Riseholmite into a paroxysm of chattering rage or a deep disgusted melancholy. The Times again recorded the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Philip Lucas had arrived at 25 Brompton Square, there was another terrible paragraph headed 'Dinner, ' stating that Mrs. Sandeman entertained the following to dinner. There was an Ambassador, a Marquis, a Countess (dowager), two Viscounts with wives, a Baronet, a quantity of Honourables and Knights, and Mr. and Mrs. Philip Lucas. Every single person except Mr. and Mrs. Philip Lucas had a title. The list was too much for Mrs. Boucher, who, reading it at breakfast, suddenly exclaimed: "I didn't think it of them. And it's a poor consolation to know that they must have gone in last." Then she hermetically sealed her lips again on this painful subject, and when she had finished her breakfast (her appetite had quite gone) she looked up every member of that degrading party in Colonel Boucher's "Who's Who.

E.F. Benson
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