Memorable Quotes: Looking for Alaska

John Green’s Looking for Alaska centers on the experiences of Miles Halter, an ordinary, unadventurous teen who is looking for his “Great Perhaps” at an Alabama boarding school. While there, Miles meets, and immediately becomes enamored of, a girl named Alaska Young, who is as exciting and reckless as he is not. Miles hopes to win Alaska’s heart, or at least her full attention—but this is something no one has quite been able to do. The structure of the book is divided into before and after sections, so it is clear that something will happen to drastically alter their relationship. While the plot of the novel is interesting in and of itself, it is further enhanced by thoughtful writing that elevates each scene to a philosophical meditation. Below, I have included some of the quotes I highlighted when I read the book on my Kindle:

  • Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.
  • Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war.
  • For she had embodied the Great Perhaps—she had proved to me that it was worth it to leave behind my minor life for grander maybes, and now she was gone and with her my faith in perhaps.
  • We had to forgive to survive in the labyrinth.
  • We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.

Memorable Quotes: The Moon and Sixpence

When I write reviews of the books I read, I always try to keep two goals in mind. My first goal, since this is a small blog without many readers, is to create a record of what I thought the book was about, along with my own personal reactions to it. I want to feel personally satisfied with the review because I am not seeking a lot of outside feedback. Of course, since this is still a public blog, and since I do have some readers—and because I believe it is important to develop some facility in describing plot points and relaying critical views to others—I also want to keep any potential readers in mind. My second goal, therefore, is to make the book knowable to people who have never read it so that they might have some idea of whether they would ever like to read it. I want to offer a review that can be appreciated by people who do not know me, or who have never read my blog before: that is, I want to write reviews that can stand alone, without any explanation of how I read books and what the purpose of my blog is.

Although I try to vary my approach in minor ways, most of my reviews adhere to a certain format in which I compose a synopsis of what I thought were important plot points and then offer some judgments on the book as a whole. If I have remembered beforehand, I will include a quotation or two that I think exemplifies the story. Most of the time, though, the writing I offer is solely mine. This is effective to a point, but it fails to give a complete picture. It frequently privileges plot over style; the author’s voice remains a mystery. While ideally I would rectify this problem by including more quotations for every review I write, I must be realistic and admit that I find the prospect too tedious and time-consuming. It’s a lot of work to find exactly the right quote! Thus, my somewhat lazy solution is just to create a post listing a number of quotes that I found particularly interesting. Especially since I have been more in a reading mood than a writing one, I have decided to write “Memorable Quotes” entries for those books I never got around to reviewing.

The first book I am going to cover is The Moon and Sixpence, a short, impressive W. Somerset Maugham novel loosely based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin. As with all Maugham novels, the language is lovely and the insights profound; additionally, all of the characters are unsympathetic, and many of their actions despicable. Perhaps one of the reasons I never reviewed the book is because the subject of the story, Charles Strickland, is so unlikeable. He leaves his wife and children to begin life as an artist (never thinking of them again), and disdains everyone, even those who make sacrifices to keep him healthy and alive, because he is so singularly focused on his pursuit of art and beauty. It is only Maugham’s superb writing that makes this story worth reading, which is why a plot summary would be ineffective and a poor representation of the reading experience. Thus here are some memorable quotations to give a better idea of the virtues of The Moon and Sixpence.

  • “Life isn’t long enough for love and art.” —Charles Strickland
  • There was in him something primitive. He seemed to partake of those obscure forces of nature which the Greeks personified in shapes part human and part beast, the satyr and the faun. I thought of Marsyas, whom the god flayed because he had dared to rival him in song. Strickland seemed to bear in his heart strange harmonies and unadventured patterns, and I foresaw for him an end of torture and despair. I had again the feeling that he was possessed of a devil; but you could not say that it was a devil of evil, for it was a primitive force that existed before good and ill.
  • Love is absorbing; it takes the lover out of himself; the most clear-sighted, though he may know, cannot realise that his love will cease; it gives body to what he knows is illusion, and, knowing it is nothing else, he loves it better than reality. It makes a man a little more than himself, and at the same time a little less. He ceases to be himself. He is no longer an individual, but a thing, an instrument to some purpose foreign to his ego.
  • Unconsciously, perhaps, we treasure the power we have over people by their regard for our opinion of them, and we hate those upon whom we have no such influence. I suppose it is the bitterest wound to human pride.
  • To the acute observer no one can produce the most casual work without disclosing the innermost secrets of his soul.
  • Strickland was an odious man, but I still think he was a great one.
  • I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage. They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
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