Underlined Passages — Favourite Words from my Bookcase

I write in my books. It’s a habit I picked up as an undergraduate studying English Literature. After four years of marking meaningful passages to refer back to, I found I just couldn’t stop. In fact, I didn’t want to. Although many people find the idea of writing in books taboo, underlining and bracketing allows me to quickly thumb through a book and find the bits that meant the most to me while reading it. Below I’ve included a selection of favourite marked passages from the books on my shelves. Hopefully they’ll make you feel, as I did, the need to reach for a pencil.

Blue Nights

by Joan Didion


“In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”



“As adults we lose memory of the gravity and terrors of childhood.”



“Aging and its evidence remain life’s most predictable events, yet they also remain matters we prefer to leave unmentioned, unexplored…”


Cloud Atlas

by David Mitchell

cloudatlas1“Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led.”



“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”


The Fault in Our Stars

by John Green

faultinourstars1An Imperial Affliction was my book, in the way my body was my body and my thoughts were my thoughts.”


faultinourstars3“I liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it.”


faultinourstars4“You’re arguing that the fragile, rare thing is beautiful simply because it is fragile and rare. But that’s a lie, and you know it.”


The Forrests

by Emily Perkins

forrests1“…because their own lives were full too of the one foot in front of the other, the confusion about how best to proceed.”


forrests2“The blinding joy of it, even when dread trickled down like an egg cracked over her scalp that first time she realised the flashing lights and the siren of the cop car were actually directed at her.”

forrests3“Either integration or a burn-off. You made a decision and everything followed from that, and the older you got the more impossible it was to see through the Vaseline lens of time back into the past, your alternative lives, the ones you never now would lead.” (This one makes me think of the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost)



by Jonathan Franzen

freedom1“He seemed so certain of her goodness that eventually he wore her down.”


freedom2“There’s a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else’s work in the morning; it’s as if stillness experiences pain in being broken.”


freedom3“The house was small and he was big in it.”


Mortal Fire

by Elizabeth Knox


“…once you’ve been crazy the possibility of slippage feels like the only real certainty.”



“He writes things like ‘Humans are animals made of memories.’ Fine sounding, soap-bubble thoughts.”



“The geologist, six years ago now, hadn’t defied anything to climb the hill. He’d had his own powerful magic–the ordinary magic that extraordinarily interested people always have.”


Sea Hearts

by Margo Lanagan


“No one else seemed to notice how high or heightened everything had gone, how the essence of things rushed and flapped in my heart.”


seahearts1“Seals do not sit about and tell, the way people do, and their lives are not eventful in the way that people’s are, lines of story combed out again and again, in the hope that they will yield more sense with every stroke.”


seahearts“How piddling I was, in the general immensity! And how lovely it was to be tiny and alone, to have quickened to living for a moment here, to be destined soon to blink out and let time wash away all mark and remembrance of me.”


seahearts2“…and me, under my cloud, with my heart inside me like the husk of something.”


Super Sad True Love Story

by Gary Shteyngart

supersad1“‘You’re my sacred ones,’ I told the books. ‘No one but me still cares about you. But I’m going to keep you with me forever. And one day I’ll make you important again.'”


supersad2“Like the immutability of God or the survival of the soul, I knew they would prove a mirage, but still I grasped for belief. Because I believed in her.”


supersad3“…he thought of himself as just an empty spot cruising through a ridiculous world.”

Liz Gillett


2 thoughts on “Underlined Passages — Favourite Words from my Bookcase

  1. Wendy says:

    You mean there are some people who don’t underline passages in books? 😉
    Great idea for blog post. I actually haven’t read any of these books. If I read a book and there is even one line or one thought that stays with me, then it was worth my time.


  2. RStorey says:

    I was raised under the strict tutelage that books are sacred and should be treated as such, to the extent of trying not to crack the spine. But there were so many times I wanted to fold a page, jot a note, highlight a line. And now I am an adult and I have a tablet!


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