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Jan 2018

3rd January

[W]hat I wanted was something engrossing, something reliable, and for me, that means something I have read before.

When I re-read, I know what Iím getting. Itís like revisiting an old friend. An unread book holds wonderful unknown promise, but also threatens disappointment. A re-read is a known quantity.

Jo Walton, 'Why I Re-read', 15 July 2008, in What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Fantasy and SF (2014)

10th January

The woman who knows beyond a doubt that she is beautiful exists aplenty in male novelists' imaginations: I have yet to find her in women's books or women's memoirs or in life.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)

17th January

It is common to describe a dreadful restaurant meal as being like a car crash.... I have realised the comparison is entirely wrong - at least with a car crash the emergency services eventually come to deal with the pain and distress. With a terrible restaurant experience no one ever comes. You are left only with the bill and the aftertaste and an abiding sense that you did something really stupid by booking a table.

Jay Rayner, The 'Indian Jamie Oliver' leaves a shell-shocked Jay Rayner picking through the wreckage, The Guardian, 9 Aug 2009, reprinted in My Dining Hell: Twenty Ways To Have a Lousy Night Out

24th January

All women should, therefore, be prepared for discovering faults in men, as they are for beholding spots in the sun, or clouds in the summer sky.

[Sarah Stickney Ellis], The wives of England : their relative duties, domestic influence, & social obligations (1843)

31st January

The extraordinary, the thrilling, the transgressive provide automatic glamor, but it takes a brave author to try to describe lives that are so commonplace as not even to be extraordinarily unhappy. And happiness - not sexual satisfaction, not reward of ambition, not ecstasy, not bliss, just day-to-day happiness - has practically vanished from fiction. That may be because we distrust it, seeing it as sentimentality, confusing the real thing with the fake. Indeed, itís not easy to write about. To ring true, description of even the humblest kind of fulfillment and contentment must be written in awareness of human inadequacy and cruelty and the always imminent possibility of illness, ruin, death.

Ursula K Le Guin, 'Kent Haruf: Our Souls At Night' (2016), in Words are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer's Week (2016)

R.I.P. Ursula K Le Guin, 1929-2018.

Feb 2018

7th February

[W]hen the chips are down, the spirit is exhausted and the body hungry, the same old thing is a great consolation.

Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen (1988)

14th February

I am only certain that from first to last I have never had any ambition in the world beyond the deep instinct to attain self-expression, which instinct was accompanied by the conviction that thereby only could I fulfil the desire of my heart to help others. Fame, for one who is by temperament and taste a recluse, could be nothing but an embarrassing superfluity.

Havelock Ellis, My life (1940)

21st February

I wasnít really a baby. I was a bookworm. For the true bookworm, life doesnít really begin until you get hold of your first book. Until then - well, youíre just waiting, really. You donít even know for what, at that stage - if you did, you would be making more noise about it[.]

Lucy Mangan, My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read. Guardian Saturday Review, 17 Feb 2018

28th February

It is a salutory thing to look back at some of the reforms which have long been an accepted part of our life, and to examine the opposition, usually bitter and often bizarre, sometimes dishonest but all too often honest, which had to be countered by the restless advocates of 'grandmotherly' legislation.

E. S. Turner, Roads to Ruin: The Shocking History of Social Reform (1950)

Mar 2018

7th March

[T]his suggests to me that freedom of conscience is more profoundly inhibited by prejudice and taboo, internalized by us all, than it is by laws and institutions. We can see that it is easily manipulated by subrational means, suggestion, and repetition. And it can be inappropriately invested, making us confident when we would be better served by doubt.

Marilynne Robinson, 'What is Freedom of Conscience?' (5 May 2016), in What Are We Doing Here? Essays (2018)

14th March

Itís called fat shaming with good reason. By the second episode I had decided to pre-empt the abuse, by misquoting Churchill on Twitter: yes, I was fatter than I might like. But I could lose weight. My tormentors would always be unpleasant ill-mannered scumbags.

It was a good line but I doubt it will ever stop them. Mention issues around weight management and there will always be someone wanting to point out the existence of food banks. Well done them. Personally, I think being sanctimonious is much worse than being obese. At least the overweight only have to deal with the impact themselves, whereas the judgmental impose their views on others.

Jay Rayner, 'Yes, I have to watch my weight. But donít get me started on diets', Observer Food Monthly, Jan 2018

21st March

[B]lockbusters such as Passengers and Jurassic World could have benefited from more female input, if only to point out that women donít usually fall in love with creepy stalkers or go on safari in stiletto heels. Itís not that we need more kick-ass sci-fi heroines so much as a wider perspective on technological and ethical issues in the imagined future.

Anne Billson, 'The final frontier: how female directors broke into sci-fi ', The Guardian G2, 16 Mar 2018

28th March

Literary history is, I think, familiar with the Catch-22 by which women who were virtuous could not know enough about life to write well, while those who knew enough about life to write well could not be virtuous.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)

Apr 2018

4th April

[S]he advances towards the row of gleaming white wash-basins, but is there defeated by the turning on of the water to wash her hands. It's a simple-looking stream-lined but incomprehensible mechanism she's never seen before: does one twist something, depress something, or wave one's hands at a certain distance beneath the orifice? There's nothing as obvious as a tap, and she is about to give up hope when another older woman arrives by her side to share, momentarily, her bewilderment, and then to solve the problem by a deft turn of a discreet lower spigot.

Margaret Drabble, The Dark Flood Rises (2016)

11th April

Iím trying to get away from that old-fashioned female character as written by men for women, which is all about suffering, endurance and sacrifice. Why donít we find some other talents and separate ourselves from the boredom of always having to be defined or pinned down in that way?

Deborah Levy, Books interview, The Observer New Review, 8 April 2018

18th April

He loved her, certainly. But he loved her especially when she was as gay, as happy, as simple, as easy, as decorative as the flowers in his garden this morning through the open door.

Vita Sackville-West, Family History (1932)

[No quotation for 25th April]

May 2018

2nd May

[S]he reviewed her situation and found it completely satisfactory. She was better able than most women to put aside the gift of beauty: she desired neither husband nor lover, nor to be admired, nor to make other women envious. All she wanted was to be - unencumbered.

Margery Sharp, Martha, Eric, and George (1964)

9th May

The intensity of childhood reading, the instant and complete absorption in a book - a good book, a bad book, in any kind of book - is something I would give much to recapture.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (2018)

16th May

[W]e have known since God was a lad that a woman writing about relationships, parenthood and the domestic sphere was a lady novelist more likely to provide consolation than controversy, while her male counterpart was creating a searing portrait of the power dynamics of intimacy.

Alex Clark, Behind the literary lustre lie tales of power, secrecy and sexual abuse, The Guardian, 5 May 2018

[No quotations for 23rd and 30th May]

Jun 2018

[No quotations for 6th and 13th June]

20th June

["]You filled up one column with indefensible acts, and then you filled up a slightly longer column with selfless ones. You spent every day of the latter portion of your earthly existence helping, guiding, and teaching others. Itís a simple concept, Chef Luck, of checks and balances. I could show you a graph if it would help."

"Itís just . . . itís hard to believe

"Yes, I know. You no doubt had visions of sacrificing yourself to save another or the world or a busload of children. You all harbor those fantasies. There is no one big redemptive act, Chef Luck."

"There isnít?"

"No. Itís never about giving your life. Itís about living your life. And you lived enough of yours well enough to make the difference. Thatís all."

Matt Wallace, Taste of Wrath (2018)

27th June

I have a reliable rule of thumb when it comes to art made for women and largely by women: if men sneer at it, the problem isnít with the art but with the men. Nothing scares a certain type of man more than art that isnít for him.

Hadley Freeman, Sex And The City made me who I am, and I make no apology for that Guardian Weekend, 23 June 2018

Ju1 2018

4th July

You once said that books saved your life. How did they do that?
When I became ill, back living at my parentsí house, the only books I had were the childrenís books on my bedroom shelf, and I found myself reading Winnie-the-Pooh over and over again, just for the comfort of knowing the story. There was something so therapeutic about it. Iíd been quite snobby up to then about books, because I did a masterís in English literature and I was encouraged to believe it was all about style. We read all these postmodernist thinkers and plot was almost a dirty word. Then I found I wanted an actual story Ė I wanted beginning, middle, end Ė because thatís what was nourishing me and I lost that pretension almost overnight. I just wanted to go back to storytelling.

Lisa O' Kelly, Interview with Matt Haig ĎI kept thinking, canít my own mental health advice help me?í The Observer New Review, 1 July 2018

11th July

Stratton-Porter had the crucial ability of the popular novelist to make the reader want to know what happens next to people in whose existence he does not for one minute believe.

Janet Malcolm, 'Capitalist Pastorale' (2009), in Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers (2013)

18th July

We need to retrieve and depict the genealogy of actions, events or situations considered exceptional not in terms of personal heroics but inasmuch as they depart from existing norms and challenge the dominant consensus or common sense. Individual stories have to be placed within the trajectory of the events or situations they are caught up in without reducing their meaning to this generative context.

Phil Cohen, Archive That, Comrade!: Left Legacies and the Counter Culture of Remembrance (2018)

25th July

A long intimacy was over. It had been composed of trust and suffering and love. It had no flaw in it, as Harriet's relationship with her mother had flaws. At the moment, with middle-age upon them, which they had awaited together, she felt she could dispense with this friendship less than anything else in her life. Now she would have no-one to run to with her few jokes, her many enthusiasms, her allusions, her memories.

Elizabeth Taylor, A Game of Hide and Seek (1951)

Aug 2018

1st August

I have lived so many lives through books, gone to so many places, so many eras, looked through so many different eyes, considered so many different points of view. The fact that I havenít had time to do much myself seems but a small price to pay. I live my life quite as fully as I want, thank you. Books have not isolated me - they have connected me. What non-bookworms get by meeting actual people, we get from reading.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (2018)

8th August

I donít have much faith in those who say, 'Here is a truly new book.' What is truly new in literature is only our uniquely individual way of using the storehouse of the worldís literature. We are immersed in what has preceded us.

Elena Ferrante, I donít have much faith in those who say, ĎHere is a truly new bookí. The Guardian Weekend, 21 July 2018

15th August

The final test of a novel will be our affection for it, as it is the test of our friends, and of anything else which we cannot define.... The intensely, stiflingly human quality of the novel is not to be avoided; the novel is sogged with humanity; there is not escaping the uplift or the downpour, nor can they be kept out of criticism. We may hate humanity, but if it is exorcised or even purified the novel wilts, little is left but a bunch of words

EM Forster, Aspects of the Novel (1927)

22nd August

[W]e have made a very interesting experiment, full of implication, in putting aside traditional definitions and expectations and finding that when they are not supported culturally, which is to say artificially, they tend to fade away. We can learn from own history that the nature of our species, and our nature as individuals, is an open question.

Marilynne Robinson, 'The Human Spirit and the Good Society' in When I was A Child I Read Books (2012)

29th August

The pursuit of the martyr's crown is not favourable to the critical and dispassionate investigation of complicated problems. A student of nature, of men, of books, may dispense with wealth or position; he cannot dispense with quietness and serenity. I insist on doing my own work in my own way, and cannot accept conditions which make this virtually impossible.

Havelock Ellis, A Note on the Bedborough Trial (1898)

Sep 2018

5th September

I wanted more than anything to be something I will never be - feminine, and feminine in the worst way. Submissive, Dependent. Soft-spoken. Coquettish. I was no good at all at any of it, no good at being a girl; on the other hand, I am not half bad at being a woman.

Nora Ephron, 'Jan Morris: Conundrum' (1974) in The Most of Nora Ephron (2014)

12th September

Good conversation is not a matter of mutuality of interests or class concerns of commonly held ideals, it's a matter of temperament: the thing that makes someone respond instinctively with an appreciative 'I know just what you mean,' rather than the argumentative 'Whaddya mean by that?' In the absence of shared temperament, conversation almost never loses its free, unguarded flow; in its absence, one is always walking on eggshells.

Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (2015)

19th September

[W]hen a good book came out on the menopause... I couldn't decide whether I wanted all wives to prop it up in front of their husbands' breakfast cornflakes or whether we should keep it all strictly to ourselves.

For such female rhythms as men have heard of, it sometimes seems, are usually turned into an excuse for not taking them seriously.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Getting On', View from a Column (1981)

26th September

The phrase 'guilty pleasure' is one Iím loath to use, seeing as today it usually refers to 'liking Abba' or 'reading Marian Keyes' or something that feels so pure and joyful the user suspects they must be doing it wrong or else requires penance for such sweet jollity.

Eva Wiseman, Mumsnet forums are a guilty pleasure, but there are truths, too Observer Magazine, 23 September 2018

Oct 2018

3rd October

Candida was the sort of person who wanted her enemies alive and kicking. She wanted to watch the expressions on their faces when she got her revenge.

Jane Haddam, Bleeding Hearts (1994)

10th October

[T]o go through life a mystery, not only to everyone you know but even to yourself, that's enough to make anyone a Problem.

Probably because of being Problems, women are treated in a very special way. On the one hand we are set up on pedestals and on the other we are put in the position of servants. One days we are protected from the big rough world by men being forbidden to swear before us. The next we are cursed at for not keeping the house clean.

Elizabeth Hawes, Why Women Cry: Or Wenches with Wrenches (1943)

17th October

Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?

Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One's Own (1928)

24th October

No matter how mad, bad, and dangerous to know a civilization gets, unto every generation are born the lonely and the uncool, destined to forever stare into the candy-store window of their culture, and loneliness is the mother of ascension. Only the uncool have the requisite alone time to advance their species.

Catherynne Valente, Space Opera (2018)

31st October

[T]hey must write down what they hope their respective spouses will do to make the marriage work.

The fascinating thing, it seems, is that while the women meticulously write down specific things like 'take out the garbage', not stay late drinking after work', 'tell me his salary', the men simply write out a set of romantic abstractions: 'she will be loyal, faithful, patient, feminine'. This enrages women, and leaves them confused, too: 'What the hell does he mean, "loyal"?'.

Katharine Whitehorn, 'Honourable Intentions', View from a Column (1981)

Nov 2018

7th November

Well, I care that there's a war in Indo-China, and I demonstrate against it; and I care that there's a women's liberation movement, and I demonstrate for it. But I also go to the movies incessantly, and have my hair done once a week, and cook dinner every night, and spend hours in front of the mirror trying to make my eyes look symmetrical, and I care about those things, too. Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events.

Nora Ephron, Introduction to Wallflower at the Orgy, May 1970, reprinted in The Most of Nora Ephron (2014)

14th November

Owen: [T]heyíre not exactly happily married, are they?

Jill: Yes, but they are, my dear! Thatís whatís so devastating. At least, Freddie is quite happily married, though Iíll admit Iím not sure that Caroline is.

EM Delafield. To See Ourselves: A Domestic Comedy in Three Acts (1930)

21st November

[I]n short the women confined to the homes of respectable clergymen knew not less than their brothers and fathers but other and that if the women did not know what the men knew, it is just as true to say that the men did not know what the women knew--and what the men did not know included what the women were.

Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983)

28th November

I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I'd make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly. To do any or all of those things well would have been to engage heedlessly with life--love it more than I loved my fears--and this I could not do.

Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (2015)

Dec 2018

5th December

[I]n each generation, the image of girlhood has been hotly contested, with the 'modern girl' represented at times as a major beneficiary of social change, at other times as symbol, symptom and even the prime agent of social disruption.

Carol Dyhouse, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (2013)

12th December

[T]hey were the ones that revealed to me the bookwormís prime directive: any book is better than no book. Always. You donít necessarily have to enjoy the book - though obviously thatís the ideal, and most books ARE enjoyable - as long as the space inside you that can only be filled by reading is receiving the steady stream of words for which it constantly hungers.

Lucy Mangan, Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading (2018)

19th December

A book can perform a valuable function at a given moment without necessarily being good or original, or even clear.

Lorna Finlayson, review of Germaine: The Life of Germaine Greer by Elizabeth Kleinhenz, The Guardian Saturday Review, 15 December 2018

26th December

To me, the essence of good comedy writing is that perfectly ordinary phrases such as "Just fancy!" should, by virtue of their context, achieve greater laughs than the most literate epigrams.

Noel Coward, letter to Joyce Carey ('Doycie'), ?Nov 1964, in The Letters of Noel Coward edited by Barry Day (2007)


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History of Sexuality Women's History Stella Browne Archival matters Books
Interwar Progressives Science Fiction and Fantasy Random Links of Interest
Victoriana Quirky Stuff