Literary Blind Taste Test

Is it literature? Is it trash? Did I make it up? (No, to the last). I became sort of obsessed with this idea that all writers simply write, and that a favorite line can turn up just about anywhere. So I decided to make a little game, opening many of my favorite books to random pages and plucking lines here and there. Here is the result. 80 authors, some with multiple entries. Nobel Prize winners, Pen/Faulkner Winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Rita winners, winners of my affection. Romance writers, communists, poets, journalists, anarchists. British, American, French. I love them all! Quotes are listed alphabetically by first letter; authors are listed alphabetically by first name. (One list bears no relation to the other). I will post the quotes-with-authors list next week. Oh, and there are some *very* naughty words…so you’ve been warned…or steered. Enjoy!

QUOTES

After nearly a decade of marriage you expect something to wear out, to blow a fuse. In this case he saw himself sitting beside the breathing slender figure of Pia like someone in an old engraving—a beastly old Rembrandt exhaling perfervid gloom of Protestantism and a diet of turnips.
* * *
Also, he had the walk of a shy young priest, sidling along walls and slipping mouselike into doorways, and he exuded a faint odor of smoke and basement rooms; in short he had all the attributes of insignificance.
* * *
A moment later they were both plunging down into the water. Rather than feeling mortally cold, she loved the thrill of the drop, the way the water shocked her, as if she had been sleeping until the instant she hit the water.
* * *
And at this point a painful alternative faces me. I have to choose between truth and inclination.
* * *
As I said before, the basic circumstances themselves are so commonplace that they can be dealt with in a very few words. About twenty years ago, while he was still in college at any rate, he became involved with a young girl, and the involvement produced a child. This sort of thing happens, and it is sorted out one way or another, as any clergyman can tell you.
* * *
Both father and daughter seemed to expect that something should be struck out by one or the other to remove their embarrassments and reduce their expenditure, without involving the loss of any indulgence of taste or pride.
* * *
Even fooling around in high school, she had never misplaced her underwear. The lack of them made her feel sordid and cheap.
* * *
Everything seemed gray and gloomy the next day to Molly. Her mood, her morning porridge, the sky, each cup of tea she poured for the ladies during the dramatic reading practice, the limp cards she held during the incessant games of whist she played.
* * *
For all this there was no audience, and it was like the scrupulous preparation for going out of a girl whom no one will notice. It is with contemporary furniture as with contemporary clothes: sad unless there is someone who notices and cares.
* * *
For her, difficulties were art, an art form—you created them. A lie was more interesting than the truth. She hated plain, ordinary truth—she saw it as a failing, a surrender, even an accusation. The truth, she once said, is for animals, they can smell it.
* * *
For hours at a stretch he could be amiable, even charming. Then, for no ascertainable reason, he’d turn on her, trickling sarcasm over her like acid, or patronizing her, or casually uttering a handful of words nicely calculated to turn her mind black with rage.
* * *
For most of its length the Causeway skimmed the high tide level, but the middle kilometer arched to let ships through; not that anyone really needed ships anymore, but a few recalcitrant swabbies and some creative tour operators were still plying the Yangtze estuary in junks, which looked precious underneath the catenary arch of the big Feed, strumming the ancient-meets-modern chord for adherents of the National Geographic worldview.
* * *
Had she been too hasty in taking such decisive umbrage against him? Was this the weight of disappointment because he wasn’t how she’d wanted him to be, or of regret for cutting herself off before exploring the experience further?
* * *
He could hear them stand up, laugh a little again, and then walk away. His ears were ringing, his head had begun to throb. He gritted his fists, forced his face against the ground once more to stifle his blubbering. All of his body felt weaker, more spent, than he had ever known it. Even his mouth trembled.
* * *
He had a view of medicine that was at times unorthodox. He thought doctors often drew conclusions that they could not substantiate.
* * *
He paused. “Also,” he said, “being a young man, and thus having no thoughts to speak of, it seemed of utmost importance that nobody know I had fallen in love. If they knew, I would be embarrassed. And that would have heralded the end of the world.”
* * *
Her overtures of peace were met with a perfectly courteous, solid resistance. She was discovering what his family had known for years: he was not easily angered, but when he was, he was not easily pacified.
* * *
Her face flushed and at first her eyes looked frightened, and then I could see a new knowledge gathering within them. I watched her back straighten, her breasts lift under his fascinated gaze.
* * *
Her attempt at innocence simply fed his irritation. He would have had more respect for her if she’d simply admitted what she’d done. But no confession was forthcoming.
* * *
Her chest deflated. Not even midnight, and already his eyes held that wild, liquor-flared spark that indicated he was on the verge of doing something spectacularly ill-conceived.
* * *
He could enjoy their company when they talked and laughed, but he enjoyed her just as much when she said nothing at all. He loved sitting quietly with her on the veranda of her home or walking through the woods or lying by the lake. Just to have her body next to his—or her hand in his—was enough.
* * *
Here one had only the faintest sense of him as someone crawling through life on his hands and knees. Here, made manifest in this embittered ailing remnant of a man was a tiny, tattered piece of what had once been courage.
* * *
Her stomach tightened into a knot. Her palms became clammy. She was remembering another wedding in June and the slow breaking of her heart as everyone stared on with curiosity and pity. Breathe, she commanded herself.
* * *
Hers was the calm ecstasy of achieved consummation, the peace, not of mere vacant satiety and nothingness, but of a balanced life, of energies at rest and in equilibrium. He had emerged from that crimson twilight into the common electric glare with a self-consciousness intensified to the pitch of agony. He was utterly miserable, and perhaps (her shining eyes accused him), perhaps it was his own fault.
* * *
He stood up with as many ladies as the orchestra provided sets. He could not recall ever doing so before in the course of his dozen years in society. But tonight he welcomed any diversion from his brother’s increasingly blank stare, his betrothed’s pallid visage, and her mother’s haughty mask of triumph.
* * *
He turned enough to take in the room, the crystal chandelier, a bottle of cognac, snifters, a coffee service and cups on the tablecloth…and a girl—he couldn’t believe it, not ten feet away from him—sitting by herself at the other end of the table, a girl with reddish-brown hair piled and swirled in a way that showed her slender neck, her hair shining in the light from the chandelier, the girl looking right at him, already looking at him when he turned and saw her.
* * *
He wanted her laughing and giving him her smart mouth and her soft body. He wanted the good time. The easy ride. But the easy ride was over.
* * *
He was erudite without being pompous, humorous without being coarse and brilliant without making people feel inferior.
* * *
He went courting, and he did not worry about the financial situation of the girl he courted. On the contrary, he belonged to those men who prefer in marriage to have all the economic power in their hands and to have their wives dependent on them.
* * *
His body felt heavy with lust, his head light with abandon. While his body was for the moment sated, he found that his mind was not. He watched through eyes slitted by dusty late-afternoon sunlight and lust as she climbed naked off the bed.
* * *
I am not particularly charming, as he is, but children don’t mind that. They want honest regard, much like a good horse does.
* * *
I nevertheless constrained myself to the utmost politeness toward all these folk, diverse as they were. I was deferent toward some, compliant to others, dissipated when necessary, clever but not too clever.
* * *
In his more optimistic moments he hoped her prickly attitude was largely the moodiness and irrational emotions attributed to pregnant women, and not because she hated him. Today she’d been in a delightful humor.
* * *
In the distance she could hear the crying of lambs, the shouts of men, the bleating of sheep, and she hurried toward them. The first of the shepherds came into view, hefting stones to dam the stream, and she veered toward the man-made pool where every summer the sheep were washed and prepared for shearing.
* * *
In the hot bright street the traffic was thick. Cars coated with dust from the desert nosed into the curb to let out women in bloomers and wrinkled blouses and men in creased plus-fours.
* * *
It is vulgar, Anne, to allow other people’s opinions to divert you from what you know is right. It is vulgar and cowardly and unintelligent.
* * *
It might be that the grace of her gestures, the felicity of her carriage, had been acquired by taking thought, but they had a look of perfect spontaneity.
* * *
It was a clear steel-blue day. The firmaments of air and sea were hardly separable in that all-pervading azure; only, the pensive air was transparently pure and soft, with a woman’s look, and the robust man-like sea heaved with long, strong, lingering swells, as Samson’s chest in his sleep.
* * *
It was after three hours’ good walking that the servants of Cedric, with their mysterious guide, arrived at a small opening in the forest, in the centre of which grew an oak-tree of enormous magnitude, throwing its twisted branches in every direction. Beneath this tree four or five yeoman lay stretched on the ground, while another, as sentinel, walked to and fro in the moonlight shade.
* * *
It was four in the afternoon. The town was warming up to the boiling-point under a sultry sky. Nobody was about, all shops were shuttered.
* * *
It was midafternoon; outside their drawn curtains, the sleepy hum of a hot summer’s day held sway. She’d retired after lunch to rest; he’d followed not long after, ostensibly to check on her. In reality to join her, but not to rest.
* * *
It wasn’t just the portraits or the trees in the parkland. It was the scuffs and wear, the dips in the floorboards where countless feet had walked, the patina of polish applied by a hundred different hands. Scratches where dogs had pawed at doors, raced across ancient oak floors.
* * *
It was vaguely understood between them that on some misty day he would enter a sort of glorified diplomatic service and be envied by princes and prime ministers for his beautiful wife.
* * *
I wanted to be in love again, and, of course, every last non-working man-hour was dedicated to the attempt to bring this about, wandering, staring, blushing, longing, waiting. But now at least I was in love with literature—particularly with poetry.
* * *
I was nervous from loss of sleep, and the proximity of the beautiful woman affected me like a fever.
* * *
I was very carefully licking his balls, concentrating on doing it the way he liked, wondering when it would be time to snake my tongue into his asshole, waiting for the little tug on the chain clipped to my nipples, which would be the signal. I got it right, I think—or at least, close enough.
* * *
Meantime, a low buzz had started in the ranks of those shaggy mutts, the Press. Roger turned his head and looked about. The journalists were pulling faces at one another and whispering.
* * *
No woman of firm principles would give in to such sentimental meanderings.
* * *
On this Sunday the conversation during the walk, after beginning, as was right and proper, with cricket, turned to work.
* * *
People have always associated the country with love, and they have done well. Nothing affords so fine a frame for the woman whom one loves as the blue sky, the odors, the flowers, the breeze, the shining solitude of fields, or woods. However much one loves a woman, whatever confidence one may have in her, whatever certainty her past may offer us as to her future, one is always more or less jealous.
* * *
Pity should be cruel! He nodded. Failure was, by definition, expendable. The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions. The uncertain rabbits had to be exposed, made to run for their burrows.
* * *
Replace him with someone else. The great thing about really unsuitable men is that they’re not in short supply.
* * *
She almost lost her courage before leaving her dressing room. At her age she should surely be wearing far more sober and decorous gowns. But before she could give serious thought to changing into something else, there was a tap on the door, and when her maid opened it, Stephen poked his head inside.
* * *
She couldn’t remember what had drawn her to approach him that first evening, whether it was mere childish whim or some deeper augury, but now, standing here in the dark and looking back from a distance of years, it seemed she could have done nothing else.
* * *
She did not answer. She seemed tired. They leaned side by side on the rail of the little balcony, very friendly, having exhausted politics, giving themselves up to the silent feelings of their nearness, on one of those profound pauses that fall upon the rhythm of passion.
* * *
She didn’t wear makeup or earrings or anything remotely feminine. There was a toughness about her. A wariness. He wondered if she knew her determination to never show a soft side only made him more aware that there was something she was trying to hide.
* * *
She had been a fool to think that it would be possible to confide in him, ask for his help. He had made his attitude quite plain. She was nothing to him, less than nothing, and it was as well to know it now, before her foolish heart imagined otherwise.
* * *
She had done nothing wrong. She had given no signs of extravagance or other juvenile misconduct. But she was beautiful and young. How was he to bring her out into the world? How was he to decide whom she should or should not marry?
* * *
She looked him full in the face in that disconcerting way of hers that meant that, no matter how hard he tried, he would not be able to discern her true feelings.
* * *
She moves to my balls which are aching and swollen, as large as two small plums, and she laps at them before placing her mouth over the entire sac, alternately massaging and lightly sucking the balls, separating them with her tongue…this turns me on enough to grab her by the waist and swivel her around and position her cunt over my face, which she gladly sits on.
* * *
She peered over the edge of the box at the rabble in the pit below. She counted three scuffles, one bout of fisticuffs, and four women of seemingly negotiable affection plying their trade. English audiences were notorious at the theater for having no manners to speak of.
* * *
She stood considerably in awe of him, for his cool, well-bred manners were quite unlike her guardian’s, and made him seem immeasurably superior. He had an air of decided fashion, too, and an occasionally satirical tongue. The twinkle, however, reassured her.
* * *
She was exhausted from too little sleep, and mind-weary from fretting about things she had no control over.
* * *
She wasn’t in England any longer. And she loved how she looked. Like a woman experiencing the world.
* * *
She was still standing there twenty minutes later when a horse and rider appeared from the heart of the storm. The stallion’s hoofbeats blended with a clap of thunder and lightning arced across the sky just as the beast was brought to a shuddering halt in front of the door.
* * *
She went out. When she came back a few moments later he was asleep. She wanted to lift his head, put her arms round his broad shoulders, feel his chest gently rising and falling. She watched him closely, smoothed back the lock of wild golden hair that had fallen on to his forehead, then looked at him again with a dreamy, hungry look, like a cat staring at a little bird.
* * *
Still frowning, Miss Fairchild carefully folded the letter and tucked it safely into her reticule. She lifted her gaze to him, her blue eyes filled with loathing. “I should very much like to have my mother write a letter directly to you, my lord, but as she has been dead these fourteen years, I can hardly ask it of her.”
* * *
That’s not to say it went unnoticed. In the back of the box her eyes shone and sharpened as she focused not on the opera playing out on stage, but rather on the drama of the young couples seated in front of her.
* * *
The activity freed her from having to talk with him further as they sailed up the river. Liverpool’s buildings came into sight, a town swollen with brick warehouses and a sprawl of lodgings for the people whose lives depended on the busy port.
* * *
The curtains were still drawn. He felt a surge of some new exhilaration. He was leaving. He had to leave. Already he’d forgotten the pathetic fondness that his brush with death had generated. He parted the curtains carefully, a thumb-wide gap, and peered out.
* * *
The feel of the short turf, cool beneath her bare feet as she ran. The hot gritty slide of the sand under her burrowing toes down in the cove, and the eventual, blessed shock of the sea against her heated skin. Misty mornings. Blistering afternoons, lying languid in the shade. All pure nostalgia.
* * *
The judge smiled. It is not necessary, he said, that the principals here be in possession of the facts concerning their case, for their acts will ultimately accommodate history with our without their understanding.
* * *
The lover is simply enabled to see—as if the heavens busted open to admit a charged light—those virtues the beloved does possess in their purest form.
* * *
The men crowded together, stirred, and rapidly took off their hats. She lowered her eyes and, tripping over her skirt, came close up to them. So many different eyes, old and young, were fixed on her, and there were so many different faces, that she could not distinguish any of them and, feeling that she must speak to them all at once, did not know how to do it.
* * *
Then he would look up benevolently as always, from his smoky vague green eyes. But one only woke people if one knew what one wanted to say to them. And she wanted to say not one thing, but everything.
* * *
Then, when the man had turned slowly to look at him with watchful, serious blue-grey eyes, he had known that this was officialdom, and when his cheery smile was not returned, inimical officialdom.
* * *
There was a thin line of perspiration forming above his eyebrows. He found that he could hardly stand to be in this hallway again. The nurses, the lights, the empty gurneys lined against the wall, every bit of it struck him as unbearable.
* * *
There were, of course, his more insensible hopes—but he’d had to accept that some dreams were stillborn and some memories mirages.
* * *
The story was not new. For thousands of years women had rebelled. They had made a fortress of religion—had buried themselves in the cloister, in self-sacrifice, in good works—or even in bad.
* * *
The sounds had come out clearer now. Long, round o. Liquid, sibilant s. Clearer, but hardly English—the language, rather, of a body opening, flesh relaxing its tensions. An answer that obviated the necessity for any further questions.
* * *
The wait was interminable. She wandered about the room, looking at all the paintings, afraid to sit down lest she be caught at a disadvantage if the door should open without warning.
* * *
The worst of it was that she was starting to dislike everyone. She no longer met a strange gentleman with the hope that he would prove himself different; she merely watched, indifferent, as the creature spouted his silly chatter, his foolish persiflage.
* * *
They gazed at each other wordlessly. He reached out to touch her, and she came into his arms with a swift, lissome grace. They clung to each other, as though they were trying to meld their bodies into a single entity. Her lips quivered against his cheek as she whispered, “Kiss me, my darling. I have waited so long. Kiss me now.”
* * *
They had found to a great extent, as most young couples find in some measure, that they possessed in common many fixed ideas and curiosities and odd quirks of mind. They were essentially companionable.
* * *
Vengeance was a curious thing, he acknowledged. It had the same ability to obsess a man’s soul as love did.
* * *
We two were in accord on almost everything. Both of us had a passion for adorning, then laying bare, our souls, and for testing our minds on every touchstone. She leaned toward Epicurean philosophy, that narrow but clean bed whereon I have sometimes rested my thought.
* * *
We walked to the loop intersection in contemplative silence. Now that evening was settling there were signs of life in the trailer park…cars turning in, voices and televisions filtering through the thin walls, smells of frying food. The white sun was resting on the horizon, bleeding out color until the sky was drenched in purple and orange and crimson.
* * *
What an absurd thing it was to expect happiness in a world so full of misery. He had cut down his own needs to a minimum, photographs were put away in drawers, the dead were put out of mind; a razor strop, a pair of rusty handcuffs for decoration; but one still had one’s eyes, he thought, one’s ears. Point me out the happy man and I will point out either egotism, selfishness, evil—or else an absolute ignorance.
* * *
What he knew, what he had discovered tonight, was that his recaptured love of existence had not been given back to him by the return of his desire for her—but that the desire had returned after he had regained his world, the love, the value and the sense of his world—and that the desire was not an answer to her body, but a celebration of himself and of his will to live.
* * *
“What is the meaning of this?” A sharp-featured woman pushed into the room, dragging a portly gentleman in a bagwig behind her past the inexperienced footman who’d been left holding the door.
* * *
She was barefoot, her dark red hair pulled back in a neat knot. They’d been together two years but he still hadn’t gotten used to how different she looked at different times. Sometimes at night, when he unfastened her hair from its bun, she was ethereally beautiful. Other times, she seemed plain, with her pale lashes and wide forehead and freckles everywhere.
* * *
Wherever he found himself, in whatever deep caves and vaulted mazes of understanding, he discovered her already there before him, her arched eyes glinting with amused sensibility, her lively small form seeming to beckon him onward. She mocked him, guided him, understood him, and tantalized him, at every level of depth he reached. What else did she know that he did not?
* * *
You’re a little afraid of the moment when you’ll be judged, examined. You’re afraid but you also can’t wait—to be seen, to be touched, to be commanded, forced, used.

AUTHORS

Albert Camus
Aldous Huxley
Alexandre Dumas
Amanda Quick
Anatole Broyard
Ann Patchett
Annie Dillard
Anthony Trollope
Ayn Rand
Barbara Cartland
Barbara Metzger
Bret Easton Ellis
Christina Dodd
Cormac McCarthy
Courtney Milan
Daniel Silva
Diane Gaston
Elizabeth Rolls
Elmore Leonard
Eloisa James
Emma Darcy
Emma Petersen
Eric V. Lustbader
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Frank Herbert
Georgette Heyer
Grace Burrowes
Graham Greene
Henry Adams
Herman Melville
Ian Fleming
Irene Nemirovsky
Jane Austen
Jayne Ann Krentz
Joan Wolf
Joseph Conrad
Julia London
Kasey Michaels
Kate Noble
Katharine Ashe
Katharine Noel
Kieran Kramer
Lawrence Durrell
Leo Tolstoy
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
Lisa Hendrix
Lisa Kleypas
Liz Fielding
Loretta Chase
Lori Foster
Margaret Westhaven
Marguerite Yourcenar
Marilynne Robinson
Mary Balogh
Maya Rodale
Mira Lyn Kelly
Miranda Neville
Molly Weatherfield
Neal Stephenson
Norman Mailer
P.G. Wodehouse
Pam Rosenthal
Philip Roth
Sara Craven
Sarah Morgan
Sherry Thomas
Sir Walter Scott
Stephanie Laurens
Stieg Larsson
Susan Mallery
Tessa Dare
Thomas Mann
Tom Wolfe
V.S. Naipaul
Virginia Woolf
W. Somerset Maugham
Wallace Stegner
Wilbur Smith
William Gibson
Zoe Archer

(Any typos or errors are mine.)

3 thoughts on “Literary Blind Taste Test

  1. Great post! Whoa, that must’ve taken a lot of work to put together. I find myself counting the quotes then trying to match them up with the author, but I keep losing count, lol.

  2. Pingback: A Portrait of the Artist as Romance Writer | Something More

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