February 21, 2024


Business Woman

I Rounded Up The 53 Greatest Book Quotes Of All Time Instead Of Reading More

9 min read

“All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity and by delight, we all quote.”

That’s a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in his 1859 essay “Quotation and Originality.” It’s not from a book so I couldn’t include it on this list, but it does a pretty great job of celebrating a good quote.

Whether we’re shouting out our favorite writers or challenging ourselves with words that we can’t get out of our heads, everyone loves a good quote. These are 53 of the best.

53.“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” ―Albert Camus, The Stranger

A picture of Albert Camus, author of The Stranger

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52.“What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song.” ―Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

The cover of the book Inherent Vice, featuring a hatchback car with surfboards on top of it

Rick Madonik / Toronto Star via Getty Images

51.“We live in the flicker — may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.” ―Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

A picture of Joseph Conrad standing on a ship

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50.“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” ―David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

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49.“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” ―Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

A drawing of Pip and Estella from Great Expectations

Culture Club / Getty Images

48.“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” ―J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

A photo portrait of author J.D. Salinger

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47.“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” ―Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

A portrait of Godfrey Frankenstein

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46.“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Pencil portrait of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke

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45.“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ―Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Jack Karouac, author of The Dharma Bums, holding a can of Busch beer

Ted Streshinsky Photographic Arc / Corbis via Getty Images

44.“I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race — that rarely do I even simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.” ―Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

A man hands out free copies of The Book Thief as part of World Book Night

Rj Sangosti / Denver Post via Getty Images

43.“It had nothing to do with gear or footwear or the backpacking fads or philosophies of any particular era or even with getting from point A to point B. It had to do with how it felt to be in the wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way.” ―Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Author Cheryl Strayed posing for a photograph

Joe Scarnici / Getty Images

42.“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” ―James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Photo of Irish novelist James Joyce

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41.“Between the wish and the thing the world lies waiting.” ―Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

A copy of All the Pretty Horses on a shelf in a bookstore

Robert Alexander / Getty Images

40.“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” ―Daniel Handler, The Ersatz Elevator

Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler acting silly at Oxford University

David Levenson / Getty Images

39.“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” ―Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

An illustration of a scene from Anna Karenina where a child holds onto an adult

Culture Club / Getty Images

38.“He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink.” ―Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Book opened to the title page of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Jannhuizenga / Getty Images/iStockphoto

37.“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams,The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, surrounded by halos

Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

36.“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ―Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Rare copies of the first edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

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35.“Anything worth dying for is certainly worth living for.” ―Joseph Heller, Catch-22

A photo of Joseph Heller, author of Catch-22

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34.“When you find out you can live without it, go along not thinking about it.” ―Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book

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33.“Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.” ―Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Yann Martel holding up a copy of his novel Life of Pi

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32.“Things have their shape in time, not space alone. Some marble blocks have statues within them, embedded in their future.” ―Alan Moore, Watchmen

Portrait of English comic book writer Alan Moore

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31.“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” ―Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

A ceramic piece of art that shows a marlin and the main character from The Old Man and the Sea

Flavio Vallenari / Getty Images

30.“To die of love is to live by it.” ―Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

A drawing of Jean Valjean carrying Marius from Les Misérables

Culture Club / Getty Images

29.“Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.” ―Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi (Self-Realization Fellowship)

A man lights a lamp in front of a portrait of Paramahansa Yogananda

Hindustan Times / Hindustan Times via Getty Images

28.“I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too.” ―Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Brian Selznick poses for a portrait at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills

Ann Johansson / Corbis via Getty Images

27.“As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.” ―Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, the Whale

Illustration of Moby Dick jumping out of the water

Culture Club / Getty Images

26.“One day, you will be old enough to start reading fairytales again.” ―C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

A bound set of first edition Narnia books

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25.“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” ―Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Author Chuck Palahniuk posing for a portrait

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24.“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'” ―Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Kurt Vonnegut smoking and writing at a type writer

Santi Visalli / Getty Images

23.“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.” ―Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, relaxing in his home

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22.“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” ―Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

An illustration of Alice, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter having tea

Andrew_howe / Getty Images

21.“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.” ―Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Vintage engraving of Don Quixote sitting on his horse

Duncan1890 / Getty Images

20.“Who, being loved, is poor?” ―Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

An 1882 photograph of playwright Oscar Wilde

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19.“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ―Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), The Lorax

An open copy of The Lorax, showing off the Thneeds that everyone wants to buy

Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

18.“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ―Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Neil Gaiman writing in a small red book on a yacht

Tommaso Boddi / Getty Images

17.“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ―Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

An original edition of The Velveteen Rabbit standing on a table

Vince Talotta / Toronto Star via Getty Images

16.“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” ―Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

A drawing of author Jane Austen

Print Collector / Getty Images

15.“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

A copy of The Fellowship of the Ring sitting on a map of Middle Earth

Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

14.“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” ―Frank Herbert, Dune

Frank Herbert at the premiere of David Lynch's adaptation of Dune

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13.“I like good strong words that mean something.” ―Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

The title page of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Culture Club / Getty Images

12.“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” ―Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

A painting of the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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11.“Perhaps to lose a sense of where you are implies the danger of losing a sense of who you are.” ―Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Novelist Ralph Ellison poses for a portrait in Harlem

David Attie / Getty Images

10.“Where there is equality there can be sanity.” ―George Orwell, 1984

A close-up of a page featuring '1984' and a drawing of an eye

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

9.“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” ―Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

A photo of author Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images

8.“This above all: to thine own self be true / And it must follow, as the night the day / Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ―William Shakespeare, Hamlet

A drawing showing the ghost of the King appearing to Hamlet, Horatio, and Guards

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7.“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” ―Toni Morrison, Beloved

Toni Morrison standing for the camera

Colin Mcpherson / Corbis via Getty Images

6.“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” ―Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Copies of 'The Testaments' are on show as Canadian author Margaret Atwood poses during a photocall

Tara Ziemba / Getty Images

5.“What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human […] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.” ―David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

A close up picture of David Foster Wallace, author of Infinite Jest

Star Tribune via Getty Images

4.“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” ―James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

James Baldwin smiling while relaxing on a porch

Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

3.“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” ―F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

A close-up picture of the page as someone reads The Great Gatsby

Annie_122 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

2.“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […], until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ―Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

A first edition of Lee Harper's book To Kill a Mockingbird

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1.“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ―Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou poses for a portrait during an interview

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What’s your #1 quote? Let me know in the comments!

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