The 22 Most Timeless Quotes from Literature

Close your eyes. Think of the book you are the most drawn to. Is there a quote that immediately comes to mind? If you're an obsessive book nerd like me, the words have come to you like air.

"A word after a word is power," Margaret Atwood wrote in her poem "Spelling." While anyone can cobble some words together, only the very best authors can craft a sentence that grows beyond the book. That quote you first thought of when you began reading this piece stuck with you because it has transcended the original source. And while there are many books that I love dearly and wish I could spend time with again (and again), our busy lives rarely allow for the time to re-read a favorite book, let alone a new one.

Our favorite quote from a book is often representative of the text itself in someway, so recalling those treasured sentences acts as a placeholder. The timelessness exceeds the book, and with that quote, we can share our favorite books with others by getting to the core of the text right away.

In my own life, I often find myself recommending Joan Didion's essay "The White Album," which is best summed up by its opening line: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Of course, I do think you should read the essay itself, but by sharing the quote, I'm able to better explain why this particular resonates.

Here are some of the very best timeless quotes from our favorite books.

1. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature."

— Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

2. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

— Alice Walker, The Color Purple

3. “Take pride in your pain; you are stronger than those who have none."

— Lois Lowry, Gathering Blue

4. “The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity."

— Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

5. “Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

— Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

6. “To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.”

— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

7. “If people cannot be flawed in fiction there's no place left for us to be human.”

— Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

8. “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends."

— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

9. “If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.”

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

10. “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

— Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

11. “To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it?"

— Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

12. “Maybe learning how to be out in the big world isn't the epic journey everyone thinks it is. Maybe that's actually the easy part. The hard part is what's right in front of you. The hard part is learning how to hold the title to your very existence, to own not only property, but also your life.”

— Meghan Daum, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

13. “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.”

— James Baldwin, "Sonny's Blues"

14. “To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”

— Teju Cole, Open City

15. “It's enough for me to be sure that you and I exist at this moment.”

— Gabriel

García Márquez,

One Hundred Years of Solitude

16. “Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only — if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things — beautiful things — that they connect you to some larger beauty?”

— Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

17. “All anyone can hope for is just a tiny bit of love, like a drop in a cup if you can get it, or a waterfall, a flood, if you can get that too.”

— Edwidge Danticat, Krik? Krak!

18. “That’s life for you. All the happiness you gather to yourself, it will sweep away like it’s nothing. If you ask me I don’t think there are any such things as curses. I think there is only life. That’s enough.”

— Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

19. “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

20. “It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem.”

— Maggie Nelson, Bluets

21. “Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

— Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

22. “You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.”

— Zadie Smith, White Teeth

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