Ever wondered if the moments you find most compelling in literature are the moments that everybody else finds compelling? Are you picking up on the Really Important Moments in Books (think: “To be, or not to be?”) or are you too busy with passages that absolutely no one else in the entire world has ever underlined before, like “An instinct toward his future glory had led him, some months before, to the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota”? (That's an indie gem from The Great Gatsby, no big deal.)
In a desperate attempt to get us all on the same literary page, the Amazon Kindle team pulled the most-highlighted passages from 17 major works of fiction by women published during the past two years. It's a vaguely skewed sample, since the quotes were only taken from the Kindle e-book versions of each novel, but it's enough to let us know which passages really made readers pause, think, and take another sip of the Bordeaux.
I know what you're thinking: Is it possible to make a broad sociological statement about the results? Of course it is! Without fail, the most popular quotes have to do with ideas rather than things. Many of the quotes are about love — love between family, between lovers, between strangers. Many of the quotes are about memory. After love and memory and the memory of love and the sadness of memory without love, the quotes continue to deal with the Big Things: Death, loneliness, religion. They're quotes that stand out for their warm relatability, not necessarily for their icy, literary beauty. After all, we read to find ourselves, don't we? So it makes sense that we're highlighting the passages that illuminate some aspect of the inner world, rather than passages that dwell on the outer one.
Intrigued? Pull out your copy of the following novels and see if you underlined the quotes that the rest of the world loved.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
“Because the truth is, the world will probably whittle your daughter down. But a mother never should.”
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
"Isolation offered its own form of companionship: the reliable silence of her rooms, the steadfast tranquility of the evenings. The promise that she would find things where she put them, that there would be no interruption, no surprise. It greeted her at the end of each day and lay still with her at night. She had no wish to overcome it. Rather, it was something upon which she’d come to depend, with which she’d entered by now into a relationship, more satisfying and enduring than the relationships she’d experienced in either of her marriages."
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
“For although a man is judged by his actions, by what he has said and done, a man judges himself by what he is willing to do, by what he might have said, or might have done — a judgment that is necessarily hampered, not only by the scope and limits of his imagination, but by the ever-changing measure of his doubt and self-esteem."
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
"There was nothing in life harder or more important than agreeing every morning to stay the course, to go back to your forgotten self of so many years ago, and to make the same decision. Marriages, like ships, needed steering, and steady hands at the wheel."
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie
"She rested her head against his and felt, for the first time, what she would often feel with him: a self-affection. He made her like herself. With him, she was at ease; her skin felt as though it was her right size."
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
"That life— whatever else it is — is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch."
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
“You loved so hard and hoped so much and then you ended up with nothing. Children who no longer needed you. A husband who no longer wanted you. Nothing left but you, alone, and empty space."
Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey
"Some people make us feel more human and some people make us feel less human and this is a fact as much as gravity is a fact and maybe there are ways to prove it, but the proof of it matters less than the existence of it — how a stranger can show up and look at you and make you make more sense to yourself and the world."
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
"...'the signature of all things’ — namely, that God had hidden clues for humanity’s betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf, fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code, Boehme claimed, containing proof of our Creator’s love."
California by Edan Lepucki
"Time moved forward, but the mind was restless and stubborn, and it skipped to wherever it pleased, often to the past: backward, always backward."
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
“The soul had always struck me as being a tricky thing to keep with the body: an easily bored aristocrat with the means to leave whenever it wished."
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
"'As a rule, men want a reason to end a relationship, while women want a reason to keep it going,' Jason declared, waving his glass. ‘That’s why, after the fact, men look to all the things that were wrong with the relationship, to confirm the rightness of ending it. Women, on the other hand, go back and search for what might have been different, what might have made it work.'”
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
"People who are harder to love pose a challenge, and the challenge makes them easier to love. You’re driven to love them. People who want their love easy don’t really want love."
Someone by Alice McDermott
"Fools’ thoughts are in their mouths, the Bible says. A wise man keeps his words in his heart.”
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
“But do you know this idea of the imaginary homeland? Once you set out from shore on your little boat, once you embark, you’ll never truly be at home again. What you’ve left behind exists only in your memory, and your ideal place becomes some strange imaginary concoction of all you’ve left behind at every stop.”
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
"Language does this to our memories — simplifies, solidifies, codifies, mummifies. An oft-told story is like a photograph in a family album; eventually, it replaces the moment it was meant to capture."
An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay
"I am not easy to love but I am well loved. I try to love well in return."