Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category

A beautiful passage from the book I am reading now – ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S.Lewis. It is a retelling of the love story of Psyche and Cupid. I am reading this as part of the ‘Read-a-Myth’ challenge hosted by Jo from ‘Bibliojunkie’ and Bina from ‘If You Can Read This’.

Of Psyche’s beauty – at every age the beauty proper to that age – there is only this to be said, that there were no two opinions about it, from man or woman, once she had been seen. It was beauty that did not astonish you till afterwards when you had gone out of sight of her and reflected on it. While she was with you, you were not astonished. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. As the Fox delighted to say, she was “according to nature”; what every woman, or even every thing, ought to have been and meant to be, but had missed by some trip of chance. Indeed, when you looked at her you believed, for a moment, that they had not missed it. She made beauty all round her. When she trod on mud, the mud was beautiful; when she ran in the rain, the rain was silver. When she picked up a toad – she had the strangest and, I thought, unchanciest love for all manner of brutes – the toad became beautiful…I wanted to be a wife so that I could have been her real mother. I wanted to be a boy so that she could be in love with me. I wanted her to be my full sister instead of my half sister. I wanted her to be a slave so that I could set her free and make her rich.

– From ‘Till We Have Faces’ by C.S.Lewis


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Loving a book

I read this beautiful passage by Donna Tartt (author of ‘The Secret History’). This passage was part of her introduction to the book ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis, which was made into a movie recently and was in the news because this movie was nominated for the Oscars this year.


It’s a commonplace to say that we ‘love’ a book, but when we say it, we really mean all sorts of things. Sometimes we mean only that we have read a book and enjoyed it; sometimes we mean that a book was important to us in our youth, though we haven’t picked it up in years; sometimes what we ‘love’ is an impressionistic idea glimpsed from afar (Combray…madeleines…Tante Leonie…) as opposed to the experience of wallowing and plowing through an actual text, and all too often people claim to love books they haven’t read at all. Then there are the books we love so much that we read them every year or two, and know passages of them by heart; that cheer us when we are sick or sad and never fail to amuse us when we take them up at random; that we press on all our friends and acquaintances; and to which we return again and again with undimmed enthusiasm over the course of a lifetime. I think it goes without saying that most books that engage readers on this very high level are masterpieces; and this is why I believe that True Grit by Charles Portis is a masterpiece.


– From the introduction by Donna Tartt to ‘True Grit’ by Charles Portis

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I found this beautiful quote about this terrible thing in a book I got a few days back.

Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair – to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover and to repair – to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.

– From ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ : A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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After reading a bit of one book after another, in the last ten days, I am still not able to stick to one book, as my mind is not in one place and I am getting distracted quite easily. Today I took down, from my bookshelf, a book called ‘It Must Be Beautiful : Great Equations of Modern Science’, which is a collection of essays on equations edited by Graham Farmelo. I found the concept behind the book quite interesting – trying to bring out the beauty of powerful equations to the general reader – and the contributors who are leading scientists also seem to be wonderful writers. I finished reading the foreword by Farmelo today evening, and it gave me a lot of pleasure. I didn’t know that scientists could write so well – out of nonfiction writers I remember only John Carey (author of ‘What Good are the Arts?’ and editor of ‘The Faber Book of Science’) and Ed Smith (author of ‘What Sport Tells Us about Life’) writing so well. Graham Farmelo belongs to that select group too, in my heart atleast 🙂 I thought you might like to read some excerpts from Farmelo’s foreword.

Poems and Onions

During a radio interview Philip Larkin gave in May 1974 to promote his High Windows collection, he pointed out that a good poem is like an onion. On the outside both are pleasingly smooth and intriguing, and they become more and more so, as their successive layers of meaning are revealed. His aim was to write the perfect onion.

      The poetry of science is in some sense embodied in its great equations and, as the essays in this book demonstrate, these equations can also be peeled. But their layers represent their attributes and consequences, not their meanings.

Poetic Equations

Now a twentieth-century icon, E = mc2 is one of the few things about science that every TV quiz participant is expected to know.

      In common with all great scientific equations, E = mc2 is in many ways similar to a great poem. Just as a perfect sonnet is spoiled if so much as a word or an item of punctuation is changed, not a single detail of a great equation such as E = mc2 can be altered without rendering it useless. E = 3mc2, for example, has nothing whatever to do with nature.

      Great equations also share with the finest poetry an extraordinary power – poetry is the most concise and highly charged form of language, just as the great equations of science are the most succinct form of understanding of the aspect of physical reality they describe. E = mc2 is itself enormously powerful : its few symbols encapsulate knowledge that can be applied to energy conversion, from ones in every cell of every living thing on Earth, to the most distant cosmic explosion. Better yet, it seems to have held good since the beginning of time.

      In the same way as close study of a great equation gradually enables scientists to see things that they initially missed, so repeated readings of a great poem invariably stir new emotions and associations. The great equations are just as rich a stimulus as poetry to the prepared imagination. Shakespeare could no more have foreseen the multiple meanings readers have perceived in ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ than Einstein could have predicted the myriad consequences of his equations of relativity.

“Beauty, thy name is…”

      Of the hundreds of thousands of research scientists who have ever lived, very few have an important scientific equation to their name. Two scientists who were adept at discovering fundamental equations and especially perceptive about the role of mathematics in science were Albert Einstein and the almost comparably brilliant English theoretical physicist Paul Dirac. Neither was a mathematician per se, but both were remarkable in their ability to write down new equations that were as fecund as the greatest poetry. And both men were captivated by the belief that the fundamental equations of physics must be beautiful.

      This may sound strange. The subjective concept of beauty is unwelcome in polite intellectual circles, and certainly has no place in academic critiques of high art. Yet it’s a word that readily comes to the lips of all of us – even to the most pedantic critics – when we are moved by the sight of a smiling baby, a mountain vista, an exquisitely formed orchid. What does it mean to say that an equation is beautiful? Fundamentally, it means that the equation can evoke the same rapture as other things that many of us ddescribe as beautiful. Much like a great work of art, a beautiful equation has among its attributes much more than mere attractiveness – it will have universality, simplicity, inevitability and an elemental power. Think of masterpieces like Cezanne’s Apples and Pears, Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome, Judi Dench’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth, Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of ‘Manhattan’. During my first experience of each of them, I soon realized that I was in the presence of something monumental in conception, fundamentally pure, free of excrescence and crafted so carefully that its power would be diminished if anything in it were changed.

      An additional quality of a good scientific equation is that it has utilitarian beauty. It must tally with the results of every relevant experiment and, even better, make predictions that no one has made before. This aspect of an equation’s effectiveness is akin to the beauty of a finely engineered machine of the kind we hear about in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, when marine recruit Gomer Pyle starts talking to his rifle (‘Beautiful’, he whispers to it). The besotted Pyle praises its meticulous construction, delighting in the qualities that make it supremely fit for its lethal purpose. It would not be nearly so beautiful if it didn’t work.

“Enjoy the Onions”

      Among my own collection of poetry, on the shelf above my desk, sits a dustless copy of High Windows. I first read it when I was a greenhorn student of subatomic physics, strugling to understand its fundamental equations and to appreciate their beauty. The collection was given to me by a Larkin-loving friend, a student of English literature, just a few days after the collection was published. Her message to me was the same as mine is now to you. ‘Enjoy the onions’.

So beautifully written, isn’t it? 🙂

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Changing perspectives

I read this interesting passage, in a biology book that I am reading now.

The biology community is part of society at large, embedded in the cultural milieu of the times. For example, changing attitudes about career choices have increased the proportion of women in biology, which has in turn affected the emphasis in certain research fields. A few decades ago, for instance, biologists who studied the mating behavior of animals focused mostly on competition among males for access to females. More recent research, however, emphasizes the important role that females play in choosing mates. For example, in many bird species, females prefer the bright coloration that “advertises” a male’s vigorous health, a behavior that enhances the female’s probability of having healthy offspring.

– From ‘Biology’ by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece

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First Lines :)

First lines of a book are meant to grab our attention. Sometimes they are beautiful, sometimes they are poetic, sometimes they are like any other innocent sentence – hiding the power of the story behind their everyday facade.

Here are the first lines from some of the books that I bought recently during my book-buying-binge 🙂

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – From ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith

(Comment : The introduction says that this “became one of the most memorable opening lines in twentieth-century fiction”. Notice the fact that it says “in the kitchen sink” and not “on the kitchen sink”)

“Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, nor for how long she will stay.” – From ‘Peyton Place’ by Grace Metalious

(Comment : Isn’t that really an awesomely attractive first line? And doesn’t that give you a big clue to  what the story is about?)

“We had stayed away until the demolition was complete. This was the way we had planned it.” – From ‘In the Country of Deceit’ by Shashi Deshpande

(Comment : What a first line! Makes one want to read the next one :))

“Waking up begins with saying am and now.” – From ‘A Single Man’ by Christopher Isherwood

(Comment : The rest of the lines in the first page all go like this. Can’t wait to read this book!)

“When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” – From ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ by Harper Lee

(Comment : That looks like an innocent opening line, trying to hide the story behind an anonymous facade).

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Whenever I start reading a book, the first thing I do is read the blurb – on the back cover, the inside flap and the praises showered on the book and the writer by different reviewers and writers. I do it out of a force of habit. Most of the time the praise is glowing and exaggerated and not interesting. But once in a while, I stumble upon a comment which is beautiful – because of the language the reviewer has used – or which makes me nostalgic or makes me smile. Most of these praises are sung in honour of the author or the book or in the case of biographies, the personality on whom the book is based on. Whenever I have discovered these delightful gems, I have felt that these short lines offer an education in the art of praise in its most refined form.

I thought I will share the pleasure I get from these delightful gems which showcase the art of praise. So, here are some of the best ones that I saw recently. Hope you enjoy reading them.

“Everything that has been said about Le Guin – that she is a lush prose stylist, that she is a poet in every line, that her books make readers think and thinkers read – is here on display in her newest Hainish novel. It is elegant, elegaic, enormously compressed…and simply pulls the readers along. Not in the hobbledehoy pace of major page-turners but in the graceful elliptical manner of one of the Old Tellers.”

– Jane Yolen, author of Briar Rose
(on Ursula Le Guin’s novel ‘The Telling’ as quoted in the first page of Le Guin’s ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’)

“Critics have variously likened him to Raymond Carver, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Bret Easton Ellis and Thomas Pynchon – a roster so ill assorted as to suggest Murakami is in fact an original.”
– New York Times
(as given in the back cover of Haruki Murakami‘s ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’)

“There were many rumours about Keith, and they were all true…”
– Richie Benaud on Keith Miller
(as given in the back cover of ‘Keith Miller : The Life of a great all-rounder’ by Roland Perry)

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