Book-Lovers’ Quotes (& Dubious Habits)

“They say books about books are profitless, but they certainly make very pleasant reading.”

(W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Book Bag,” 1951)

A Book Addict’s Treasury by Julie Rugg and Lynda Murphy was my bedside book for the first half of the year. I like having a literary-themed book to read a bit of daily, rather like a secular devotional. Last year John Sutherland and Stephen Fender’s Love, Sex, Death and Words filled that purpose. The authors have chosen a huge variety of quotations from fiction and nonfiction, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day. The chapters are loosely thematic, with topics like lending and borrowing, organizing one’s library, bad book habits, and so on.

Here’s a sampling of the quotes that meant the most to me:

  • “I can remember when I read any book, as the act of reading adheres to the room, the chair, the season.” (Guy Davenport)
  • “To read good books is like holding a conversation with the most eminent minds of past centuries.” (René Descartes)
  • “How useful it would be to have an authoritative list of books that, despite the world’s generally high opinion of them, one really need not read.” (Joseph Epstein)
  • “I am all for the giving and receiving of books at Christmas, though not keen either on giving or receiving ‘gift books’, the kind of tarted-up books which appear at this time of year and no other. I agree that the only thing you could do with such books is to give them away.” (Daniel George)
  • “As often as I survey my bookshelves I am reminded of Lamb’s ‘ragged veterans’.” (George Gissing)
  • “Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy.” (Germaine Greer)

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I also came across two controversial reader habits I’m not sure how I feel about:

1. “The outward and visible mark of the citizenship of the book-lover is his book-plate.” (Edmund Gosse)

I do have two packs of book-plates featuring a rather nice black-and-white engraving of a puffin on a rock, but I’ve never used them. For one thing, my collection seems too changeable: what if I decide, after reading a book, to resell it or pass it on to someone else? I also wouldn’t know how to choose which lucky 20 books get a bookplate. (Probably only those monolithic hardbacks I’m sure to keep as reference books for decades to come.)

2. Harold Nicolson’s habit of labeling passages from books with “F and C” (= “very feeble and cheap”) and “G.B.” or “B.B.” (= “Good Bits” or “Bad Bits”)!

I’ve never annotated my books, apart from a few textbooks in college. It just seems like defacement; are my thoughts really so important that they need to be preserved forever? Instead I use Post-It flags to mark passages I want to revisit, and usually copy those out into my annual book list (a huge Word file).


My current bedside book fit for a bibliophile is So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson. Favorite quote so far:

“Part of the appeal of books, of course, is that they’re the cheapest and easiest way to transport you from the world you know into one you don’t. … dollar for dollar, hour per hour, it’s the most expedient way to get from our proscribed little ‘here’ to an imagined, intriguing ‘there.’”


What are your favorite book-related quotes? Do you use bookplates and annotations?

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11 thoughts on “Book-Lovers’ Quotes (& Dubious Habits)

  1. I use post-it tags for important passages. I do write my name and the date in every book I acquire that’s not via BookCrossing or a loan – I like to find that info in other books, so I add it to mine. It was a momentous occasion when I used my married name in a book for the first time (on my honeymoon and in a book I will be keeping).

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  2. Of your quotes, this was the one I liked best:“How useful it would be to have an authoritative list of books that, despite the world’s generally high opinion of them, one really need not read.” (Joseph Epstein). I think we all owe each other that service. For me, first call is anything by Conrad.

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    1. Ha ha! I’ve only ever read Heart of Darkness, both in school and at uni. I certainly haven’t rushed out to read any more Conrad!

      It’s a good quote, that one. This is sort of what I’m aiming at with my occasional posts about books I’ve abandoned.

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      1. And you do very well too. But it’s those classics, those books to read before you die, or die in the attempt that sometimes pose the most problems. Russian novelists are among my to-do challenges.

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      2. I’ve never attempted the major works of the Russian masters. I feel like they could be worthwhile, but the sheer length is daunting. I’d want good advice for where to start.

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  3. It makes me wince when people turn down pages of a book! And last Christmas I saw some angel decorations made out of books. Noooooo! Doesn’t matter how bad the book is, it doesn’t deserve that fate!
    Liked the Germaine Greer quote above.

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    1. Oh yes, dog-earing pages is one of my pet peeves. If I find pages turned over in a library book or a secondhand book for sale I automatically turn them back to “fix” them. It seems uncivilized when one can use a bookmark.

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