My Life’s Sentences

Buying a used book might offer unexpected bonuses – highlighted phrases, dog-eared pages, notes in the margin, and underlined sentences. Jhumpa Lahiri, author of some of my favorite books – Unaccustomed Earth, The Namesake, and Interpreter of Maladies – in her article for the New York Times, My Life’s Sentences – wrote about words that she needed to underline to isolate and remember. Oh, how I would love to have one of her used books.

Having just finished Katie Ward’s Girl Reading, Ward’s concept of the impact of words in a real book was still with me when Lahiri wrote…

“…it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.”

Katie Ward time travels through seven eras with books as the catalyst, but Lahiri confirms that readers can do this any time they open a book. Some phrases in books are so resilient, we never forget them. Like Lahiri, I underline sentences I want to remember, usually noting them in a journal, not trusting my memory. Words like…”A screaming comes across the sky.” (from Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow)

For Lahiri, it’s Joyce’s ” The cold air stung us and we played til our bodies glowed.”

Do you save favorite words from your reading?

Lahira uses the rest of her article to explain her own writing process – not as a primer for prospective writers – but as a testament to her own struggle with words – which she has clearly conquered.

5 thoughts on “My Life’s Sentences

  1. Absolutely – they can often transport me right back to the book they came from. I also write down sentences or fragments that intrigue me, teach me, challenge me, or simply take my breath away with the writing and those are all fun to look back at. The journal is a treasure, as well as a map of books that have in one way or another grabbed me.

    • I should say, it is a journal where I write the quotes as I’m reading, not one of the ones someone else has compiled 🙂

      • I like your clever idea of calling it your own “book of quotes book.” I haven’t thought about my jottings as that – but they are, of course. I enjoy the impressions they bring back when I reread them – do you?

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