Betty Duffy

Monday, January 3, 2011

Best of 2010!

I always want to write some sort of “best of” list at the end of the year, but I’m not feeling creative enough to come up with my own observations. So I give you…

The Best Sentences I’ve Read This Year

These are sentences I came across in books etc. that I actually took the measure of writing down, because they were beautiful, funny, true somehow, worthy of emulation, or just interesting—even if I didn’t agree necessarily with the content.

In no particular order:

“Change everything just a little so as to keep everything exactly the same.”
--Lampedusa: “The Leopard”

“She had not given a damn back then, sort of like now, only then it had been a style, a way of being, not a diagnosis or demise.”-- Lorrie Moore, “Willing”

“Was it a prophecy of that generation to come who would be so drilled in evasiveness that they would be denied forever the splendors of a passionate confrontation?”-- John Cheever, “The Jewels of the Cabots”

Steven King: “On Writing”

“In my character, a kind of wildness and a deep conservatism are wound together like hair in a braid.”


“Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

Michael Greenberg: “Beg, Borrow, Steal”

“I’ve given up any hope of writing, but must I relinquish freedom of thought as well? Apparently so. Brendan (the author’s four-year-old son) is in the grip of a mania to turn every notion into words, and those words into action—a three step process that takes place with molecular speed.”

Franz Wright: “Imago”—I read this last night and found it hair-raising, funny and profound. It’s the first few lines of a poem, so brace yourself.

From my cell I was staring at a cloud, a dog decaying in the woods, etc., as I took up the long-awaited sequel to my Confessions. By this time my hand was so far away that it looked like a small hairless spider whose progress I could hardly help but follow, from the corner of one eye, as it went on filling page after page in a notebook the size of a stamp with words too small for anyone to read. I looked up and noticed my bars had turned to gold. And before I forget, I’d like to be the first to congratulate everyone who has not committed suicide up until now. Camouflaged and lightless congregation, the world will never know your names, never know of its debt to you, or what you suffered; with what uncomplaining anguish you sacrificed the one thing all hold most dear, most have in common, the sense of being completely different from anybody else—it just vanished at some point, having attained its sexually mature and winged stage. You had a great vision about it, but told no one. We have misnamed death life and life death.

Hans Keilson: “Death of the Adversary”—Took me several reads to make sense of this sentence, but I love it anyway. For context, the story is about a Jewish child growing up in the shadow of his enemy (whom he doesn’t name, but we assume to be Hitler).

"No lie, however noble, can extinguish the conflagration death lets loose in truly festive minds when the moment of truth has arrived. A rushing in the sky, as when a strong, ancient tree is cut down, an arrow, shot into the glittering blue of winter: my mind is in a festive mood, my enemy is entering the white land of his death."


"One can sooner bear any quantity of frozen feelings with which one has settled oneself than recognize the spark of danger that calls one to battle."

Jonathan Potter: “Parable” from House of Words-- loved the imagery in this poem.

I am strapped, buckled, wrapped up in it,
Houdini in a straightjacket, snake in snakeskin,
Wriggling out if it word by word
Until it falls to the ground.

Edwin O’Connor: “The Edge of Sadness”

"It was the same talk with which I had grown up, the talk that belonged, really, to another era, and that now must have been close to disappearing, the talk of old men and old women for whom the simple business of talking had always been the one great recreation."

My husband:
“You smell like a French movie with subtitles.”
(So this one obviously wasn’t in a book, but it should be.)

So there you have it. My top ten of 2010 list. Hope you enjoyed it.


dylan said...

dear Betty Duffy --

I did enjoy it! My favorites are #1, #4a, and #10.

Karly said...

I loved these, especially the Steven King quote about putting the writing desk in a corner and art serving life. I've been hoping the new location for your own desk has been working out--from the picture it looked beautiful and potentially serene, though high-traffic and prone to interruption. Ideally, though, I wonder if King would say it should be located in the corner of a room of one's own (I'm sure he has such a room). We can dream, can't we?

bearing said...

I hope the movie isn't "Delicatessen."

Peter and Nancy said...

Love #10!

Paul Stilwell said...

My hat comes off especially to #7 and #3.

BettyDuffy said...

Just want to state very clearly that "Death of the Adversary" should go on everyone's reading list. I keep working my way through it slowly, and every night, another ten sentences go into my journal. I can't get over how good this book is.

Misha Leigh. said...

Some of these I was familiar with, some not - but my very favourite was the last one!

Jonathan Potter said...

Thanks Betty. I love the idea of a list of best sentences, and I'm astonished to find one of mine among them!

Rachel said...

But, of course, there has been no greater quote of your husband since "You know Elizabeth, in this light you look...[adoring glance at his wife] Doc Baker." It STILL does it for me.