• The cover of the book Persuasion

    Persuasion

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    “A real person, open-ended, can only be approached as a hypothesis. A character in fiction is demanded to be accountable. Some characters are more willing to offer a context. The young women in Jane Austen’s novels, for instance, seek happiness and suffer when happiness is made unavailable, by situation, chance, or folly.”

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  • The cover of the book The Death of the Heart

    The Death of the Heart

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    “The Death of the Heart is not only a study of selfishness, but also a study of the struggle to escape suffering. To whom the damage is done no one wants to ask. This is the question that unsettles me more: Is suffering selfish?”

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  • The cover of the book A Life in Letters

    A Life in Letters

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    “When Katherine Mansfield claimed in her journal that she loved Chekhov so much she wanted to adopt a Russian baby and name him Anton, her emotional transparency embarrassed me. I felt the urge to laugh because I was terrified to recognize even a residue of myself in her. It occurred to me much later that she was by then dying of tuberculosis, the same disease that led Chekhov to an early death. Our admiration and scrutiny of another person reflect what we love and hate to see in ourselves.”

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  • The cover of the book Either/Or

    Either/Or

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    “I was reading Kierkegaard while waiting to pick up my children from school. I wished I could wave some mother out of her idling vehicle and show her the passage. Reading, however, is a kind of private freedom: out of time, out of place.”

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  • The cover of the book All Will Be Well

    All Will Be Well

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    “No one’s vulnerability is more devastating than the next person’s, no one’s joy more deserving. What happens to McGahern is only life, which happens to us all.”

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  • The cover of the book Elbow Room

    Elbow Room

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    “‘I always thought that the gifts he gave were a way of keeping people away . . . of focusing their attention on the persona he had created out of the raw materials of his best traits,’ McPherson wrote about Pancake.”

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  • The cover of the book Strong Opinions

    Strong Opinions

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    “I feel a tinge of guilt when I imagine Nabokov’s woe. Like all intimacies, the intimacy between one and one’s mother tongue can demand more than one is willing to give, or what one is capable of giving. If I allow myself to be honest, I would borrow from Nabokov for a stronger and stranger statement. My private salvation, which cannot and should not be anybody’s concern, is that I disowned my native language.”

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  • The cover of the book War and Peace

    War and Peace

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    “For years Tolstoy ended his journal each day with three letters, initials for the Russian if I live. Every month he began with the note nearer to death. How did I forget to start each and every page of my journal with the reminder that nothing matters?”

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  • The cover of the book Fathers and Sons

    Fathers and Sons

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    “What Turgenev bemoaned throughout his youth and middle age—that life had passed without having begun—was precisely what I had needed to hear when I first encountered him in the school library. All children require a system to stop being children.”

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  • The cover of the book Complete Poems

    Complete Poems

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    “To hear Moore say that she’s prone to excess is not unlike reading young Turgenev’s lament over being an old man before his time. Such absoluteness could be mistaken for affectation, but there are people who can survive only by going to the extreme.”

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