Famous Last Words

A question on Quora asked: What are the most famous final passages from books or stories? Here are my votes for the top five. Feel free to add your favorite last lines in the comments.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

“and yes I said yes I will Yes.” – Ulysses, James Joyce

“He loved Big Brother.” – Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

“‘It is a far, far, better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far, better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.’”– A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“‘After all, tomorrow is another day.’” – Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

And five other good ones I missed:

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” – Animal Farm, George Orwell

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?” – The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

“I been there before.” – Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” – Emma, Jane Austen

 “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”  – Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (not a book I personally liked, but this is a great line)

I looked through my favorite books on LibraryThing and added a few more last lines that have significant meaning for me.

“Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” – Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell

“Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” – The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson

“I am legend.” – I Am Legend, Richard Matheson

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – The Dark Tower, Stephen King

“He says that he will never die.” – Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

“And then I woke up.” – No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

“So this is what everybody’s always talking about! Diablo! If only I’d known. The beauty! The beauty!” – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

“And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.” – The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

“He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” – To Kill a Mockingbird

The end of the world as we know it…

On Quora, there are a lot of interesting responses to this question: Pandemics: If society started collapsing due to a global pandemic killing more than half of the world’s population within a year or two, what would you do when you realized what was really happening? – Quora. There are a number of detailed, well-thought-out answers that represent a gamut of responses to a cataclysmic event.

With all the apocalyptic literature I read, I of course have thought about what I would do if society started collapsing around me. I have seen many scenarios presented in books, most of them not at all appealing. Women, in particular, have a tough time in these situations. Very few of these books show people cooperating to try to rebuild society, or at least help each other get through the crisis. Although that may be the most likely scenario, it doesn’t make for a very exciting story.

One aspect I think we overlook about post-collapse survival is how much work it would be. We really don’t have any idea anymore how much labor is involved just in producing enough food to sustain us through a year, for instance. The last post-apocalyptic book I read, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, gave a good accounting of the work involved in raising a garden, canning food, keeping out pests and gathering wild plants. Sometimes people seem to fantasize about the collapse of society enabling them to live a simpler life and return to the land, but I don’t think they take into account the never-ending drudgery of it. That’s why we invented all these machines and systems in the first place.

I personally think society would only collapse in an absolute worst-case scenario, such as all-out nuclear war. Based on history, people tend to pick up the pieces and keep progressing. The Black Death, for instance, was a major catastrophic event, but Europe survived it and even thrived afterward.

Today, I think we would turn to the very things that we fear oppress us in order to save us: science and technology. We have the ability to use science to understand the world around us and develop technological solutions to fill our needs. We won’t lose that if there were a global pandemic or some other catastrophe. There may be a period of chaos, but I believe it would be temporary. Unless we somehow wipe ourselves out completely, I think we humans will continue to move forward.

Read what other people think on Quora.

Stephen King’s Themes

This essay started life as a collection of notes I made on every Stephen King book a few years back, when I was rereading them all. Then it morphed into an answer to a question on Quora. Which I then reposted on my books blog. Read: Common Themes in the Works of Stephen King on Books Worth Reading.

Here is the original Quora question with all the answers given.

Quora: Is the Time Magazine Breastfeeding Cover Over the Line in Terms of Good Taste?

My hastily dashed off response to Time magazine’s breastfeeding cover on Quora this morning was reprinted on the Huffington Post: 

Quora: Is the Time Magazine Breastfeeding Cover Over the Line in Terms of Good Taste?

Here’s the original question and all the answers on Quora.

Boards on Quora: A new way to blog or manage projects?

One of my favorite websites, Quora, has launched a new feature called boards, which may put yet another nail in the blog’s coffin. Boards enable you to organize in one place Quora questions and answers, web links, notes and pictures on any subject you like.

It immediately occurred to me that boards were perfect places for project planning and management, kind of a virtual bulletin board where you can pin up whatever you like on a particular topic. That inspired me to start my first board: Learn to Draw and Paint. This is one of my goals for 2012, in an attempt to expand my creative outlets.

Boards would also make effective mini-blogs, on a subject as narrow or as wide as you wish. With tools like Quora’s Boards and Google+, it almost seems like we don’t need the blog anymore. However, the blog is still a great way to organize your stuff under your name on the web, all in one permanent place that can easily be searched, tagged and linked. Although I don’t update my blogs as much as I used to — and often, I am reposting content from another site to the blog — I still find the blog to be a handy way to keep a “home base” on the Internet.

Being a stay-at-home mom who answers questions on Quora…

I’ve answered a couple of questions about being a stay-at-home mom on Quora recently, and I quite like the answers. I invite you to go read them along with all the other great answers to these two questions:

Is it anti-feminist not to be okay with women being homemakers?

What is it like to be a stay-at-home mom?

How to be a better reader…

I spotted this question on Quora: How does one become a better reader and what does it mean to be a better reader? Here is my answer.

Being a better reader, I would say, means that you choose higher quality books that can enlighten as well as entertain you. By high quality, I don’t just mean the established canon of literature, but instead I am referring to well-written, impactful books in whatever genre speaks to your interests. Over time, you’ll find that you more naturally choose these books, that you learn more from your reading and that you retain what you’ve read longer. Your reading will start to inform other aspects of your life, particularly your creative life. In all respects, your reading will be richer.

A good way to become a better reader is to practice close reading. Instead of skimming or reading quickly, try reading word by word. Pay attention to the word choices writers have made and the way they have structured their sentences and paragraphs. Think about the effect they are trying to accomplish with their choices. You will read more slowly and you may read less, but you will get more out of what you read. And you will be unable to tolerate poor writing! For more on this technique, see Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer or her article on Close Reading in The Atlantic.

I believe I became a better reader after I started journaling my reading. There are many methods available: a notebook, a blog, social sites like LibraryThing or GoodReads. Discussing what you’ve read with others is also helpful. Over time, I found myself choosing better books and thinking more deeply about what I read. It helps me to think of reading as a conversation between me (the reader) and the writer. Once the writer has his/her say, then I respond. This definitely helps me internalize what I’ve read and remember it longer.

What would I do if I were 20 again?

On Quora, I spotted a question: What could a 20-year-old do to potentially improve their quality of life down the line? I liked my answer so much, I wanted to repost it here.

When I saw the question, I thought about what I truly regret not knowing and putting into practice when I was 20. So here it is.

What I wish I had known when I was 20 was this: This is the absolute best time in your life to do that thing you have always dreamed of doing. It may be to travel the world, or try to break into a tough profession like acting or singing, or design a video game, or make art, or write, or live in the big city, or start a business. This is the best time in your life to try, and if you don’t try now, you may never fulfill that dream.

When you are in your early 20s, you have few responsibilities. You may not have a lot of money, but you are also more adaptable to living on the cheap. You are probably more willing to wait tables or make coffees to make enough money to get by while you are pursuing that dream. You only have to worry about providing for yourself, which means you are much more free to take risks.

My stepbrother just graduated from college. He is spending 2 years working for AmeriCorps and summers just camping in national parks. This sounds fantastic to me, something I could never do at my age, with my responsibilities.

Many people will tell you that you are wasting your life. Believe me, you have a lot of time if you want to try something and it doesn’t work out. Now is the best time to make mistakes or even fail, to learn from it, to pick up and start over. You don’t have that much to lose yet.

Many people will tell you that you need to get a real job right away, or that you need to go to graduate school. Perhaps, to pursue your true dream, you may need to do those things. But maybe you just need to move to Paris for a couple of years. Only you know what your true dreams are. Pursue them now.

Just discovered Quora…

I just discovered Quora. I know, all the cool kids are already doing it. I am so not cool, I might as well have never left school. If you don’t know, Quora is a crowd-sourced Q&A site. I’ve been browsing around it for a few days — it’s a real time suck, to be honest — and many of the answers posted seem genuinely knowledgeable and helpful. It’s kind of an anti-Yahoo! Answers (although not nearly as funny). I usually type my questions directly into Google, so as an experiment, I’m going to type all my questions into Quora for a few weeks and see what comes up.