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The Wit and Wisdom of the Ages: Gyles Brandreth’s Messing about in Quotes

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revels in the world of quirky quotations courtesy of Gyles Brandreth

Here at Interesting Literature we love a good quotation. Much wit and wisdom have been condensed into a single line, or perhaps two pithy lines, and so a book of quotations is always a welcome addition to the creaking bookshelves here at IL Towers. The latest book to hit the shelves comes courtesy of a review copy of Gyles Brandreth’s Messing About in Quotes: A Little Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations – its title itself, of course, alluding to if not quoting directly from Kenneth Grahame/Mr Toad. And there’s something suitably Toadlike about Messing about in Quotes: dashing about from one subject to another, taking in animals and birds on one page and then apologies and excuses on the next, before we move on to cats and dogs, certainty and doubt, and so on through the alphabet, right through to sections treating words, work, writers, writing, and youth. (Zebras, I’m sorry to say, don’t get their own section, but then one wonders how many great zebra-themed quips there have been down the centuries.) Read the rest of this entry


Who said, ‘The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think’?

The curious origin of a famous quotation

‘The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think’ is a quotation that is often attributed to Harper Lee, the author of the seminal work of twentieth-century American literature, To Kill a Mockingbird. But did Harper Lee originate this quotation?

Numerous websites give the credit to Harper Lee, it’s true. (See, for instance, these pages on Goodreads and Bustle, and this book.) It’s been shared numerous times on social media with Lee’s name attached to it. But it doesn’t feature in her Wikiquote page, and cannot be traced to any known interview she gave, nor to either of the two novels published in her lifetime, To Kill a Mockingbird or Go Set a Watchman. Did Lee actually say it? Read the rest of this entry

15 Great Quotes about the Novel

The best quotations from writers – about the art of the novel

What should a novel be? Writers down the ages have often decreed that the novel should be one thing or another. Here are fifteen of the best quotes from writers about the novel as an art form, as a mode of social enquiry, as a book of questions, and much else besides.

A novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it. – Randall Jarrell Read the rest of this entry