My Favorite Book Quotes: The Books That Helped Shape Me Through their Words

In my recent reading year, I’ve taken notice of how different the books I reach for now are from just a couple of years ago, and it got me thinking about all those different books I used to pile up on my list of favorites and what I would think of them now if I approached them with fresh eyes, whether I would have the same visceral reaction I had that first time or none at all.

It also made me reflect on why I considered them my favorite books in the first place, was it the story or rather the sense of feeling known and seen on the page that made me cling to the book long after I had closed the last page?

Looking back, I can see a clear pattern forming over time wherein each book that presented itself at a certain time in my life came to explain a piece of me, and it creates this effect where all these favorite books of mine come together to form a bigger picture, which I can look back on to and understand more clearly the role they had in my growth.

And to think that this all came to my understanding simply by scrolling through my list of Goodreads quotes that I had pinned in my profile. Suddenly all these books that have slipped my mind over the months came back to show just how much joy and clarity they brought me. And I have this immense desire to capture this particular emotion through this post because as the years go on, I’ll hopefully have new books to share, so I’d love to revisit the emotions these brought out in me repeatedly.

I seek immense comfort through the written word, so the more accurate term for these would probably be “passages” instead of “quotes” because it’s often the story told through the words that I seek comfort in. This might also influence my decision to often seek out books that are entirely character-driven and grounded in reality; to explain all that I cannot put into concrete words. And it creates this interesting resolution where I know that when I’ll reexperience these emotions (may it be confusion, sadness, intense love) I can seek out their words and take comfort in its simplistic explanation, all whispers of things I’d loved.

“Great books help you understand, and they help you to feel understood.”
John Green

An example of what inspired this whole idea in the first place was rereading The Raven King this past week, which I haven’t done since my first whirlwind read on the day the book came out, and going through the last book in the series reminded me of just how closely I cherished these characters. I saw a piece of me within this group: Ronan has my roots to family, Blue has my all-encompassing relationships, Adam has my perceptive intensity and… All these components that evoked the memory of how good it feels to read a book that gets you, which brought me back to the Goodreads quotes for this series since I can’t commit to rereading the whole series; I just wanted the string of highlights.

And there are so many books that produce a similar effect in my heart, so I had to come up with a concise list to share. And these aren’t necessarily my favorite books to date, but rather it’s their words that made me click and understand a part of myself that I was seeking out at the time of reading and through their given words I felt known and seen by another human (“without the body odor and the eye contact,” sorry, the Cather Avery in me slipped out). So this may not be a list of all-time favorite books, because those constantly change as I grow and evolve, but rather a list of books that helped me come to terms with realizing so much that I needed to know.

These were certainly favorites at the time, and now, looking back they’re favorites for helping me understand that which only in hindsight I can understand I was asking for an answer that unveiled itself through the written word.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by by Leslye Walton

The thing with rereading a book that blew you away the first time, it’s then quite the disappointment when all those scenes that stuck with you from your first read turn out to be not as grand as you remembered. Like a certain character detail that I blew up in my hand turned out to be less than one page in the book, and I was confounded as to how that was possible…

Since this book follows three generations, and when I read it I fell into the world of Emmeline, aka the first generation we go back to, I was aghast to find her discussed less than 100 pages because all the details of her life had stuck with me so closely. It’s been over three years and I still remember details of her marriage, her bakery and her dear friend at the bakery, her eccentric family members and their stories, the stories of the neighborhood. I can recall everything clear as day, maybe even better than my own memories, so it surprised me when I revisited the story to find that they were discussed in such a small amount of pages.

Since Emmeline’s journey encaptured me the most, it’s also her phrase that came to mirror my own thoughts:

She struggled to distinguish between signs she received from the universe and those she conjured up in her head.

This brings me back like nothing else to my confused state at the time of reading this book where I experienced this unmoored reality, teetering the ground between who I was and who I wanted to become so I was almost desperately seeking out all that would help explain it to me. I cherished this book, and the magical realism genre, for a long time following.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater:

Ava Lavender was the perfect build-up for this grandiose series that touches on all things magical from dark creatures to tarot readings to having that something more in your life, which is captured to the point in this passage:

“The predictions that came out of 300 Fox Way were unspecific, but undeniably true. Her mother had dreamt Blue’s broken wrist on the first day of school. Her aunt Jimi predicted Maura’s tax return to within ten dollars. Her older cousin Orla always began to hum her favorite song a few minutes before it came on the radio.”

This still strikes a comforting note within me.

I touched before, at the start of this post, on just how much I relished in the world of this raven group, and I’ll forevermore be grateful for the solace they granted me in feeling so included in their dynamic. And the curious thing is there’s more than one group to seek that something more in, Maura and Calla and Persephone were always something I looked forward to reading about on the page.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell:


If you’ve been around for a while on this blog (long enough to read my two reviews for Fangirl, 1&2), you know by now there isn’t one quote that can fully encompass how much this book means to me. I’ve read it countless times since my first time reading it because it’s the only physical book I have that I actually enjoy. I genuinely end up rereading it every Shabbat when the book I took home from the library inevitably disappoints me. I gravitate towards Rainbow Rowel’s Fangirl because it’s a familiar and comforting world to sink into. The characters feel so close to my heart, same for the writing; I can recall the words by heart now, so much so that when I read a certain scene, I’ll start laughing ahead of time because I recall what line awaits. Scenes with Reagan or Levi never disappoint.

The book recently re-released its new paperback edition with a glowing full-color illustration by Mara Miranda-Escota of one of my favorite Cath and Levi scenes (reading on the love seat!), plus it has minty stained edges. Be sure to snatch your copy here:

I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This: A Memoir: Nadja Spiegelman

My love for honest and compelling lifetime works began with uncovering this book: I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This. It opened my eyes not only to the genre of Memoir, which I then solely devoured for the following months but I realized through Nadja Spiegelman chronicles just how fierce and all-encompassing mother-daughter relationships can be.

The things my mother did not see about herself, I did not see, either.

This book holds a lot for itself, but I’ll always hold it dear for holding open that doorway for me to peek in. My subsequent phase of memoirs, where other people come to a concrete understanding through chronicling their lives, I was hoping to catch some of that for my own understanding. It’s very often that we can find our thought mirrored in others. And I found two others which created a similar effect:

Trevor Noah’s account resonated with me on a more deeper level than I was expecting for a comedic memoir, from the way his mind works with language to the fierce nature of his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. I still think about them to this day. Though at the core it holds a troubling tale of coming-of-age during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa, Noah takes the joys and pangs of his life and makes sure to mix in some much-needed humor. This checks it all off:

“Nearly one million people lived in Soweto. Ninety-nine point nine percent of them were black—and then there was me. I was famous in my neighborhood just because of the color of my skin. I was so unique people would give directions using me as a landmark. “The house on Makhalima Street. At the corner you’ll see a light-skinned boy. Take a right there.”

The latter book by Diane Guerrero uncovered a deep, hidden part in me which I had stored away for years, yet through Diane Guerrero’s unflinchingly honest story of recounting her adolescence, it all came flooding back. Like, the memory of betrayal of experiencing her first period but not having the one person who’s supposed to know it all, it’s a story that still sticks with me to this very day. Also, her touching upon the fact that people touching her makes her uncomfortable made me connect with her instantly because I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone, though I was secretly hoping for her to reveal the source of it, though her mother had her inklings.

Basically, reading memoirs feels like coming out of a good therapy session. And funnily enough, there are excellent books by Irvin D. Yalom just on this concept of accompanying through the written word a therapy journey that most likely mirrors your own thoughts and fear: Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy.

The title story of the collection remains a favorite of mine in particular since it touches upon the concept of obsessive love versus healthy love, which, boy, did I need to hear that at the time.

“Perhaps the function of the obsession was simply to provide intimacy: it bonded her to another—but not to a real person, to a fantasy.”

At the time of this revelation, not a lot of memoirs were out in the bookish world so I ventured over into family stories which granted me much of the same, plus delicious drama.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The intricately thought out sequences that move this book still hinder me speechless. At the core of Little Fires Everywhere lies a tale of motherhood and love. I was especially in awe of the way Celeste Ng can characterize such specific components within each figure that we meet; everyone stood out as their own person through this intense character-study. And ever since I read this particular passage below that transcends words; I can never look the same at the subtlety in the growing relationship between a mother and her child without hearing this echoed in my mind.

“It had been a long time since her daughter had let her be so close. Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there were something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

The audience needs more books from the author. Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 09.46.55

I would love to know in the comments below if you have any similar bookish quotes that have helped you in any way that you would like to share.

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Review: Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley

Long gone are the days of failing to remember the genius idea I came up with while washing the dishes, or when I’m just about to fall asleep.

Kevin Horsley’s Unlimited Memory offers up a multitude of methods to advance our memory, and I plan to return time and again back to the strategies I took down in my notes. The most helpful of which was visualizing what you’re trying to remember and make a movie in your mind with a creative spin so it sticks out more easily in the daily hubbub.

 

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My Most Personal Review: Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy

My interest was piqued regarding Einstein and the Rabbi simply with this featured post:

And the book recommendation did not disappoint one bit, upon starting.

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe, ‘ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separate from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness…” –Albert Einstein

When Rabbi Naomi Levy came across this poignant letter by Einstein it shook her to her core. His words perfectly captured what she has come to believe about the human condition: That we are intimately connected, and that we are blind to this truth. Levy wondered what had elicited such spiritual wisdom from a man of science? Thus began a three-year search into the mystery of Einstein’s letter, and into the mystery of the human soul.

Back in late 2016, looking desperately for a way to reinvent myself or, at the very least, like when I heard myself talk, I overheard a lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that would come to change the course of my life over the next two years.

Sometimes something breaks through to you. It may be an unexpected feeling of ease or even holiness while you are simply enjoying a moment with a loved one. Or it may be the power of the words you read or a melody you hear, the power of being at one with nature, the power of praying in community, the power of a teaching, the advice someone gave you long ago. Suddenly the lesson you need to hear isn’t just washing over you—it hits you deeply.

At the time, influenced by every culture but my own, I was startled to hear a Rabbi state: “Not all that is written in the Torah is the real physical truth as it is,” which was eerily similar to what I’d told my mother before, who was by then already deep into returning to our roots. “The Torah writes what we can understand, not what specifically happened.” And that’s all it took to hook me in.

I started listening and delving deeper into the Jewish philosophies the Rabbi shared, which include lessons on parenting with joy, the truth of love, exposing classic writers and artists for the antisemitism in their works, positive psychology, the different levels of the soul, wartime, Holocaust culture, and so much more that came to shape all that I am today.

It’s become this phenomenon in every book I read or any lecture I listen to, where it all circles back to, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson.” Or, if I disagree, “Oh, that’s like Reuven Fierman said in that one lesson on how not to act.”

The past year I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the roots of Judaism, and I never thought it would come to save me as much as it did.

Have you ever wondered: Why do I say stuff I don’t agree with? Why am I so quick to turn to anger? How do I establish more meaningful relationships? How do I turn the world around me into a better place?

The other day, my mom viewed this powerful scene from the film The Edge of Seventeen that clicks everything together about sensitive souls stuck in a place that doesn’t accommodate them.

“And I don’t know how to change it” captures best the feeling of isolation I experienced throughout my growing up, like there was this invisible bubble serving as a buffer between me and the outside world with no handy tools to pop it; I could poke and move the bubble around but it was still very much there.

And I need to remember my contemplative thoughts about how I got through that stage, in case the memory slips away with time, so I’m writing this personal post. In a way I owe it all to my mother; it always comes back to my roots. My mom was the one listening to that fateful lesson by Rabbi Reuven Fierman on TV that I managed to walk right by as he said the puncturing sentence that stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve grown and learned so much about the power behind choosing to be who you want to be, thanks to these valuable and encompassing life lessons. AND IT’S AVAILABLE AT THE CLICK OF A BUTTON… FOR FREE.

My personal favorite lessons in Hebrew (Available for English listeners here and Russian listeners here):

You’re not unnecessary. It’s not all or nothing.

  • Being grateful and voicing it so the other side can feel it too. Saying ‘thank you’ because it is a recognition of the light of Hashem that appeared between you. Also: How do you appreciate what happens to you, not what actually happens to you? It’s not the reality that determines, it’s your absorption: http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22657&cat_id=3702.
  • The biological origins behind anger, the rush of adrenaline it provides, and identifying tiny triggers that sets your body on alarm, all of this revolutionized my perception regarding my anxious thoughts. You’re mind is essentially going through all these loops when little things happen that can spiral down to receiving the rush of adrenaline and anger of “I’m in danger.” So it’s up to you to research yourself in modes of anger: what triggers it (heat, crowds, etc.), what’s the root, how do you react… http://www.meirtv.co.il/site/content_idx.asp?idx=22668&cat_id=3702

And with all that off my chest, this is where Einstein and the Rabbi by Naomi Levy steps in. It took me quite some time to fully complete this reading journey, only upon reaching the chapter Knowing You Are the Right Man for the Job did I realize what kept me from reaching for this book throughout the month: the author spent half of Einstein and the Rabbi, talking about neither Einstein nor the Rabbi, but rather focuses on themes and ideas they represent.

I came to cherish this book for the vulnerable tales from the author’s personal life or from the people she encountered, so it took me quite some time to push through those chapters that are just full of advice. I do have to say, the author knows how to tell a story expertly and make us live through it, instead of revealing all the details ahead of time.

Key moments from the book that stayed with me:

  • Judith and her Buchenwald boys. This chapter made me blink back one too many tears, starting with this passage:

“The adults were expecting to receive pitiful, well-mannered children grateful for any drop of kindness. That’s not at all what they got. The boys were exploding with rage. They were suspicious of everyone. They were petrified of doctors, who reminded them of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous sadist of Auschwitz. The boys hardly spoke at all. They were violent, and they obsessively stole and hoarded food.
Many of the boys couldn’t even remember their names. Whenever an adult asked a child, “What’s your name?” he’d answer by calling out his concentration camp number. The boys all looked alike, with their shaved heads, emaciated faces, and the black circles around their cold, apathetic eyes. They didn’t know how to laugh or smile or play.”

There’s rarely any talk of the survivors right after escaping hell on earth, and this was a gripping account.

  • The author, Naomi Levy, coping with the grief for her beloved father.

“We went to visit the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I walked up to the wall and at first I just touched the ancient stones. Then I got closer and closer and I smelled it.
I smelled the Kotel. And the Kotel smelled like my father. It didn’t smell just a little like my dad, it smelled like my father’s armpit!
There I stood, eyes closed, with both of my arms outstretched, leaning against the wall so hard that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was standing up or lying down. Just lying there with my nose in my father’s armpit. And I began sobbing. The wall melted.”

  • The story shared of her friend Rachel that puts explicitly on the page how one moment can change your life, for better and for worse. From being the one judging people to suddenly “She said to me, “I was hated. I was the evil person. I couldn’t show my face to Jack’s family.” It’s frightening to what extent your actions can lead to accepting a pivotal turning point that’ll finally open up your eyes.

“She began praying the morning and night prayers. She told me, “I love that there are words I can say to guide me into the dream state—night is a scary time. And I love that there are words for waking when that harsh pain of returning to reality washes over you.”

This says so much.

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