The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)

The Literature Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained) (2016)




Only the gods dwell forever in sunlight ✵ The Epic of Gilgamesh

To nourish oneself on ancient virtue induces perseverance ✵ Book of Changes, attributed to King Wen of Zhou ✵ The Epic of Gilgamesh

What is this crime I am planning, O Krishna? ✵ Mahabharata, attributed to Vyasa

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles ✵ Iliad, attributed to Homer

How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in truth! ✵ Oedipus the King, Sophocles

The gates of hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way ✵ Aeneid, Virgil

Fate will unwind as it must ✵ Beowulf

So Scheherazade began… ✵ One Thousand and One Nights

Since life is but a dream, why toil to no avail? ✵ Quan Tangshi

Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams ✵ The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu

A man should suffer greatly for his Lord ✵ The Song of Roland

Tandaradei, sweetly sang the nightingale ✵ “Under the Linden Tree”, Walther von der Vogelweide

He who dares not follow love’s command errs greatly ✵ Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, Chrétien de Troyes

Let another’s wound be my warning ✵ Njal’s Saga



I found myself within a shadowed forest ✵ The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri

We three will swear brotherhood and unity of aims and sentiments ✵ Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Luo Guanzhong

Turn over the leef and chese another tale ✵ The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer

Laughter’s the property of man. Live joyfully ✵ Gargantua and Pantagruel, François Rabelais

As it did to this flower, the doom of age will blight your beauty ✵ Les Amours de Cassandre, Pierre de Ronsarde

He that loves pleasure must for pleasure fall ✵ Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe

Every man is the child of his own deeds ✵ Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

One man in his time plays many parts ✵ First Folio, William Shakespeare

To esteem everything is to esteem nothing ✵ The Misanthrope, Molière

But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near ✵ Miscellaneous Poems, Andrew Marvell

Sadly, I part from you; like a clam torn from its shell, I go, and autumn too ✵ The Narrow Road to the Interior, Matsuo Bashō

None will hinder and none be hindered on the journey to the mountain of death ✵ The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, Chikamatsu Monzaemon

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good family ✵ Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe

If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others? ✵ Candide, Voltaire

I have courage enough to walk through hell barefoot ✵ The Robbers, Friedrich Schiller

There is nothing more difficult in love than expressing in writing what one does not feel ✵ Les Liaisons dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Further reading


Poetry is the breath and the finer spirit of all knowledge ✵ Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Nothing is more wonderful, nothing more fantastic than real life ✵ Nachtstücke, E T A Hoffmann

Man errs, till he has ceased to strive ✵ Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Once upon a time… ✵ Children’s and Household Tales, Brothers Grimm

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn? ✵ Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil ✵ Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

All for one, one for all ✵ The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas

But happiness I never aimed for, it is a stranger to my soul ✵ Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin

Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes ✵ Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man ✵ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me ✵ Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! ✵ Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

There is no folly of the beast of the Earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men ✵ Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

All partings foreshadow the great final one ✵ Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Further reading


Boredom, quiet as the spider, was spinning its web in the shadowy places of her heart ✵ Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

I too am a child of this land; I too grew up amid this scenery ✵ The Guarani, José de Alencar

The poet is a kinsman in the clouds ✵ Les Fleurs du mal, Charles Baudelaire

Not being heard is no reason for silence ✵ Les Misérables, Victor Hugo

Curiouser and curiouser! ✵ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart ✵ Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

To describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible ✵ War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

It is a narrow mind which cannot look at a subject from various points of view ✵ Middlemarch, George Eliot

We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones ✵ Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne

In Sweden all we do is to celebrate jubilees ✵ The Red Room, August Strindberg

She is written in a foreign tongue ✵ The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James

Human beings can be awful cruel to one another ✵ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

He simply wanted to go down the mine again, to suffer and to struggle ✵ Germinal, Émile Zola

The evening sun was now ugly to her, like a great inflamed wound in the sky ✵ Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it ✵ The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

There are things old and new which must not be contemplated by men’s eyes ✵ Dracula, Bram Stoker

One of the dark places of the earth ✵ Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Further reading


The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes ✵ The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle

I am a cat. As yet I have no name. I’ve no idea where I was born ✵ I Am a Cat, Natsume Sōseki

Gregor Samsa found himself, in his bed, transformed into a monstrous vermin ✵ Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ✵ Poems, Wilfred Owen

Ragtime literature which flouts traditional rhythms ✵ The Waste Land, T S Eliot

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit ✵ Ulysses, James Joyce

When I was young I, too, had many dreams ✵ Call to Arms, Lu Xun

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself ✵ The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Criticism marks the origin of progress and enlightenment ✵ The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

Like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars ✵ The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

The old world must crumble. Awake, wind of dawn! ✵ Berlin Alexanderplatz, Alfred Döblin

Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board ✵ Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts ✵ The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

It is such a secret place, the land of tears ✵ The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Further reading

POST-WAR WRITING ✵ 1945–1970

BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU ✵ Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

I’m seventeen now, and sometimes I act like I’m about thirteen ✵ The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger

Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland ✵ Poppy and Memory, Paul Celan

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me ✵ Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul ✵ Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

He leaves no stone unturned, and no maggot lonely ✵ Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

It is impossible to touch eternity with one hand and life with the other ✵ The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Yukio Mishima

He was beat – the root, the soul of beatific ✵ On the Road, Jack Kerouac

What is good among one people is an abomination with others ✵ Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Even wallpaper has a better memory than human beings ✵ The Tin Drum, Günter Grass

I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. ✵ To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Nothing is lost if one has the courage to proclaim that all is lost and we must begin anew ✵ Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar

He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt ✵ Catch-22, Joseph Heller

Everyday miracles and the living past ✵ Death of a Naturalist, Seamus Heaney

There’s got to be something wrong with us. To do what we did ✵ In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Ending at every moment but never ending its ending ✵ One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

Further reading


Our history is an aggregate of last moments ✵ Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel ✵ If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino

To understand just one life you have to swallow the world ✵ Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another ✵ Beloved, Toni Morrison

Heaven and Earth were in turmoil ✵ Red Sorghum, Mo Yan

You could not tell a story like this. A story like this you could only feel ✵ Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

A historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment ✵ Omeros, Derek Walcott

I felt lethal, on the verge of frenzy ✵ American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis

Quietly they moved down the calm and sacred river ✵ A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth

It’s a very Greek idea, and a profound one. Beauty is terror ✵ The Secret History, Donna Tartt

What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world ✵ The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami

Perhaps only in a world of the blind will things be what they truly are ✵ Blindness, José Saramago

English is an unfit medium for the truth of South Africa ✵ Disgrace, J M Coetzee

Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories ✵ White Teeth, Zadie Smith

The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t one ✵ The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

There was something his family wanted to forget ✵ The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

It all stems from the same nightmare, the one we created together ✵ The Guest, Hwang Sok-yong

I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live ✵ Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

Further reading