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Books


-The Boarderliners by Peter Hoeg
-Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
-Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken
-Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
-Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
-Other Inquisitions by Jorge Louis Borges
-Speaking with Angels edited by Nick Hornby
-From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
-Cryptonomicom by Neil Stephenson
-Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull
-The Moral Animal by Richard Wright
-A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
-The Code Book by Simon Singh
-Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
-The Tao of Physics by Fritof Capra
-Ex Libris by Ann Fadiman
-The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Fenyman
-Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee
-The Consolation of Philosophy by Alan de Botton
-The Worst Case Scenario Handbook by Pivens and Borgenicht
-Genome by Matt Ridley
-Forbidden Knowledge by Roger Shatuck
-Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers
-Properties of Light by Rebecca Goldstein
-With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy by Florence King
-Life After God by Douglas Copeland
-Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje
-Mind Over Matters by Michael J. Nelson

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Quotes

(in no particular order and probably not frequently updated)

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The Boarderliners by Peter Hoeg

It was everything, that kiss was everything. Everything you had dreamed of but never attained, and everything that, now, would never come to pass, because I was going away and was lost. All of that was in it.

--

We sat there and I knew that this was how it felt to be totally accepted. You sit close to another person and are understood, everything is understood and nothing is judged and you are indispensible.

...I could have gone on sitting there with her forever. That is how it was, and that is how it will be for the rest of my life. If the child, August, had also been there, I could have sat there with the woman always.
I never wanted anything else. Nor have I since then. Than to be allowed inside, and then to sit quietly with the woman and the child. That would have been enough.

But now I saw that it was different for Katarina. And that she, and maybe every person, was like a row upon row of white rooms. You can go together through some of them, but they have no end, and you cannot accompany anyone through them all.

--

At Himmelbjer House and at the Royal Orphanage you had often been isolated and locked up in various places -- mostly the cellars, but other places too... Even so you could have coped with it, others before you had coped. But when they transferred me I must have been weakened by what had happened, and by the fact that I had got used to talking to Katarina and August.

If those who listen, those who are your friends, are nevertheless to be taken from you, then it would have been better if you had never gotten to know them.

--

To sense time, to speak about time, you have to sense that something has changed. And you have to sense that within or behind this change there is also something that was present before. The perception of time is the inexplicable union in the consciousness of change and constancy.

In people's lives, in yours and mine, there are linear time sequences, with and without beginnings and endings. Conditions and epochs that appear with or without warning, only to pass and never come around again.

And there are repetitions, cycles: ups and downs, hope and despair, love and rejection, rearing up and dying away and returning again and again.

And their are blackouts, time lags. And spurts of time. And sudden delays.

There is an overwhelmingly powerful tendency, when people are gathered together, to create a common time.

And in between all of these, every conceivable combination, hybrid, and intermediate state is to be found.

And, just glimpsed, incidences of eternity.

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Life After God by Douglas Copeland

...our conversations are never easy, but as I - we - get older, we are all finding that our conversations must be spoken. A need burns inside us to share with others what we are feeling. Beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic. It is as though the coolness that marked our youth is itself a type of retro-virus that can only leave you feeling empty. Full of holes.


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Losing Julia by Jonathan Hull

Ever since I was a child, stars have made me feel wonderfully insignificant. Maybe its because the heavens are one of the few things large enough to dwarf my own problems, to place even my acute anxiety into some perspective. I'm quite content to feel diminished if my problems are equally demeaned, which is why I love oceans and hate Sunday nights...

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Other Inquisitions by Jorge Louis Borges

Danish clergymen had announced from their pulpits that to participate in those expeditions [to the North Pole] would be beneficial for the eternal salvation of the soul. However, they admitted that it was difficult and perhaps impossible to reach the pole, and that not everyone could undertake such an adventure. Finally, they announced that any journey -- from Denmark to London, say, by ship -- or a Sunday outing in a hackney coach, was in fact a real expedition to the North Pole.(on Kafka)

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Coleridge observes that all men are born Aristolelians or Platonists. The latter feel that the classes, orders and genres are realities; the former, that they are generalities. For the latter, language is nothing but an approximate set of symbols; for the former, it is the map of the universe. (on Coleridge)


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A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace

Every lonely human I know watches more than the average US six hours [of TV] a day. The lonely, like the fictive, love one-way watching. For lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness -- in fact there exist today support and social groups for persons with precisely those attributes. Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly...[This lonely person] fears and loathes the strain of the special self-consciousness which seems to affect him only when other real human beings are around starting their human sense antennae abristle...[He] fears how he might appear, come across, to watchers. He chooses to sit out the enormously stressful game of appearance poker.


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The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Fenyman

For instance, the scientific article says, perhaps, something like this: " The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreased to one-half in a period of two weeks." Now what does that mean? It means that the phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat (and also in mine, and in yours) is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago, but that all of the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced, and the ones that were there before have gone away.

So what is this mind, what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week's potatoes! That is what we can remember, what was going on in my mind a year ago - a mind which has long ago been replaced.

That is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the brain to be replaced by other atoms, to note that the thing which I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, then go out; always new atoms but always doing the same dance, remembering what dance was there yesterday.


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Properties of Light by Rebecca Goldstein

The passage of time is nothing real. It is a chimera spun out of gauzy consciousness, and nothing more, a frightful apparition tossed up by our mixed-up minds. We know this from Einstein's physics, which shows us a time stilled as spread space. Time is static, the flow unreal: it is Einstein's truth and it is the truth, falling straight away from the conditions of perfect symmetry imposed on the geometry. The ebb, which seems terrible and real, which seems to carry off everyone's treasure, leaving one like a chest spilled open on the waves: unreal, unreal...

--

I could not bear to end the night, though I had no thought that I might prolong it through any effort of my own. I was just as passive as I was pounding, and I dreaded, in my problematic state, to leave this house ... just as I dreaded to stay, for I knew to stay would be terrible, but not so terrible as to leave. The world outside her sphere was suddenly given to me in all its coldness, the world as it really is, after all, so that I wondered how I would, from now on bear it, live and yet not feel it and wondered how it was that I had lived until now, what had I thought of and what had I felt?...

--

...I knew it in a moment's span, the merest second's fracturing open, suffered the knowledge as one suffers a blow...


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Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

When the corpses of [Sir John] Franklin's officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of "The Vicar of Wakefield." These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by God, they were gentlemen. (on arctic explorers)

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One night when I was pregnant with Henry, I lay in bed thinking for some reason, about "Treasure Island." I realized that from the entire book there was only one sentence I remembered verbatim, something that Ben Gunn, who has been marooned for three years, says to Jim Hawkins: "Many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese -- toasted mostly." I repeated the last two words over and over again, like a mantra. "Toasted, mostly. Toasted mostly."

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Miscellaneous:

The Waves by Virginia Wolf

We insist, it seems, on living. Then again, indifference decends. The roar of traffic, the passage of our undifferentiated faces. This way and that way, drugs me into dreams; rubs features from faces. People might walk through me... we are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.

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Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark

That is the sad thing about memory, I suppose. It goes without saying that search as we will, we can not know the future; but it seems we can not even know the past, however much we search it; and so we are always longing for it and seeing it beyond our reach, anticipating what is past as though it were to come. In that way, having a memory is terribly sad, like visiting a graveyard where, even at the loveliest of times one must finally confess that underneath the verdue there are only the dead and gone, that what is lost to us, the thing we once loved, that we still love...I suppose that is all memory really is for the most part: the hunger for what we have loved.

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Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje

The mystic privacy one can be so proud of has no alphabet of noise or meaning to the people outside.

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The Temple and the Lodge by Michael Gigent and Richard Leigh

When he travelled, he would be preceeded, as tradition decreed for a Celtic chieftain, by seven women singing his glory and his pedigree -- a flattering practice at first, no doubt, which must quickly have become both noisy and boring. [About Alexander III, in Scotland, c. 1249].

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Rainer Maria Rilke (1924)

We are not to know why
This and that masters us;
Real life makes no reply,
Only that it enraptures us

Makes us familiar with it

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Beyond Einstein by Michio Kaku

Imagine standing on a high mountaintop and throwing a rock, which eventually falls to the earth. The faster you throw the rock, the further it goes before it falls to the earth. In fact, argued Newton, if the rock were thrown with sufficient velocity, it would circle the earth and hit you on the back of your head. Like a rock circling the earth, the moon is simply a satellite continually falling to the earth.

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From Here to Eternity by Tim Folger, an article on physicist Julian Barbour's theory of time (Discover Magazine)

In his [Julian Barbour's] view, this moment and all it holds ...will never change. There is no past and no future. Indeed, time and motion are nothing more than illusions.

In Barbour's universe, every moment of every individual's life -- birth, death and everything in between -- exists forever. "Each instant we live," Barbour says, "is, in essence, eternal." That means each and every one of us is immortal. Like the perpetually unmoving lovers in Keat's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," we are "forever panting and forever young." We are also forever aged and decrepit, on our deathbeds, in the dentist's chair, at thanksgiving with our in-laws, and reading these words...

Julian Barbour is convinced we are all immortal. Unfortunately, in a timeless universe immortality does not come with the same kind of perks that it does on Mount Olympus. In Barbour's vision, we are not like greek gods who remain forever young. We still have to buy life insurance, and we will certainly seem to age and die and instead of life after death, there is life alongside death. "We are always locked within one Now," Barbour says. We do not pass through time. Instead, each new instant is an entirely different universe.

In all of these universes, nothing ever moves or ages, since time is not present in any one of them. One universe might contain you as a baby staring at your mother's face. In that universe, you will never move from that one, still scene. In yet another universe you'll be forever just one breath away from death. All of these universes, and infinitely many more, exist permanently, side by side, in a cosmos of unimaginable size and variety. So there is not one immortal you, but many... The tragedy -- or perhaps it's a blessing -- is that no one version recognizes its own immortality. Would you really want to be 14 for eternity, waiting for your civics class to end?...