“Life is weather, life is meals.” (From Light Years by James Salter)
Light Years, which I’ve read countless times, is quite simply the best novel about marriage that I know. Salter was the master of the elegant turn of the phrase that captures the feeling of life as it is actually lived, its deep rhythms and textures. There is a touch of the eternal in everything he wrote. I’m too old to get a tattoo, but if I did, it would be this sentence.
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is published on June 16 by Orion
“He hears a blue yonderly note from somewhere, perhaps it’s from within.” (From Beatlebone by Kevin Barry)
This novel tells the story of a trip John Lennon made to the west of Ireland in 1978. The sentence tells you what you need to know about John’s state of mind. (“You’ve the look of a poor fella who’s caught up in himself” he is told, accurately enough.) I like the description of the sound here, a sense of “the blues”, and that word “yonderly”. But what I love most is the balance, the weight, how we move from the outside to inside Lennon himself, the sense of genuine sadness and obvious self-pity, that shift to a minor chord.
Iron Towns by Anthony Cartwright is out now on Serpent’s Tail
“I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.” (From The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow)
Ernest Hemingway once said that all American literature derived from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, but since World War Two, Saul Bellow has been of almost equal influence. Having begun by writing two restrained Europhilic novels, in the early 1950s the young Bellow suddenly found a voice that was purely American – and pure Bellow: vibrant and boisterous yet astonishingly acute, and as far from Flaubert as Chicago is from France. Bellow taught American writers to be themselves.
Andrew is the author of The Accidental Agent published by Hutchinson
“Neil was the kind of coiled person who, when you met him, you had a hunch that something interesting could happen to, and you wanted to know him long enough to find out what it might be.” (From The Faithful Couple by AD Miller.)
And there AD Miller lays the foundations for a taut, unnervingly incisive exploration of male friendship, moral ambiguity and betrayal that plays out across decades from that chance meeting between two young guys in California. The friendship between young men – where competition and power dynamics simmer, and feelings are expressed through imperceptible ticks – is one of the hardest emotions to captures, but AD Miller knocks it out of the park.
Tim is the author of Who Stole My Spear? How to be a Man in the 21st Century published by Century
“We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.” (From Darker than Amber by John D MacDonald)
John D MacDonald never wrote a bad sentence, but he often saved his best for the all-important first sentence of the book. Darker Than Amber has a doozy. To me, it’s simply one of the best opening lines to a thriller ever because it compels you to read more. And for that reason, it deserves to be highlighted, electronically or otherwise.
Peter is the author of The Kind Worth Killing, out now on Faber & Faber
“[most people] live as if they will never die and die as if they had never lived.” (From Interview With God by James J Lachard)
I’m not religious but this line goes to the heart of what’s making many people unhappy today, I think: living as if your life is yet to start. And nowhere did I find that mentality more strongly than among investment bankers. I have interviewed around 200 of them and I was struck by how almost all of them said they were not going to remain a banker for long. They just had to pay off their student debt, or acquire a few more skills, or get that one last major bonus… Over time it began to occur to me that many bankers live their lives as a dress rehearsal, thinking to themselves that their ‘real life’ is yet to begin. I know we are meant to hate bankers, but I ended up feeling almost sorry for them.
Swimming With Sharks by Joris Luyendijk is out now.
“I have always longed to be part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things, to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence as the fox sloughs his smell into the cold unworldliness of water; to return to town a stranger.” (From The Peregrine by J.A. Baker.)
This one sentence distils Baker’s masterpiece beautifully; The Peregrine is more than a book about a bird, it is about the disaffection with the human world and the search for transformation through a wild creature. I love that bit about returning to town a stranger for this book does exactly that, turning the familiar into something unforgettably visionary, changing the way you see the natural world and our relationship with it.
Rob Cowen is the author of Common Ground published by Windmill Books.
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