Seven Literary Quotations We Suggest You Memorize

It’s imperative that you have a few literary quotations memorized in case of a conversational emergency. Not only does spouting off a well-rehearsed chestnut from Fitzgerald or Steinbeck give you that air of enigmatic intelligence, but it’s also extremely useful when you’re doling out advice. If you’re like me, the pressure of dispensing guidance to others can fluster you into encouraging someone to “Dance like nobody’s watching into the ocean of your dreams.” And that was the first and last time my friend Keri will ask me if she should attend grad school! You should need no further encouragement to memorize these seven literary quotations:

1. “I do love her, and that’s odd because she is everything I detest in anyone else.” John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

You may be tempted to immediately parade your snappy new line, but don’t waste Steinbeck’s perceptive insight on a question unworthy of its brilliance. It’s not worth whipping this one out when your friend asks, “So how was your date?”

2. “Things are always better in the morning.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Sometimes the best advice you can give someone is also the most straightforward. Also, never underestimate the healing effects of a well-made waffle. I believe Harper Lee wrote that in one of her later, unpublished novels.

3. “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

While many may favor a more mainstream Gatsby quotation—”So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”—I’ve always been fond of this simple yet powerful line. It’s important to recite it with casual aplomb. “F. Scott Fitzgerald once said,” (pause to take a deliberate sip of your drink) “Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” Then stare off into the sunset. If a sunset isn’t readily available, just try to avoid saying, “Can you believe I memorized that? Pretty neat, right?”

4. “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.” Jack Kerouac, On The Road

This Jack Kerouac quotation is provocatively appealing, stirring up feelings of discontent. He’s the type of author whose work will inspire you to roll the dice and say, “Screw it. You only live once. I would like to see a dessert menu!”

5. “People always clap for the wrong things.” J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

This thoughtful quote is just vague enough to work as a polite response after watching your friend’s community theater troupe’s portrayal of Our Town: The Musical.

6. “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

I’d memorize this in a box. I’d even memorize it with a fox. In a house? Yes! With a mouse? No thank you. That’s where I draw the line. Mice are disgusting.

7. “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings

The perfect quote for when you find yourself stuck in conversational purgatory at a party. While your friend’s friend’s friend makes with the yakety-yak, your mind wanders. Did you pay your credit card bill? Is Karate Kid 2 available on Netflix Instant? Is your 8th-grade camp girlfriend on Facebook? Suddenly there’s a pause in the conversation, and gulp, you’re lost. Luckily, you memorized this quote from Walden. Conversational embarrassment avoided!

Which literary quotations did we miss?

  • Elizabeth

    “Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps, in some way, better than a man who has good imposed upon him?” Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

    For anyone in a Theology class.

  • Greg Lowe

    “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
    ― John Milton, Paradise Lost

  • patrice

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

    • D3bgrRL

      Pride and Prejudice?

  • Jez

    “First come smiles, then lies, then gunfire.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

  • Tom Evans

    I can’t speak to the validity of the other quotes, but #6 is NOT in the Lorax. I have been forced to read the Lorax to my son twice a day every day for at least a fortnight, and it is most certainly NOT in that book. Perhaps it is in the movie, but last time I checked, movies are not books

    • Mary

      I think it is from the movie.

  • Jim Miller

    “Not all those who wander are lost”

    • Taylor Smothers

      “All that is gold does not glitter,
      Not all those who wander are lost;
      The old that is strong does not wither,
      Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

      From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
      A light from the shadows shall spring;
      Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
      The crownless again shall be king.” – J. R. R. Tolkien
      It’s actually my laptop lock screen background. I also love: “Be kind to dragons, for thou art crunchy when roasted and taste good with ketchup.” – Sherrilyn Kenyon

    • K.

      As someone who is not always interested in the conventional things in life, I enjoy that one quite a lot.

  • Nicole Wright

    “Laugh as much as you choose but you will not laugh me out of my opinion” -Pride and Prejudice

    And it’s not from a book but my favorite Fitzgerald quote is “that is part of the beauty of all literature, you find that your longings are universal longings, that you are not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

  • Joan Noble

    My three favorite quotes. … Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy son O Lord, and I love Thee and I feel the joy without which the world cannot stand… second one… The mild serenity of age takes the place of riotous blood of youth. By Dostoevsky. Third one… Whatever souls are made of, his and mine are the same. Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights.

  • LobsterGator

    “Whoso would be a man must be a non-comformist.” ~ Emerson’s Essay on Self-Reliance.

  • Bill Otten

    This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man.
    Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

    Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.
    Hamlet Act 1, scene 3, 78–82

  • Liesl Garner

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

    Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance (1841).

    All, or parts. I love the opening line as a quip.

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