"In books lies the soul of the whole Past Time,
the articulate audible voice of the Past,
when the body and the material substance of it
has altogether vanished like a dream."
"There is more treasure in books
than in all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island,
and best of all, you can enjoy these riches
every day of your life."
"A book, too, can be a star,
a living fire to lighten the darkness,
leading out into the expanding universe."
"How deluded we sometimes are by the clear
notions we get out of books. They make us think
that we really understand things of which we
have no practical knowledge at all."
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did,
the which, if they should be written every one,
I suppose that even the world itself
could not contain the books that should be written."
—St. John the Apostle
"Life being very short, and the quiet hours few,
we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books."
"The failure to read good books both enfeebles
the vision and stengthens our most fatal tendency—
the belief that the here and now is all there is."
"For books are more than books, they are the life,
the very heart and core of ages past.
The reason why men lived, and worked, and died,
the essence and quintessence of their lives."
"It will be the best-written books
which are passed on to posterity. . . .
Writing well also means thinking well,
feeling well, and behaving well."
—Comte George-Louis Leclerc de Buffon
"Every creature is full of God,
and is a book about God."
"Buying books would be a good thing
if one could also buy the time to read them in:
but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken
for the appropriation of their contents."
"All good books have one thing in common—
they are truer than if they had really happened."
"A truly good book teaches me better than to read it.
I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. . . .
What I began by reading, I must finish by acting."
—Henry David Thoreau
"The love of learning,
the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books."
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel,
read only a page."
"In the best books, great men talk to us,
give us their most precious thoughts, and pour their souls into ours.
God be thanked for books.
They are the voices of the distant and the dead,
and make us heirs of the spiritual life of past ages.
Books are true levelers. They give to all, who will faithfully use them,
the society, the spiritual presence of the best and greatest."
—William Ellery Channing
"A book reads the better which is our own,
and has been so long known to us,
that we know the topography of its blots,
and dog's ears, and can trace the dirt in it
to having read it at tea with buttered muffins."
"Books are the flowers or fruit stuck here or there on a tree
which has its roots deep down in the earth of our earliest life,
of our first experiences. But . . . to tell the reader anything
that his own imagination and insight have not already discovered
would need not a page or two of preface but a volume or two of autobiography."
"Youth is a time when we find
the books we give up but do not get over."
"When you re-read a classic,
you do not see more in the book than you did before,
you see more in you than there was before."
"In that abyss, I beheld how love held bound
Into one volume all the leaves whose flight
Is scattered through the universe around . . .
For everything the will has ever sought
Is gathered there, and there is every quest
Made perfect, which apart from it falls short."
"The multitude of books is making us ignorant."
"The profit of books
is according to the sensibility of the reader;
the profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine,
until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Books—the best antidote against the marsh-gas of boredom and vacuity."
"Where My Books Go"
All the words that I gather,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm darkened or starry bright.
—W. B. Yeats
"In the case of good books,
the point is not to see how many of them you can get through,
but rather how many can get through to you."
—Mortimer J. Adler
"A truly great book should be read in youth,
again in maturity and once more in old age,
as a fine binding should be seen by morning light,
at noon and by moonlight."
"We need the books that effect us like a disaster,
that grieve us deeply,
like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves,
like being banished into forests far from everyone. . . .
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us."
"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience:
this is the ideal life."
"No man can be called friendless
who has God and the companionship of good books."
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"We all know that books burn—yet we have
the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire.
People die, but books never die.
No man and no force can abolish memory. . . .
In this war, we know, books are weapons."
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"There is something about the book
which fits the eye, the hand, and the mind:
it has achieved a perfect form,
which cannot be transcended."
"Books are the carriers of civilization.
Without books, history is silent,
literature dumb, science crippled,
thought and speculation at a standstill."
"The best of a book is not the thought which it contains,
but the thought which it suggests;
just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones
but in the echoes of our hearts."
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
"There is more ado to interpret interpretations than to interpret the things,
and more books upon books than upon all other subjects;
we do nothing but comment upon one another."
"Each friendship and love is the ultimate journey
where the soul is born and grows. The journey
is the drama of the heart's voyage into the tide
of possibilities which open before it. Indeed,
a book is a path of words which takes the heart
in new directions."
"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends;
they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors,
and the most patient of teachers."
—Charles W. Eliot
"As good almost kill a man as kill a good book:
who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image;
but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself."
"You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks
like ladders to sniff books like perfumes
and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.
May you be in love every day for the next . . .
20,000 days. And out of that love,
remake a world."
"If you can get the right book at the right time
you taste joys—not only bodily, physical,
but spiritual also, which pass one
out above and beyond one's miserable self,
as it were through a huge air,
following the light of another man's thought.
And you can never be quite the old self again."
—T. E. Lawrence
Tired of being surrounded by stuff? Tired of same-old-same-old? Convinced that adventure always lies somewhere else? So was Gustave Flaubert’s heroine Emma Bovary from the 1857 novel Madame Bovary, and she killed herself. Fortunately, we don’t have to. Nor do we have to be miserable, like poor Emma, who dreams of high life with the beautiful people, yet whom Fate has condemned to an ordinary life with an ordinary husband and an ordinary child in an ordinary town. But what makes her think the aristocracy is made of people any happier than she is? For them, that’s their ordinary. We want what we don’t have. Saving Madame Bovary is a stay-up-all-night read, a book about how we live our lives. Maybe it could have saved Emma, and it can certainly save us. From what? From endless yearning, from boredom when we achieve our goals because they fail to satisfy, from what seems the banality of the everyday. We need to be ready for the everyday and fully embrace it. After all, more things are just more things, and everywhere is somebody’s everyday.
Saving Madame Bovary is a dazzling juggling act of literature (Flaubert, Jane Austen’s Emma—the “other” Emma, Aldous Huxley, and E. F. Benson, among others), sociology (our obsession with brand names), and applied philosophy (what is the nature of the everyday?). The result, in addition to an exhilarating read, is a book that helps people focus on something other than an aura that quickly fades, leaving us wanting something else.
Bruce Fleming is an English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. With degrees in philosophy and comparative literature from Haverford College, the University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt University, he has published more than a dozen books as well as written for the Antioch, Yale, and Sewanee reviews, AGNI magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor. He lives outside of Annapolis with his his wife and two sons.