A Little Life contains an abundance of inspiring and profound quotes and this resulted in me reading the book with a pencil at the ready to underline each one as I read them. For this reason, I feel that they warrant their own blog post.
If you want to read my review before indulging in my selection of quotes and longer passages, then you can find it here: A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
I chose these purely because they connected with me and my own life, and because I can relate to some of them.
“He got to see his friends differently, not as just appendages to his life but as distinct characters inhabiting their own stories; he felt sometimes that he was seeing them for the first time, even after so many years of knowing them.”
“There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault.”
“But what was happiness but an extravagance, an impossible state to maintain, partly because it was so difficult to articulate?”
“None of them really wanted to listen to someone else’s story anyway; they only wanted to tell their own.”
“Things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
“A street becomes a shocking disaster, a riot of violations and potential civil lawsuits. A marriage looks like a divorce. The world becomes temporarily unbearable.”
“He no longer felt anything for that person, but not feeling anything for that person had been a conscious act of will, like turning away from someone in the street even though you saw them constantly, and pretending you couldn’t see them day after day until one day, you actually couldn’t – or so you could make yourself believe.”
“…the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are – not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving – and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try and listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad – or good – it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.”
“Lately, he had been wondering if codependence was such a bad thing. He took pleasure in his friendships, and it didn’t hurt anyone, so who cared if it was codependent or not? And anyway, how was a friendship any more codependent than a relationship? Why was it admirable when you were twenty-seven but creepy when you were thirty-seven? Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”
“How can you help someone who won’t be helped while realizing that if you don’t try to help, then you’re not being a friend at all?”
“Not having sex: it was one of the best things about being an adult. But as much as he fears sex, he also wants to be touched, he wants to feel someone else’s hands on him, although the thought of that too terrifies him.”
“But increasingly, he is even more afraid that he will never have the chance to discover it at all. What does it mean to be human, if he can never have this? And yet, he reminds himself, loneliness is not hunger, or deprivation, or illness: it is not fatal. Its eradication is not owed him. He has a better life than so many people, a better life than he had ever thought he would have. To wish for companionship along with everything else he has seems a kind of greed, a gross entitlement.”
“Part of him, he realizes, has always thought it [sex] would be better as an adult, as if somehow the mere fact of age would transform the experience into something glorious and enjoyable. In college (…) he would listen to people talk about it with such pleasure, such delight, and he would think: That’s what you’re so excited about? Really? That’s not how I remember it at all. And yet he cannot be the one who’s correct, and everyone else – millennia of people – wrong. So clearly there is something he doesn’t understand about sex. Clearly he is doing something incorrectly.”
“…he had understood how you could get trapped by another human being, how what seemed so easy – the act of walking away from them – could feel so difficult.”
“Sometimes I felt that there was something physical connecting us, a long rope that stretched between Boston and Portland: when she tugged on her end, I felt it on mine. Wherever she went, wherever I went, there it would be, that shining twined string that stretched and pulled but never broke, our every movement reminding us of what we would never have again.”
“Everyone had feelings that they knew better than to act upon because they knew that doing so would make life so much more complicated.”
“He half dozed, listening to their quiet talk, which had been so dull that he couldn’t follow any of the details but had also filled him with a great sense of peace: it had seemed to him the ideal expression of an adult relationship, to have someone with whom you could discuss the mechanics of a shared existence.”
“He wished someone would tell him that he was still a full human being despite his feelings; that there was nothing wrong with who he was. Surely there was someone, someone in the world who felt as he did? Surely his hatred for the act [of sex] was not a deficiency to be corrected but a simple matter of preference?”
“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
I can only hope some of these made an impression on you just as much as they did me. But what I find most inspiring about quotes in any book, is that when a certain collection of words resonates with us, we find out a little bit about our own life, our own self. Our personal collection of quotes reflects back to us who we are through other people’s words.