Trying to narrow down the greatest, most spectacular, completely beautiful, and devastatingly heart-wrenching (but in a good way) quotes in literature isn’t easy. Why? Well, because there are so many beautiful ones out there — practically an endless amount!
One quick Google search of quotes will bring you to hundreds of lists, but in my humble opinion, none of these lists is even close to being complete. Just looking at my own personal collection of books, I realized I could do a list of the 1,000 most beautiful literary quotes by F. Scott Fitzgerald alone, and that would barely get us through The Great Gatsby. In other words, there are thousands upon thousands of gorgeous quotes in literature and every single one of us has our own list of favorites.
The wonderful thing about literary quotes is that sometimes an author can say the very thing or sentiment you’ve always tried to express, but never had the words for. They’re able to string together a series of words in such a way that they touch your heart and live with you forever. That’s quite beautiful, don’t you think?
While this list of mine is still missing a few thousand or so, it can hopefully be a reminder of books that you may want to reread or read for the very first time. Each one of these is definitely on the list of best quotes in literature, but exactly how high up they fall on that list is different for everyone. Either way, they’re all awesome.
Here are 35 of my favorite quotes.
1.On the Road by Jack Kerouac:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:
"I worked hard to please you, and I gave up billiards and everything you didn't like, and waited and never complained, for I hoped you'd love me, though I'm not half good enough."
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde:
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte:
“If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years, as I could in a day."
5. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway:
“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”
6. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison:
"Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."
7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens:
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”
8. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote:
“Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity.”
9. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith:
“Sometimes I think it's better to suffer bitter unhappiness and to fight and to scream out, and even to suffer that terrible pain, than to just be... safe. At least she knows she's living.”
10. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
11. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger:
“Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
12. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace:
“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
13. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy:
“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”
14. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll:
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:
“Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
16. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one allows himself to be tamed.”
17. Chéri by Colette:
“I love my past. I love my present. I'm not ashamed of what I've had, and I'm not sad because I have it no longer.”
18. The Zahir by Paulo Coelho:
“It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”
19. Lolita by Nabokov:
“And the rest is rust and stardust.”
20. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:
“We are all fools in love.”
21. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:
“Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real… 'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
22. My Ántonia by Willa Cather:
“Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”
23. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion:
“We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
24. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky:
“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
25. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
26. A Girl I Knew by J. D. Salinger
"She wasn't doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together."
27. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
"I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart; I am, I am, I am."
28. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
29. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
"'Dear God,' she prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.'"
30. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
31. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
"How wild it was, to let it be."
32. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night."
33. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
"Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."
34. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
"Sometimes I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living."
35. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good."