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15 Great Epigraphs to Inspire Your Theme for a New Year

Epigraphs are a funny kind of thing. For a body of work as insular as a book, an author choosing to begin one’s own words with the words of another, the inclusion of an epigraph is akin to appointing a gatekeeper at watch. It may have taken me a full week and some change to firm up and put, pen to paper, an epigraph for my agenda and theme this year, but I found mine.

The older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity as a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. (Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert)

Much like my love for digesting first lines of novels, and some memoirs, I look to epigraphs as a clue. A key, mind you, that will help me to access deeper meaning and messaging of the author. For a memoir essay I submitted for publication years ago, I led my own story with an epigraph.

Much like an amuse-bouche, a well chosen epigraph gives a delicious promise of what is yet to come.

Epigraphs may seem trivial and trite, but I look to them as an indication of what was inspirational to the author during, or through the result of, creating the book, essay, or poem.

Read on for 15 great epigraphs to inspire your own plans for this new year.

You are all a lost generation. — Gertrude Stein in conversation (The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway)

In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones. — Sufi proverb (The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood)

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. –C.K. Chesterton (Coraline by Neil Gaiman)

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. — Juan Ramón Jiménez (Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury)

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her; If you can bounce high, bounce for her too, Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover, I must have you!” — Thomas Parke D’Invilliers (The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

… and so who are you, after all?

— I am part of the power which forever wills evil and forever works good. — Goethe’s Faust (The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov)

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once. — Charles Lamb (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee)

The reader should realize himself that it could not have happened otherwise, and that to give him any other name was quite out of the question. — Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat (The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri)

No one knows how to love anybody’s trouble. — Frank Stanford (Look! Look! Feathers by Mike Young)

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society are, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal. — William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling)

I learned courage from Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln, Einstein, and Cary Grant. — Miss Peggy Lee (Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion)

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. — Ecclesiastes (The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton)

Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay

To mould me Man, did I solicit thee

From darkness to promote me? — Paradise Lost, X, 743-45 (Frankenstein by Mary Shelley)

Behind every great fortune there is a crime. — Balzac (The Godfather by Mario Puzo)

NOTICE
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance. — (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)

My Own True North - 15 Great Epigraphs to Inspire Your New Year

And one more, a bonus, because I love Tom Robbins so dang much, and I could devote a list entirely to the brilliance of his use of epilogues. And, of course, it must be of Kafka, who I read ridiculously early in life, and who ignited my obsessive love of literature.

You don’t need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Don’t even listen, simply wait. Don’t even wait.
Be still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you.
To be unmasked, it has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet. —Franz Kafka (Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins)

What is your favorite epigraph? Better yet, what is leading your inspiration this year?

XO, Jennifer

15 great epigraphs from litrature to inspire you my own true north

15 great epigraphs from literature to inspire you - My Own True North

 

15 Great Epigraphs in LIterature to Inspire You - My Own True North

 

15 Great Epigraphs in LIterature to Inspire You - My Own True North

 

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What’s On My Bookshelf | Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and Margarita

~Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita~

This is a devastatingly beautiful satire of former Soviet Union life. Two stories, written in parallel, take you through a quaking account of life. And may inspire you to ask yourself some questions.

What would you be willing to do for love?

I have it on good authority The Master and Margarita is Russia’s most beloved book. This book was gifted to me by a very dear friend who told me “every intellectual must read this book.” Yes, I agree with him. To a point.

Every creative must read this book.

Every romantic, acknowledged or closeted, must read this book.

My Own True North Mikhail Bulgakov Quote

What would your good do?

Every person who yearns to feel (something, anything) must read this book.

Every person who loves literature must read this book!

I have gifted this book to a small number of people. When I’ve given a copy of The Master and Margarita to a person, I haven’t done so lightly. I have no desire to indiscriminately share Mikhail Bulgakov because not everyone will get him.

If Bulgakov doesn’t speaks speak to you, it will be absolutely repellant! But, if it clicks with you, he will stir your soul. And I’m not throwing platitudes and waxing poetic.

And, one time, a friend to whom I gave a copy of this book admitted to me he did not even open up the cover to attempt to read. I was surprised, and honestly, yes, I judged him. A bit. Not for not liking the book. I accept there are different preferences. 

Admittedly, I really thought this friend would find so many themes and philosophies resonate with him. But through his explanation, he gave some of his cover away. I saw my friend in a different light. The whole rejection of the world inside this story actually served as a painfully poignant metaphor to frame the tenuous framework of an impassioned friendship (PG13 folks, nothing crazy here). Everyone has their preferences, but how does one who postures themselves to be a creative intellectual not yearn to read? At all? This may be a harsher criticism on me to beg the question than onto my friend… I understand that, at least.

Every person who sees startling beauty in yellow flowers… must read this book.

“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”

What book quakes your soul?

XO, Jennifer

Yellow Flowers My Own True North Mikhail Bulgakov

 

My Own True North Mikhail Bulgakov Quotes

The Master and Margarita - great quotes in literature
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The Best Southern Novels to Inspire Your Late Summer Reading List

There’s no denying a checkered and dark history precedes the American South I love so much. Built on the backs of slaves, Ground Zero of the U.S.’s Civil Rights Movement, the stigma of racism, poverty, and ignorance remains. The region also has a staggering number of intellectuals and some of our most beloved stories and storytellers hail from the area. The South should not be defined only by its failings and the ugliness; there is as much spiritual, intellectual, and creative beauty as deep as roots of giant oak trees.

Humid Southern summers bring afternoon thunderheads, mockingbird and yellowhammer concertos, peaches bigger than a fist and watermelons as big as your torso, and in my case, very large hair that refuses to be tamed in the intensity of this moisture. One can very easily fall into the seduction of the season, primed and lulled by the heat. Shaded porches are a must, as is, also in my case, Benadryl and cortisone for my growing collection of bug bites on my feet and ankles I get from walking barefoot in the sod fields and wooded trails on the farm.

Lazy summer days are meant for relaxing in literature. While I count down my final weeks in this quiet, little town in the middle of Alabama, here are some of the best Southern novels you can add to your reading list.

best summer novels for late summer reading

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!”

Not without controversy, Huck and Jim’s saga has been banned in some schools and libraries. The story of Jim’s plight as an escaped slave is hard to handle, for some, but it stands on its own as an example of American literature in its finest form and is a window to the past reminding us of once was. Rediscovering this book as an adult was one of my highlights of the year.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg

“You know, a heart can be broken, but it still keeps a-beating just the same.”

Weaving together past and present (1980’s) and examining the different layers and forms of female friendship, Fried Green Tomatoes gives representation to women in middle age, and told with so much wit and rich details in characters. Don’t read on an empty stomach, but if you do, not to worry. A solid recipe for the namesake tomatoes, along with other Whistlestop Café features, can be found at the back of the book.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

“For whatever you live is life.”

Warren received a Pulitzer Prize for this novel and the film version earned an Best Picture Oscar, so plainly put, this is American storytelling at the highest level. All actions have consequences. A person cannot stand as a mere, emotionally detached observer but must take action in life.

best southern novels for late summer reading list

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

“To be an artist includes much; one must possess many gift -absolute gifts- which have not been acquired by one’s effort. And, moreover, to succeed, the artist must possess the courageous soul.”

Edna Pontellier is possibly the first liberated woman in American literature. A New Orleans housewife falls in love when on a vacation and realizes, upon her return home, she cannot devote herself to the social expectations of her. A moving chronicle of her embracing independence and self discovery, this is a must for any #YesSheCan minded thinker.

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

“You’re not necessarily supposed to believe it…You’re just supposed to believe in it.”

Tim Burton did a fantastic job translating the book into the film, but like many movies, the book stands alone! This classic father-son relationship study is imaginative and, yes, includes a very big fish.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“You are your best thing”

Okay, so this is cheating a little bit but I’m including because the story features the aftermath and terrifying consequences of slavery in a post-war (yes, the “War of Northern Aggression” AKA the Civil War). I’ll not even go into the plot beyond this is haunting and stirring, and it’s going to stay with you after you turn that final page. This book is also, for me, a pivotal point in my young adult life when I first discovered my voice for empathy and representation.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

A Pulitzer Prize winner, the National Book Aware for Fiction winner, and close to two dozen combined Oscar and Tony nominations for the respective film and musical adaptations, The Color of Purple is as controversial as it is loved. Heavily depicting violence that, at moments, is hard to face, it is an honest, and beautiful portrayal of the life of a young, poor, black girl living in the South in the 1930’s following her through her adulthood. 

best southern novels for late summer reading

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is.”

Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize and should we dare to count the Oscars? Yes, the story is known – so known – but if you haven’t read the novel that was once condemned by the Vaticam, well then, you don’t know the saga of Scarlett or the plight of Melanie, or the dignified scallywag, Rhett Butler.

Fun and unrelated fact: when my friend referred to her new boyfriend (now husband) as Rhett Butler, I thought it was her code name for an exceptionally dreamy suiter. Well, he was, and that is his name.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

“And I realized that I’d tolerated him this long because of self-doubt.”

The queen of Southern Gothic and vampire stories, Rice has numerous series set in and around New Orleans. Interview with the Vampire was the world’s introduction to “The Brat Prince,” the antihero we all are going to fall in love with, sooner or later.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

“You get a little moody sometimes but I think that’s because you like to read. People that like to read are always a little fucked up.”

You know when Barbara Streisand takes on a role to portray a character in a film that there is a story worth seeing. In this case, the story is also, very much, worth reading. Conroy’s story about the lives of a South Carolinan family is the original claim of Lowcountry setting. A story of sibling love, family trauma, and recovery. It’s so lovely.

More to come of the best Southern novels to inspire your daydream south of the Mason-Dixon line. What’s your favorite Southern title feature?

 

XO, Jennifer

best southern novels for late summer reading
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There are some things in life that shouldn't be given so much importance, if they don't change what is essential. Laura Esquivel Quotes

It doesn’t matter to me what you did, there are some things in life that shouldn’t be given so much importance, if they don’t change what is essential. What you’ve told me hasn’t changed the way I think; I’ll say again, I would be delegated to be your companion for the rest of your life-but you must think over very carefully whether I am the man for you or not. ~Laura Esquivel

Not counting the anime I watched growing up in Germany, in which case Sea Prince and Fire Child would probably be my first foreign film, Like Water for Chocolate was the first foreign film I saw. My mom took me to the old Camelview theater 24 years ago to see the film, of which she read reviews and wanted to go see it. The woman is still traumatized so many years later. She was not ready to have the “sex” dialogue with me after having barely recovered from the “becoming a woman” conversation.

My mother actually shrieked – yelped – at the first sighting of full frontal nudity. Then she spent the remainder of the film alternately jumping, yelping, and ordering me to cover my eyes. To this day, I can still get a reaction from her by the mere mention of the title of the film.

Como Agua Para Chocolate, or Like Water for Chocolate is a euphemism to describe someone in a rapturous state. I asked my Spanish teacher why the reference because I had some idea but wasn’t fully in the concept. Sometimes, yes, I am that clueless. He just smiled and explained because to make hot chocolate, to be added to the chocolate, the water must be boiling.

In Mexico, hot chocolate is usually made with water, not milk.

I rather like that reference, don’t you? It’s such a vivid and sensational way to describe a sensual state of being.

Since seeing the film I had an opportunity to read the book, and I highly recommend the read. Her ability to create such vivid and beautiful concepts with her words is magical. I recently read Malinche, another of Laura Esquivel’s books when I was in Puerto Escondido. It not only was an exceptional beach read, the story was sad and beautiful.

What is on your upcoming summer reading list? I have a feeling I’m going to pick up a certain “libro” for another read through.

Make this one a great one!

XO, Jennifer

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Susan B Anthony

The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as equal to man. ~Susan B Anthony

Yesterday was equal pay day. If I were receiving a salary this year, I, essentially, would be making about $0.77/$1.00 of male counterparts. I don’t believe my former employer practiced an outright devaluation. But there were subtle – and not so subtle – differences in standards, opportunities, and treatments I observed for men and women in the workplace.

Make this one a great one!

XO, Jennifer

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