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Issue 33: favourite sentences from stories I read this year
The words and ideas that stood out to me in 2022.
As is traditional around this time, I've compiled an end of year list.
Taking inspiration from Ann Friedman (here’s her 2022 list), this year I formalised my previously ad-hoc habit of scribbling down or emailing to myself snippets from stories that struck a chord with me.
This year I kept a single continuous file in my notes app, the contents of which I present to you here: my favourite sentences I read (or in one case, listened to) in 2022.
They’re not all from stories published in 2022, but they all stood out to me when I read them this year – because they taught me something, made me smile, made me think, or sometimes because they made me wish I’d written that.
I hope some of them might do the same for you.
Art and design
[Gared O’Donnell of Planes Mistaken for Stars] signed off his final email to me with three words that have been rattling around in my brain for weeks now.
“Everything with intent.”
I wrote this down on a Post It note, too. I think about it every day when I walk past it. It’s a brilliantly concise mantra, such a poignant statement with which to casually close an email. I feel its power in full every time I see it. … This is what Gared’s words taught me – that art is uncompromising. That art doesn’t pander. That art should have purpose.
– Dan Ozzi via Reply Alt
Maybe the value of art, to artists and everyone else, is that it upends other value systems. Art unmakes the world made by work.
– Eula Biss via Nicole Donut
Brian Eno once said that art is “anything we don’t have to do”. We have to eat, but we don’t need to make a soufflé. We have to move, but we don’t need to dance. We have to communicate, but we don’t need to write novels. Art is the stuff we don’t need to do, but it’s always worth it because it feeds the soul. It’s the stuff that calls for unusual thinking, skilled craft and fanatical devotion to the cause.
–via Tiny Machines
Like many of [Frank Lloyd] Wright’s designs, the doghouse features a low, asymmetrical roof with a large overhang. Also like many of Wright’s larger structures, the doghouse roof leaks.
– Sarah Kuta via Smithsonian Magazine
The [semicolon of the] Bembo typeface’s … comma-half is tensely coiled, tail thorn-sharp beneath the perfect orb thrown high above it. The semicolon in Poliphilus, relaxed and fuzzy, looks casual in comparison, like a Keith Haring character taking a break from buzzing. Garamond’s semicolon is watchful, aggressive, and elegant, its lower half a cobra’s head arced back to strike. Jenson’s is a simple shooting star. Palatino’s is a thin flapper in a big hat slouched against the wall at a party. Gill Sans MT’s semicolon has perfect posture, while Didot’s puffs its chest out pridefully.
– Cecelia Watson via The Paris Review
Some people obviously look at what he's done to be of a not fantastic standard. That misses the point really. It's about the immersive nature of this place. That's what makes it so special.
– Martin Wallace via the BBC
The lifespan of the audio cassette may have been short – just two decades really – but its impact was enormous, thanks to two key features that made it different from any other consumer audio medium before then: it was portable and it was recordable. If you think about it, almost all of the hallmarks of the digital audio revolution were first previewed in cassette form. The whole idea of walking around in your own private musical headspace – now a ubiquitous experience in the post-iPod era – first appeared with the Sony Walkman in 1979, a product that depended on the portability of the cassette format. The practice of curating your own Spotify playlists has direct roots to the mixtapes that music fans would construct for their own personal enjoyment, or to share with their friends or romantic partners. The copyright infringement issues that would become so fraught with the emergence of filesharing services like Napster in the late 1990s were first previewed with the moral panic over "home taping" on audio (and video) cassettes.
–via Adjacent Possible
Creativity and talent
You are living an interesting story. The most interesting story, in this case, is the truth: that you’ve gone to the woods to find meaning and you cannot find it. … Plenty of people have believed that nature would save them; fewer have the guts to admit when it doesn’t. And now you’re stuck with the same problems you had before but you don’t even have a toilet. That’s interesting. And it’s funny. I would read that book.
– Blair Braverman via Outside
The key to identifying your talents is not pride; it’s embarrassment. If you consistently find yourself embarrassed that the people around you can’t do something that is intrinsically easy, that thing is not intrinsically easy. It’s intrinsically difficult, and you have a talent for it.
– Zoë Rose via Dense Discovery
Peter Jackson’s decision to make Get Back an eight-hour series rather than a two hour movie was a risky one. When I heard about it, I wondered if it was the result of a man who, locked down in his Antipodean editing suite, had waded too deep into his material and lost control of it, a Kurtz in the Beatle jungle. But I was wrong: there is a logic to the longeurs. That so little happens for long stretches makes the viewer pay closer attention to what is happening.
– Ian Leslie via The Ruffian
“I began the novel in this way largely to get the reader hooked. There’s nothing as wonderful as a fight to get people interested. Somebody could be performing ‘Hamlet’ up here,” Sharma said, gesturing to the stage, and then continued, “If two people in the back of the audience begin punching each other, we all turn around and look at the idiots punching each other.”
– Wyatt Mason via The New York Times Magazine
Science and discovery
"We should not be excessively interested in books", [Roy Gold] wrote. "We should be interested in stories, in language, in ideas, in perception, in imagination, in compression. These things are in books but they are not books. If a student finds he has an overwhelming interest in books he should consider a future as a bookbinder."
– Nicholas Jeeves via The Public Domain Review
For Umberto Eco, a private library is a research tool. The goal of an antilibrary is not to collect books you have read so you can proudly display them on your shelf; instead, it is to curate a highly personal collection of resources around themes you are curious about. Instead of a celebration of everything you know, an antilibrary is an ode to everything you want to explore.
– Anne-Laure Le Cunff via Ness Labs
Prior to Christianity, ancient paganism revolved around the idea of an animate world. “Before one cut a tree, mined a mountain or dammed a brook, it was important to placate the spirit in charge of that particular situation, and to keep it placated,” White wrote. But Christianity siphoned these spirits out of the Earth and placed them in heaven. “By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects. … The spirits in natural objects, which formerly had protected nature from man, evaporated … and the old inhibitions to the exploitation of nature crumbled.” This led White to describe Christianity as the most “anthropocentric religion the world had seen.”
Christianity didn’t create the ecological crisis, White asserted, but it laid the foundations for an abusive relationship between man and nature.
– Joe Zadeh via Noema
Every archaeologist loves to unearth – more than palaces – the trash pile … The texture of life is in the receipts, gum wrappers, and the post-it notes stuck in lunch boxes.
– Shanti Escalante-De Mattei via ARTnews
When you ask people to imagine how things could be different, they imagine how things could be better. … We can’t find a single thing that people, on average, imagine being worse. Nor have we found any group of people that doesn’t seem to do it. In psychology, this pretty much never happens. So we’re excited.
–via Experimental History
The word “cwen” is Old English for queen. According to the etymologist Carl Darling Buck, English is the only Indo-European language in which words for queen are not derived from those for king.
– Alice Albinia via The Guardian
In popular culture we have “the bachelor pad,” and “the bachelor lifestyle,” but no such phrases for women. Women who live alone are objects of fear or pity, witches in the forest. … The family, that fundamental social unit, dwells within the female body and emanates from it. Women are the anchors of social labor, the glue pulling the family, and then the community, together with small talk and good manners and social niceties. Living alone as a woman is not just a luxury but a refusal to bend into the shape of patriarchal assumption and expectation.
– Helena Fitzgerald via Catapult
I have made up my mind now to be a Sailor’s wife, / ... / Oh my heart beats fondly towards him whenever he is nigh, / But when he says Goodbye my love, I’m off across the sea / First I cry for his departure, then laugh because I’m free.
– Eliza Brock (1855) via The Whippet
They’re engaged, one woman says, in “an act of wild female imagination.” This phrase – wild female imagination – was used by their religious leaders to dismiss the assaults as fiction, to claim that the violence was all in the women’s minds. Now the women will adopt those words, and their wild minds, for a different purpose.
– Jordan Kisner via The New York Times Magazine
In Burma, where he was a colonial officer … [George] Orwell decided to tattoo his hands. “He did this to make sure he would never be comfortable in polite society,” Gilroy said. “He marked his body in a way that said to them: I am not one of you.”
– Yohann Koshy via The Guardian
What to play first? They agreed on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, a profound and meditative record that has a way of transforming any listening session into a spiritual experience. As those extraordinary opening Richard Davis bass notes floated from the speakers, President Obama was upstairs, busy running the country. … At one point, they decided to listen to a politically charged punk-rock landmark: the Clash’s self-titled 1977 debut. “I’m so bo-o-ored with the U-S-A!” Joe Strummer snarled – a chorus that had almost certainly never rattled the walls of the presidential residence prior to that moment. “We put that on,” Chuldenko says, “and it was just like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m playing the Clash . . . in the White House!’ I mean, what an incredible protest record. And it’s not like I brought it myself. I am playing the White House’s copy.”
– Rob Brunner via Washingtonian
And that’s Born Free Press over and out for 2022!
Thank you for reading this issue, and everything else I’ve published this year. I’m so pleased that the premise of this newsletter resonates with you.
I look forward to sharing even more stories and snippets in 2023.
Happy new year!