Literature, books & writing

"Any hack can safely rail away at foreign powers beyond the sea; but a good writer is a critic of the society he lives in."

Edward ABBEY
American writer (1927-1989)

"Ideas are to literature what light is to painting."

French novelist

"Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword."

English novelist (1803-1873)

"...The Director General invites you to examine the planisphere hanging on the wall. The varied color scheme indicates:
  1. the countries where all books are systematically confiscated
  2. the countries where only books published or approved by the State may circulate
  3. the countries where existing censorship is crude, approximate, and unpredictable
  4. the countries where the censorship is subtle, informed, sensitive to implications and allusions, managed by meticulous and sly intellectuals
  5. the countries where there are two networks of dissemination: one legal and one clandestine
  6. the countries where there is no censorship because there are no books, but there are many potential readers
  7. the countries where there are no books and nobody complains about their absence
  8. the countries, finally, in which every day, books are produced for all tastes and all ideas, amid general indifference.

Nobody these days holds the written word in such high esteem as police states do... "


Italian novelist (1923–1985)

"Whenever citizens are seen routinely as enemies of their own government, writers are routinely seen to be the most dangerous enemies."

Edgar Laurence DOCTOROW
American novelist (1931-)

"Writing requires devotion and a bit of arrogance."

Nigerian novelist (1944-)

"Great authors are admirable in this respect: in every generation they make for disagreement. Through them we become aware of our differences."

André GIDE
French author (1869-1951)

"If a single writer in a country is in chains, then there are some links of that chain that binds us all."

Vaclav HAVEL
Czech dramatist, essayist, political leader and president (1936-)

"These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice and just as the touch on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart."

Gilbert HIGHET
Scottish-American classicist (1906-78)

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us."

German language novelist b. Prague (1883-1924)

"The moving finger writes,
and having written moves on.
Nor all thy piety nor all thy wit,
can cancel half a line of it."

Persian poet and astronomer (died c. 1123)

"Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile."

Sinclair LEWIS
American novelist (1885-1951)

"Literature should be more revolutionary than revolutions themselves; ... writers must find the means to continue to be critical of the negative elements in the sociopolitical reality."

Egyptian novelist and screenwriter (1911-)

"A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special."

South African political leader and president (1918-)

In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others."

French biographer, novelist, and essayist (

"Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image, but thee who destroys a good book, kills reason its self."

English poet (1608-1674)

"Loss of liberty is inimical to all forms of literature... The fact is that certain themes cannot be celebrated in words, and tyranny is one of them. No one ever wrote a good book in praise of the Inquisition."

Eric Arthur Blair or George ORWELL
The Prevention of Literature
British novelist and essayist (1903-1950)

"... once a thing is committed to writing it circulates equally among those who understand the subject and those who have no business with it; a writing cannot distinguish between suitable and unsuitable readers. And if it is ill-treated or unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its rescue."

Phaedrus (ca. 370 BC)
Greek philosopher (427?-347 BC)

"Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him."

Chief minister of LOUIS XIII of France (1585-1642)

"A book is the product of a contract with the Devil that inverts the Faustian contract, he'd told Allie. Dr Faustus sacrificed eternity in return for two dozen years of power; the writer agrees to the ruination of his life, and gains (but only if he's lucky) maybe not eternity, but posterity, at least. Either way (this was Jumpy's point) it's the Devil who wins."

The Satanic Verses
Indian-born British novelist (1947-)

"Just as the office worker dreams of murdering his hated boss and so is saved from really murdering him, so it is with the author; with his great dreams he helps his readers to survive, to avoid their worst intentions. And society, without realizing it respects and even exalts him, albeit with a kind of jealousy, fear and even repulsion, since few people want to discover the horrors that lurk in the depths of their souls. This is the highest mission of great literature, and there is no other."

Ernesto SÁBATO
Argentinian novelist and literary critic (1911-)

"Woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force. This is not merely interference with freedom of the press but the sealing up of a nation's heart, the excision of its memory."

Aleksandr Isayevich SOLZHENITSYN
Russian writer (1918-)

"I am confident, of course, knowing that I shall fulfill my tasks as a writer in any circumstances, and from my grave even more successfully and incontestably than when I live. No one can bar truth's course, and for its progress I am prepared to accept even death. But perhaps repeated lessons will teach us, at least, not to arrest a writer's pen during his lifetime."

Aleksandr Isayevich SOLZHENITSYN
Russian writer (1918-)

"A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones."

Aleksandr Isayevich SOLZHENITSYN
Russian writer (1918-)

"There is a point, and it is reached more easily than is supposed, where interference with freedom of the arts and literature becomes an attack on the life of society."

Dame Rebecca WEST
Irish novelist and critic (1892-1983)

"There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all."

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills WILDE
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Irish author and wit (1854-1900)

"The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame."

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills WILDE
The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
Irish author and wit (1854-1900)

"In Russia all tyrants believe poets to be their worst enemies."

Yevgeny Aleksandrovich YEVTUSHENKO
Russian Poet  (19933-)

Last update: 26 January 2007

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