"It was time to move on," Sylvia said to Enid. "I saw it all of a sudden. That whether I liked it or not, the survivor and the artist was me, not her. We’re all conditioned to think of our children as more important than us, you know, and to live vicariously through them. All of a sudden I was sick of that kind of thinking. I may be dead tomorrow, I said to myself, but I’m alive now. And I can live deliberately. I’ve paid the price, I’ve done the work, and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

“And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight — isn’t that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you’re less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn’t it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you’ve experienced before? You see things more clearly and you know that you’re seeing them more clearly. And it comes to you that this is what it means to love life, this is all anybody who talks seriously about God is ever talking about. Moments like this.” —Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
The taste of self-inflicted suffering, of an evening trashed in spite, brought curious satisfactions. Other people stopped being real enough to carry blame for how you felt. Only you and your refusal remained. And like self-pity, or like the blood that filled your mouth when a tooth was pulled — the salty ferric juices that you swallowed and allowed yourself to savor — refusal had a flavor for which a taste could be acquired. —Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
But what might have happened if Gilho had not married and scrambled to provide Soonah the life that she and her parents, that everyone, expected, if he had not been so susceptible to her fear of risk, of failure, of others’ eyes, all fears that were his own? —Krys Lee, Drifting House, “The Goose Father”
But clearly life took people and shook them around until finally they were unrecognizable even to those who had once known them well. Still, there was power in once having known someone. —Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
Martha: so this was her name. I turned it over in my mind as we carried our pitcher and steins to the farthest-off, neighborless booth. It didn’t dent with astonishment, but it rumpled her smooth anonymity, gave her a texture I hadn’t expected. —Susan Choi, My Education
When I tell him I don’t have much faith, he says simply, Borrow mine.Bill Clegg, Ninety Days
She reads. She is always reading. She asks him what he thinks about the books they read for school. In fourth grade, a book about an immortal family and a girl who falls in love with one of its members after she stumbles upon him in the woods behind her house, drinking from a spring; in fifth grade, a big, sprawling allegorical series of books about a handful of English children who must battle the rise of evil in the world. Later, too soon, she leaves Brontë and Dickens in his cubbyhole. He devours them and worries about the words he doesn’t understand and loves them because she does and often sobs at their endings, because for a while he is away, out of time, somewhere he can’t remember himself, and it is a shock, always a sad shock, to come back. She talks about these books, and each time, with each book, she sees more and better and has words that dazzle him to transcribe what she sees. He will steal all these words and use them. To himself, in his reports for school, talking to adults, teachers. With each word he feels a click into a finer self, one more wrinkle smoothed. Her words have a kind of magic, like the garments that carry storybook characters out of their lives. A dress that changes a chimney-sweeping urchin into a princess, a shoe that returns her to the castle after it’s all been taken away. She uses the word desultory in the eighth grade, and to this very day he works it into conversation the way a swimming champion casually mentions his medals. —Bill Clegg, Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man
If loneliness or sadness or happiness could be expressed through food, loneliness would be basil. It’s not good for your stomach, dims your eyes, and turns your mind musky. If you pound basil and place a stone over it, scorpions swarm toward it. Happiness is saffron, from the crocus that blooms in the spring. Even if you add just a pinch to a dish, it adds an intense taste and a lingering scent. You can find it anywhere but you can’t get it at any time of the year. It’s good for your heart, and if you drop a little bit in your wine, you instantly become drunk from its heady perfume. The best saffron crumbles at the touch and instantaneously emits its fragrance. Sadness is a knobby cucumber, whose aroma you can detect from far away. It’s tough and hard to digest and makes you fall ill with a high fever. It’s porous, excellent at absorption, and sponges up spices, guaranteeing a lengthy period of preservation. Pickles are the best food you can make from cucumbers. You boil vinegar and pour it over the cucumbers, then season with salt and pepper. You enclose them in a sterilized glass jar, seal it, and store it in a dark and dry place. —Jo Kyung-ran, Tongue
Unfortunately, earthbound beings cannot break free of gravity. Life demands sacrifice and difficult decisions from us at every moment. Living does not mean passing through a void of nothingness but rather through a web of relationships among beings, each with their own weight and volume and texture. Insofar as everything is always changing, so our sense of hope shall never die it. Therefore, I leave you all with one final thought: Live. Until you are down to your final breath, love and fight and rage and grieve and live. —Professor Yoon to his students in Shin Kyung-sook’s I’ll Be Right There
The future rushes in and all we can do is take our memories and move forward with them. Memory keeps only what it wants. Images from memories are sprinkled throughout our lives, but that does not mean we must believe that our own or other people’s memories are of things that really happened. When someone stubbornly insists that they saw something with their own eyes, I take it as a statement mixed with wishful thinking. As what they want to believe. Yet as imperfect as memories are, whenever I am faced with one, I cannot help getting lost in thought. Especially when that memory reminds me of what it felt like to be always out of place and always a step behind. —Shin Kyung-sook, I’ll Be Right There