Snatched phrases (on books)

‘A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.’

from ‘The Faraway Nearby
by Rebecca Solnit

Sometimes, when I’m reading, a small phrase or a sentence will catch my eye, hidden away in the middle of the paragraph, or at the bottom of a page. Perhaps the words in that phrase snag my attention because they are beautiful; or perhaps the thought behind the phrase is beautiful — complex and lingering — despite the simplicity of the actual words.

I write these phrases down in a notebook and treasure them, as you might a necklace your mother gave you when you were a young woman, or a china teacup that once belonged to your grandmother. Sometimes, when I’m writing them down, the word ‘stolen’ creeps into my mind: there is something about the act of recording them which makes me feel I have snatched them from their creator and reappropriated them as mine, storing them inside my heart.

Snatched phrases: today’s post, quoting Rebecca Solnit’s beautiful words about books, is the first in an occasional series here with this theme. However you think of these words, whatever your definition of the word ‘stolen’, they are yours now, too. Writers write for others, after all; writing is about the transmission of words and ideas from a writer to his or her readers — readers like you and me.

And they are not really stolen at all, these words. It feels that way at first, because they are so precious and so beautiful. But in fact, it is the other way around: the words have stolen our hearts. To read is to be captured, over and over again. I can think of no better form of thievery.

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