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The only book that is worth writing is the one we don’t have the courage or strength to write. The book that hurts us (we who are writing), that makes us tremble, redden, bleed

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I’ve read The Satanic Verses and I thought it a nasty, sneering, free-thinking book… I can understand why the book is offensive and it didn’t seem to me to be anything but offensive when I read it.

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History is a living horse laughing at a wooden horse. History is a wind blowing where it listeth. History is no sure thing to bet on. History is a box of tricks with a lost key. History is a labyrinth of doors with sliding panels, a book of ciphers with the code in a cave of the Saragossa sea. History says, if it pleases, Excuse me, I beg your pardon, it will never happen again if I can help it.

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His books were part of him. Each year of his life, it seemed, his books became more and more a part of him. This room, thirty by twenty feet, and the walls of shelves filled with books, had for him the murmuring of many voices. In the books of Herodotus, Tacitus, Rabelais, Thomas Browne, John Milton, and scores of others, he had found men of face and voice more real to him than many a man he had met for a smoke and a talk.

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I knew I would read all kinds of books and try to get at what it is that makes good writers good. But I made no promises that I would write books a lot of people would like to read.

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What really annoys me are the ones who write to say, I am doing your book for my final examinations and could you please tell me what the meaning of it is. I find it just so staggering–that you’re supposed to explain the meaning of your book to some total stranger! If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn’t have bothered to write them.

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The love of experiment was very strong in him [Charles Darwin], and I can remember the way he would say, "I shan’t be easy till I have tried it," as if an outside force were driving him. He enjoyed experimenting much more than work which only entailed reasoning, and when he was engaged on one of his books which required argument and the marshalling of facts, he felt experimental work to be a rest or holiday.

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For books [Charles Darwin] had no respect, but merely considered them as tools to be worked with. … he would cut a heavy book in half, to make it more convenient to hold. He used to boast that he had made Lyell publish the second edition of one of his books in two volumes, instead of in one, by telling him how ho had been obliged to cut it in half. … his library was not ornamental, but was striking from being so evidently a working collection of books.

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It started out as a typically insane idea to map every part of the published text in terms of its manuscript provenance and history, and to establish the cultural meaning of the book, part and whole.

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I tell this anecdote with tongue in cheek at the start of my book William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, but my academic involvement with Burroughs was entirely due to my tutor at Oxford, Peter Conrad. I was discussing with him the idea of staying on to do graduate work and when I tossed the name of Burroughs into the conversation – well, he let it fall loudly onto the floor, and proceeded to cross himself as if warding off an evil spirit. Since I was very ambivalent about an academic career in any case, that decided it for me.

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I feel like if I’m going to give you a book about my dad, then I really want to give you my dad, because he is interesting and he is funny and if you’re buying a book about him, I don’t want you to have to sit through stuff that’s not him.

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There are stages in bread-making quite similar to the stages of writing. You begin with something shapeless, which sticks to your fingers, a kind of paste. Gradually that paste becomes more and more firm. Then there comes a point when it turns rubbery. Finally, you sense that the yeast has begun to do its work: the dough is alive. Then all you have to do is let it rest. But in the case of a book the work may take ten years.

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A book may lie dormant for fifty years or for two thousand years in a forgotten corner of a library, only to reveal, upon being opened, the marvels or the abysses that it contains, or the line that seems to have been written for me alone. In this respect the writer is not different from any other human being: whatever we say or do can have far-reaching consequences.

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I could say that all my books were conceived by the time I was twenty, although they were not to be written for another thirty or forty years. But perhaps this is true of most writers—the emotional storage is done very early on.