The One Book All Writers Should Read

On May 5, 2013

I can’t remember when I first read The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. It was a long time ago. It’s one of those books I feel I’ve always known, one that has been with me throughout my life. It’s a book I like to keep close so that I can put my hand on it whenever I need to. It’s no exaggeration to say this book transports me in a way that’s magical. If you haven’t yet read it, I recommend you do. It won’t take long. A little over 100 pages of text interspersed with the author’s wonderful illustrations, it’s a book to read in one sitting and then dip in and out of over and over, for ever. First published in 1943, it has long been a classic. The story is simple. A pilot stranded in the Sahara after an accident encounters an extraordinary little boy from another planet, Asteroid B-612. The boy is a wise and enchanting soul, his sense of what matters and what doesn’t in sharp contrast to what grown-ups deem important. On his travels, the little prince meets a series of puzzling characters; a king who wants to order him about, a conceited man who demands to be admired, a drunkard filled with shame, and a businessman only concerned with meaningless ‘matters of consequence.’

‘The little prince’s ideas of what was important were very different from those of grown-ups … Grown-ups are certainly absolutely extraordinary,’ he concludes.

Often, when I pick up my paperback copy, I find an old train ticket marking a particular page. That happened today. The ticket was for a journey I made to Newcastle in September, 2012, and was at the point in chapter twenty-one where the little prince meets the fox. The fox begs to be tamed and then shares his secret. This is my favourite part of the book.

‘It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly,’ the fox tells the little prince. ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye.’

For me, these short sentences are among the most powerful I’ve ever read. So simple, and yet they pierce my heart each and every time. This is a book that make me cry – and that’s a good thing.

Inspired by Saint-Exupery, belatedly, I’ve started compiling a list of great lines from books I love, starting with A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez:

‘She thought it funny, but not really, how we always become the very thing we spend our lives running away from.’

Also, a line that stands out for Stav Sherez from Eleven Days: ‘On holiday all your crutches and supports are stripped away and there’s only you and him and the relentless heat of midday.’

From Henning Mankell’s A Troubled Man: ‘Death always causes havoc, no matter when it comes.’

And from Love Over Scotland, by Alexander McCall Smith: ‘We are enlarged by the love of others; we are diminished by their dislike.’

Susanna Wadeson at Transworld Books, Rachel Joyce’s editor, suggests this from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a wonderful book bursting with memorable lines and passages: ‘It must be the same all over England. People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The superhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal.’

From @Lesbob via Twitter, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion : ‘It may be that you are settled in another place, it may be that you are happy, but the one who took your heart wields final power.’

Thanks so much for the contributions. I’ll keep adding them.

Do you have a favourite line? If you do, I’d love to hear it.

 

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