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Barbara Kingsolver

  • For Lou Ann, life itself was a life-threatening enterprise.

  • So one time when I was working in this motel one of the toilets leaked and I had to replace the flapper ball. Here's what it said on the package; I kept it till I knew it by heart: 'Please Note. Parts are included for all installations, but no installation requires all of the parts.' That's kind of my philosophy about men. I don't think there's an installation out there that could use all of my parts.

  • Come to think of it, just about every tool was shaped like either a weenie or a pistol, depending on your point of view.

  • This is how Americans think. You believe that if something terrible happens to someone, they must have deserved it.

  • Sadness is more or less like a head cold — with patience, it passes. Depression is like cancer.

  • From my earliest memory, times of crisis seemed to end up with women in the kitchen preparing food for men.

  • A woman knows she can walk away from a pot to tend something else and the pot will go on boiling; if she couldn't this world would end at once.

  • Modesty makes women fall in love faster than all the cock-a-doodling in the world.

  • ... the reason most people have kids is because they get pregnant.

  • If it's important, your heart remembers.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • title story, Homeland ()
  • A person could spend most of a lifetime in retrospective terror, thinking of all the things one nearly didn't do.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Covered Bridges," Homeland ()
  • ... organization is the religion of the single parent.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Quality Time," Homeland ()
  • Parenting is something that happens mostly while you're thinking of something else.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Quality Time," Homeland ()
  • Georgeann, Rose-Johnny is a Lebanese. That's all I'm going to tell you. You'll understand better when you're older.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Rose-Johnny," Homeland ()
  • I believe that the people who survive a cataclysm, rather than those who stand by and analyze it, are nearly always the more credible witnesses to their own history.

  • It's surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.

  • ... it takes your sleeping self years to catch up to where you really are. ... when you go on a trip, in your dreams you will still be home. Then after you've come home you'll dream of where you were. It's a kind of jet lag of the consciousness.

  • Every minute in the presence of a child takes seven minutes off your life.

  • It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't.

  • The truth needs so little rehearsal.

  • Height isn't something you can have and just let be, like nice teeth or naturally curly hair. People have this idea you have to put it to use, playing basketball, for example, or observing the weather up there. If you are a girl, they feel a particular need to point your height out to you, as if you might not have noticed.

  • ... Hallie and I ... were all there was. The image in the mirror that proves you are still here. We had exactly one sister apiece. We grew up knowing the simple arithmetic of scarcity: A sister is more precious than an eye.

  • Sleeping alone seemed unnatural to me, and pitiful, something done in hospitals or when you're contagious.

  • Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth but not its twin.

  • ... children robbed of love will dwell on magic.

  • A miscarriage is a natural and common event. All told, probably more women have lost a child from this world than haven't. Most don't mention it, and they go on from day to day as if it hadn't happened, and so people imagine that a woman in this situation never really knew or loved what she had. But ask her sometime: how old would your child be now? And she'll know.

  • They were completely quiet, but toward the end of the day you really can't tell what that means. It could be awe or brain death, the symptoms are identical.

  • Your own family resemblances are a frustrating code, most easily read by those who know you least.

  • To people who think of themselves as God's houseguests, American enterprise must seem arrogant beyond belief. Or stupid. A nation of amnesiacs, proceeding as if there were no other day but today. Assuming the land could also forget what had been done to it.

  • ... a meaningless phrase repeated again and again begins to resemble truth.

  • ... it's the thing you fear most that walks beside you all the time.

  • ... the very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.

  • ... people's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around.

  • There are days when I am envious of my hens: / when I hunger for a purpose as perfect and sure / as a single daily egg.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Apotheosis," Another America ()
  • Everything truly important is washable.

  • But kids don't stay with you if you do it right. It's one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won't be needed in the long run.

  • Feeling that morality has nothing to do with the way you use the resources of the world is an idea that can't persist much longer. If it does, then we won't.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • in Donna Perry, ed., Backtalk ()
  • A woman without a man — a condition of 'manlessness' — is defined as alone. But a single mother is less alone than the average housewife.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • in Karen Karbo, "And Baby Makes Two," The New York Times Book ()
  • There is no perfect time to write. There's only now.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • in Writer's Digest ()
  • I'm widest awake as a writer doing something new, engaged in a process I'm not sure I can finish, generating at the edge of my powers. Some people bungee jump; I write.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Crab Clause," St. Paul Pioneer Press ()
  • School is about two parts ABCs to fifty parts Where Do I Stand in the Great Pecking Order of Humankind.

  • I'm of a fearsome mind to throw my arms around every living librarian who crosses my path, on behalf of the souls they never knew they saved.

  • I personally am inclined to approach [housework] the way governments treat dissent: ignore it until it revolts.

  • The most assiduous task of parenting is to divine the difference between boundaries and bondage.

  • The artist deals with what cannot be said in words ... The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

  • Write a nonfiction book, and be prepared for the legion of readers who are going to doubt your fact. But write a novel, and get ready for the world to assume every word is true.

  • Nine-tenths of human law is about possession.

  • The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.

  • Ah, the mysterious croak. Here today, gone tomorrow. It's the best reason I can think of to throw open the blinds and risk belief. Right now, this minute, time to move out into the grief and glory. High tide.

  • I know people. Most have no earthly notion of the price of a snow-white conscience.

  • Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place.

  • Once the rains abated, my father's garden thrived in the heat like an unleashed temper.

  • Friends, there is nothing like your own family to make you appreciate strangers!

  • My father wears his faith like the bronze breastplate of God's footsoldiers while our mother's is more like a good cloth coat with a secondhand fit.

  • The arrogance of the able-bodied is staggering. Yes, maybe we'd like to be able to get places quickly, and carry things in both hands but only because we have to keep up with the rest of you ... We would rather be just like us, and have that be all right.

  • I look at my four boys, who are the colors of silt, loam, dust, and clay, an infinite palette for children of their own, and I understand that time erases whiteness altogether.

  • Poor Africa. No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.

  • Misunderstanding is my cornerstone. It's everyone's, come to think of it. Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet. They are what we call civilization.

  • Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history.

  • I can think of no honorable answer. Why must some of us deliberate between brands of toothpaste, while others deliberate between damp dirt and bone dust to quiet the fire of an empty stomach lining? There is nothing about the United States I can really explain to this child of another world.

  • Listen: being dead is not worse than being alive. It is different, though. You could say the view is larger.

  • I prefer to remain anomalous.

  • As long as I kept moving, my grief streamed out behind me like a swimmer's long hair in water. I knew the weight was there but it didn't touch me. Only when I stopped did the slick, dark stuff of it come floating around my face, catching my arms and throat till I began to drown. So I just didn't stop.

  • The substance of grief is not imaginary. It's as real as rope or the absence of air, and like both those things, it can kill.

  • ... the novel is inherently a political instrument, regardless of its subject. It invites you — more than invites you, induces you — to live inside another person's skin. It creates empathy. And that's the antidote to bigotry. The novel doesn't just tell you about another life, which is what a newspaper would do. It makes you live another life, inhabit another perspective. And that's very important.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • in American Writer ()
  • ... there are people who read my work and accuse me of being political! As far as I'm concerned that's like accusing a dog of having a bark!

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • in American Writer ()
  • A red-tailed hawk rose high on an air current, calling out shrill, sequential rasps of raptor joy. ... Once she'd seen a pair of them coupling on the wing, grappling and clutching each other and tumbling curve-winged through the air in hundred-foot death dives that made her gasp, though always they uncoupled and sailed outward and up again just before they were bashed to death in senseless passion.

  • All the giant silkworm family, the Ios and lunas she admired, did their eating as caterpillars and as adult moths had no mouths. What mute, romantic extravagance, Lusa thought: a starving creature racing with death to scour the night for his mate.

  • Arguments could fill a marriage like water, running through everything, always, with no taste or color but lots of noise.

  • Global commerce is driven by a single conviction: the inalienable right to earn profit, regardless of any human cost.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • title essay, Small Wonder ()
  • All of the promises of politicians, generals, madmen, and crusaders that war can create peace have yet to be borne out.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • title essay, Small Wonder ()
  • I wish our national anthem were not the one about the bombs bursting in air, but the one about purple mountain majesties and amber waves of grain.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Saying Grace," Small Wonder ()
  • Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, writers will go to stupefying lengths to get the infernal roar of words out of their skulls and onto paper.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Knowing Our Place," Small Wonder ()
  • ... a flower is a plant's way of making love ...

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Knowing Our Place," Small Wonder ()
  • ... my own relationships with the animals in my life are absurdly complex: Some I love, some I eat, and the scraps left over from the ones I eat, I feed to the ones I love.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Setting Free the Crabs," Small Wonder ()
  • Scientific illiteracy in our populations is leaving too many of us unprepared to discuss or understand much of the damage we are wreaking on our atmosphere, our habitat, and even the food that enters our mouths.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "A First in the Eye of God," Small Wonder ()
  • ... I've become captivated by the alchemy of creating my own cheese and butter. (Butter is a sport; cheese is an art.)

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Lily's Chickens," Small Wonder ()
  • I made it to the childbearing phase without TV dependence, then looked around and thought, Well gee, why start now? Why get a pet python on the day you decide to raise fuzzy little gerbils?

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "The One-Eyed Monster and Why I Don't Let Him In," Small Wonder ()
  • Children model the behavior of adults, on whatever scale is available to them. Ours are growing up in a nation whose most important, influential men — from presidents to the coolest film characters — solve problems by killing people. ... We have taught our children in a thousand ways, sometimes with flag-waving and sometimes with a laugh track, that the bad guy deserves to die.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Life Is Precious, or It's Not," Small Wonder ()
  • Vengeance does not subtract any numbers from the equation of murder; it only adds them.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Flying," Small Wonder ()
  • If I had to give up my life for anything, it would have to have the resilience of hope, the elation of new literacy, the brilliant life of a field of flowers, the elementary kindness of bread. Nothing short of that. It would have to be something as sure as love.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Flying," Small Wonder ()
  • I rarely think of poetry as something I make happen; it is more accurate to say that it happens to me. Like a summer storm, a house afire, or the coincidence of both on the same day.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Stealing Apples," Small Wonder ()
  • A writer's occupational hazard: I think of eavesdropping as minding my business.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Stealing Apples," Small Wonder ()
  • Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and moving you to answer them for yourself.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • www.barbarakingsolver.com ()
  • If we can't, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go back to baking bread.

    • Barbara Kingsolver
  • Plants do everything animals do, but slowly. They migrate, communicate, deceive, stalk their food and, with an ostentation of styles and perfumes to put the animal kingdom to shame, they make love. It’s just that catching them in flagrante delicto might require time-lapse photography.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "The Botany of Desire," The New York Times ()
  • Memories do not always soften with time; some grow edges like knives.

  • The past is all we know of the future.

  • You know reviewers, they are the wind in their own sails.

  • The talkers are rising above the thinkers.

  • From the fallen tree everybody makes firewood.

  • He hid a scornful smile under his mustache, which is not a good hiding place.

  • People ask without wanting to know.

  • A good title holds magic, some cognitive dissonance, a little grit between the teeth, but above all it is the jumping-off place into wonder.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Entitled," afterword to The Lacuna ()
  • If you run out of hope at the end of the day, rise in the morning and put it on again with your shoes. Hope is the only reason you won't give in, burn what's left of the ship, and go down with it — the ship of your natural life and your children's only shot.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • commencement speech, Duke University ()
  • From the seed of a pattern, the cotyledons of cast-on, everything rises: xylem and phloem of KP ribs, a trunk of a body and branches of sleeves, the skirt that bells downward daffodilwise. You with your needles are god of this wild botany.

    • Barbara Kingsolver,
    • "Where It Begins," Orion Magazine ()

Barbara Kingsolver, U.S. writer, poet

(1955)