[Book Quotes] The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

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Last year, I was so into memoirs. Whenever I read such a book, I feel that the author is sitting in front of me, telling me about their experience while sipping their coffee. I feel that they are telling me what it means to be broken, ignored, forgotten, and healed. And I am just listening attentively. No interruptions or questions.

One of the memoirs that caught my attention was The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. I bought it at Harvard Bookstore in my Summer vacation in 2018.

But let’s rewind the story to a day or two prior to purchasing that book

Just the other day before visiting Boston, I was in New York for 2 days. The idea of being in the middle of the blinding lights of Times Square was intoxicating. That you finally observe how beautiful and overwhelming the concrete jungle is.

I was still infatuated by the New York City. Spending 2 days in NYC wasn’t enough to understand what the city looks like–in fact, one will never fully understand a city and its life (I read this somewhere). So I bought that book.

Now, let’s fast-forward to today

I have finished the book way before Christmas 2018. And I am delighted! The story itself is pretty good–but not as captivating as the other memoirs I have read, such as Insomniac City by Bill Hayes or The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande (these are my kind of book).

The two memoirs I mentioned before leave me an unspoken, profound feeling after I finished reading it. Meanwhile, The Odd Woman and the City is more like you’re listening to someone who has incredible storytelling. Someone who has a bunch of beautiful words to say. Someone who crafts something wonderful out of everyday objects.

Some of her sentences make me ponder. Some make me giggle. Some unfold the ugly truth.

So, these are some of interesting quotes in that book.

  1. The question for each of us: Would we have manufactured the inequity had one not been there, ready-made–he is gay, I am the Odd Woman– for our grievances to make use of? To this question our friendship is devoted. The question, in fact, defines the friendship–gives it its character and its idiom–and has shed more light on the mysterious nature of ordinary human relations than has any other intimacy I have known. (page 4)
  2. At the end of an evening together, one of the other of us will impulsively suggest that we meet again during the week, but only rarely does the impulse live long enough to be acted upon. (page 6)
  3. The meaning of the city was that it made the loneliness bearable. (page 10)
  4. I longed for the city the way someone in a small town would, yearning to arrive at the capital. (page 10)
  5. Many of us who not so long ago were seeing one another regularly will meet now more often by accident than by design: in a restaurant, on the bus, at a loft wedding. (page 18)
  6. Today we do not look to see, much less affirm, our best selves in one another. To the contrary, it is the openness with which we admit to our emotional incapacities–the fear, the anger, the humiliation– that excites contemporary bonds of friendship. (page 21)
  7. “It is disgusting,” Leonard says softly. “To be this old and have so little information.” (page 23)
  8. …from birth to death we are, every last one of us, divided against ourselves. We both want to grow up and don’t want to grow up; we hunger for sexual pleasure, we dread sexual pleasure; we hate our own aggressions–anger, cruelty, the need to humiliate– yet derive from the grievances we are least willing to part with. Our very suffering is a source of both pain and reassurance. (page 62)
  9. The irony here was that sexual love usually fails because of an insufficiency of shared sensibility, whereas sensibility was what Emma and I had had in abundance. (page 66)
  10. But mutual disability is an unreliable magnet. The moment always comes when it repels rather than attracts. (page 98)
  11. The most vital form of connection other than sex is conversation. (page 99)
  12. Good conversation is not a matter of mutuality of interests or class concerns or commonly held ideals, it’s a matter of temperament: the thing that makes someone respond instinctively with an appreciative “I know what you mean,” rather than the argumentative “Whaddaya mean by that?” In the presence of shared temperament, conversation almost never loses its free, unguarded flow; in its absences one is always walking on eggshells. (page 100)
  13. I began to realize what everyone in the world knows and routinely forgets: that to be loved sexually is to be loved not for one’s actual self but for one’s ability to arouse desire in the other. (page 101)
  14. “I’ve gotten so mature I no longer demand of my friends that they give me what they cannot give. I now accept friendship on the terms that it is offered.” (page 115)
  15. A surprising tenderness pressed against my heart with such strength it seemed very nearly like joy; and with unexpected sharpness I became alert not to the meaning but to the astonishment of human existence.  (page 132)
  16. Each goodbye is an intolerable loss. (page 158)
  17. I have lived out of my conflicts not my fantasies, and has New York. We are at one. (page 170)
  18. New York isn’t jobs, they reply, it’s temperament. Most people are in New York because they need evidence – in larger quantities – of human expressiveness; and they need it not now and then, but everyday. That is what they need. Those who go off to the manageable cities can do without; those who come to New York cannot. (page 173)

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