A photograph of a book. Its pages are folded inwards to form a heart.

The poetry of pop fiction

It is often said that picking up a book offers escape from everyday life. I have always enjoyed this aspect of reading, the opportunity to forget about where you are and momentarily transport yourself to a different world, to see life through a different character’s eyes. The books I tend to go for may not seem the most intellectually stimulating, a lot more Sarah J. Maas and Emily Henry than Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, but it turns out that the beauty that comes in putting words together is not restricted to the classics. When I was 14 I started noting down lines and phrases from books that resonated with me. There was something about the way the words sound together, smooth vowels next to hard consonants, or the way they glide into one another across the page, what they make you think, or the image the words create in your head that made me want to make sure I wouldn’t forget them. As a science student, I don’t often get the chance to appreciate the way that language is used within my degree. The ‘methods’ section of a research paper doesn’t tend to be filled with thought-provoking imagery. I don’t have any authority to tell you why these particular combinations of words have stuck with me other than the simple fact that they made me feel something. My list is getting pretty long now, I may not read consistently, but seven years of quotes have piled up – so let me explore some of my favourites with you.

“There’s only chance in this world. Chance and physics.” – All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See is possibly my favourite book of all time. It explores the story of a blind girl living in World War II France in parallel with the story of a German boy who is accepted into military school. The two narratives are woven together but the characters only briefly meet. What struck me was the poetic way the book was written. There are so many different lines I could have chosen from here, lines that evoke a whole range of emotions. I decided to go for this one though because of how simple it is. A matter-of-fact statement, but one that truly makes you stop and think. Things in life are up to chance, just as things in the world are too, but it also acknowledges the scientific principles behind this. It is almost reassuring that although it is all chance, at the end of the day everything is a science, it’s all down to physics.

“Sometimes you’re just a supporting actor in whatever scene happens to be.” – Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven

Though taken from a book that I can’t say had any lasting impact on me, this particular line did. Sometimes things in life are just not part of your story, and what is happening to you is for someone else’s character development. You just happen to be there. I think it’s quite a reassuring thought, even if you do believe that everything in life happens for a reason, it’s not always for a reason relevant to you and to know that is somewhat freeing.

“I had considered it a different sort of strength. To look at the hardness of the world and to choose, over and over, to love, to be kind.” – A Court of Wings and Ruin, Sarah J. Maas

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of finding their way onto ‘booktok’ will be all too familiar with the Court of Thorns and Roses series by Maas, of which this is the third book. Now there are many quotes that I could have chosen from here, some of them potentially unsuitable for this article, which you will know about if you know what I mean by Chapter 55. This particular quote is used to describe Elain, the sister of the main character in the story, and it really got me thinking. Some people do just choose to be unfailingly kind even in the face of harshness. This is a true sort of strength, and a sort of strength I hope to channel more in life.

“ ‘Fairytales always have a happy ending.’
He leaned back in his chair. ‘That depends.’
“On What?”
‘On whether you are Rumpelstiltskin or the Queen.’ ” – Briar Rose, Jane Yolen

Briar Rose is a novel about the holocaust that I read during my historical fiction phase circa 2019. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, drawing parallels with World War II Poland. This quote can be applied to everyday life quite well. The same event can be so different depending on who is experiencing it. Whether something is considered a fairytale ending is indeed dependent on perspective.

“The supermarket lights are chlorine-white and she’s not wearing any makeup.” Normal People, Sally Rooney

Normal People is an easy, relatable read that has now been adapted into a TV series that I must admit I am yet to see. This quote in particular, when taken out of context, does not have any profound meaning behind it. However, put back in the situation of the story unfolding it paints the awkwardness of the scene in a really vivid way. In this scene the main characters, Marianne and Connell, have just broken up and bump into each other in the supermarket. The harsh light and lack of make-up gives you a sense of how caught off guard Marianne is by the situation. The tension, vulnerability, and awkwardness of this scene is perfectly encapsulated in this quote which made it earn its place on my list.  Even without this background knowledge, however, the reader can immediately see the green lights, red face, and imagine a late-at-night empty supermarket scenario. I think it, in true fashion of the book, is very relatable.

“Maybe that’s why it’s getting laid instead of laying. In the end the girls had all the power.” – We All Looked Up, Tommy Wallach

This line is a bit less serious and not necessarily one I believe is entirely true, but I do think it’s a unique take on the phrase. The book itself may not be a mainstream read but one I would highly recommend. The story follows a group of high school students as an asteroid that is set to wipe out humanity comes hurtling towards the Earth. Funny in places, serious in others, the book definitely kept me hooked.

I’d be ok again. Maybe not the same brand of ok.” – Beach Read, Emily Henry 

Beach Read, along with all of Emily Henry’s novels, is a quick, readable rom-com for when you crave a bit of cheesy romance. Perfect for, as the title may suggest, reading on the beach. I am not ashamed to admit that I adore all of her books. I’m a sucker for a predictable enemies-to-lovers storyline and this book did not disappoint. The quote itself is a nice way to look at the world, especially when you’re at a low. You may not be the same “ok” you were before, things may not ever be the exact same they were before, but you will get to a new version of “ok”. Life constantly evolves and things will get better.

“Isn’t it enough to see a beautiful garden without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too.”- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,  Douglas Adams

Finishing off with a quote from a classic – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I read this book for the first time quite recently, and, although some of what goes on in the story can only be described as bizarre, it is a thrilling read. This quote, contrary to the overall vibe of the book, takes a somewhat more serious tone and makes you pause to think about appreciating what you have in front of you, instead of constantly wondering if there is more. I think this can be applied, in a way, to Oxford life. Sometimes it needs to be enough to appreciate what you have just done, take a minute to be proud of the work that you’ve submitted, rather than wondering if it could have been better, if there could be more, and how you need to move onto the next thing. I think we could all agree it would be nice if this was taken in reverse as well – to my tutors, is it not enough to appreciate, for just a minute, the questions I got right rather than focusing on what I maybe didn’t quite understand?

Keeping a list of my favourite quotes may seem a little nerdy, and maybe not very ‘Woman in STEM’, but it is something I highly recommend doing. Every now and then I like to look back over the list, reminding me of the books I’ve read, the stories they told, and the beauty in the language. Some quotes are funny, some solemn, some pretty and some frankly quite strange but they are common in each giving a little snippet back into the world within the pages. I don’t think I’m ever going to read any of the classics. Whilst I can see while they deserve to be appreciated that form of prose is not my cup of tea. So for anyone out there like me, who struggles with the work of Bronte and Orwell, I hope that this list has opened your eyes instead to the beauty in the writing of pop fiction.

Image credit: Rahul Pandit via Pexels.