25 Great Pieces of Life Advice From Literature

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Everyone could use a bit of advice now and then. But what if you’re the type who eschews all human contact and prefers to converse only with characters in your books? Well, er, then even they might not be able to help you. All kidding aside, as any avid reader will know, many of the great works of literature are filled with wisdom, which you could do worse than to take to heart — especially in these back-to-school weeks, a time when a little extra advice can always help. So here are a few nuggets of humanhood as doled out by literary (read: fictional!) characters who know a thing or two.

“You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anyone says to you, don’t let ‘em get your goat. Try fighting with your head for a change…it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.” — Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee)

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ” — Mr. Rosewater (God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut)

“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet: You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” — Mrs. Whatsit (A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle)

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” — Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling)

“THIS TIME, BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER. REMEMBER: EACH OF YOU WANTS TO BE HAPPY. AND I WANT YOU TO. EACH OF YOU WANTS TO LIVE FREE FROM FEAR. AND I WANT YOU TO. EACH OF YOU ARE SECRETLY AFRAID YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH. BUT YOU ARE, TRUST ME, YOU ARE.” — The Creator (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, George Saunders)

“Gilgamesh, whither are you wandering? Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands. Gilgamesh, fill your belly, Day and night make merry, let days be full of joy, dance and make music day and night. And wear fresh clothes, And wash your head and bathe. Look at the child that is holding your hand, And let your wife delight in your embrace. These things alone are the concern of men.” — Siduri (The Epic of Gilgamesh)

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” — Faye Travers (The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich)

“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.” — David Wallace (The Pale King, David Foster Wallace)

“Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — The Fox (The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Narrator (Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett)

“Fear is the mind-killer.” — Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear (Dune, Frank Herbert)

“Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!” — Steerforth (David Copperfield, Charles Dickens)

“Be men, or be more than men. Be steady to your purposes and firm as a rock. This ice is not made of such stuff as your hearts may be; it is mutable and cannot withstand you if you say that it shall not.” — Frankenstein (Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)

“You’ve got to spend your money on the things money can buy, not worry about profit or loss. Save your energy for the things that money can’t buy. — Toru’s uncle (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami)

“You’ve got to work with your mistakes until they look intended. Understand?” — Carlyle (“Fever,” Raymond Carver)

“Work is the best antidote to sorrow, my dear Watson.” — Sherlock Holmes (“The Adventure in the Empty House” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

“You can think clearly only with your clothes on.” — Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.” — Salvor Hardin (Foundation, Isaac Asimov)

“If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth and claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans shared equitably, such a world will come to pass.” — Adam Ewing (Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell)

“Go to bed; tired is stupid.” — Kurremkarmerruk (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin)

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” — Touchstone (As You Like It, William Shakespeare)

“Never laugh at live dragons.” — Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien)

“Things didn’t turn out the way they were supposed to, but what can you do? You must take life the way it comes at you and make the best of it.” — Pi (Life of Pi, Yann Martel)

“Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that.” — Nagasawa (Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami)

“Here’s some advice. Stay alive.” — Haymitch Abernathy (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins)