Libby sent me the below meme via Facebook and asked if I agreed. After answering her question, we decided that my response—with only minor edits—would make a great little post. So below is my reaction to the John Piper’s quote.
I agree to a small extent. The majority of people lift quotes from larger works of prose or poetry, and then they apply it to their lives in some way, motto-like and whatnot.
However, this particular quote misses out on the power of a work in its totality. A stylistically uncluttered, unquotable book could, arguably, be profound in its wholeness yet furnish no stand-alone pieces to extract. It is only as a total thing that it affects the person who reads it. And think of how more powerful a total work is when it has numerous moments of quotable-ness to reflect upon in the context of the whole.
I’ve always found whole books to be much more powerful then quotes. Quotes are overt. When recalled they can direct action. A book, on the other hand, echoes through one, ripples longer in the psyche without having to be recalled in order to enact its effects. In this way, it’s more life changing.
But for those actively seeking to change their behavior or find a model or motto to live by, quotes at the level of the paragraph or sentence (much like prayer beads and their accompanying “Hail Mary” or fetishes that serve a similar function of a call to meditation) give one a more tangible signpost to direct their change. In this sense, the meme is correct. For those seeking such changes or to those whom are impressionable to powerful words in the micro, yes, the level of paragraph and sentence are very much the stepping-stones of their change. Though this will not mitigate the larger, macro-level impressions whole books leave when the quote is not present to mind.
Books are, truly, more powerful than any one quote extracted from them.