01/14/2013 12:48 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2013

Ann Patchett and the Horror of Hope

In this blog, I highlight passages that I've found in my travels through books. I hope readers will post quotes of their own, or comment on those they see here. I'm curious, too, about your reactions to the books you read. What kinds of words and sentences strike you most deeply? What do you look for when you read? What books are precious to you? Which do you always recommend?

"Hope is a horrible thing, you know. I don't know who decided to package hope as a virtue because it's not. It's a plague. Hope is like walking around with a fish hook in your mouth and somebody keeps pulling it and pulling it." -- Ann Patchett, State of Wonder

I love those moments in literature when I read something that both goes against my deepest principles and, at the same time, strikes me as profoundly true. In this passage in Patchett's sweltering and mysterious novel, a woman whose husband has disappeared and is presumed dead, describes the damage wrought by continuing to hope that he's still alive. Hope makes it impossible to accept his likely death and move on with her life.

Don't get me wrong. State of Wonder didn't lessen my appreciation for hope. As human beings, we depend on it for survival. As Patchett wisely points out, though, the pull of fishhook against lip can make that survival even harder to bear.