Leila Hadley


I first came across Leila Hadley when reading the letters of S.J. Perelman (Don’t Tread on Me) and eventually found her own books, the first a travel memoir of her youth as she prepares to leave New York City with her young son and see the world, and the second, another travel memoir a generation later in which she visits her daughter in India. I recommend them both to you. The opening sentence of the first is perfect, and a short exchange in the second sent me to three reference books in the space of four sentences:

“I had wanted to get away.”

— From Give Me the World (1958)

“Sitting in the bathtub, Veronica closes her eyes, lathers her scalp with Herbal Essence. ‘Ah,’ she sighs luxuriously, ‘the old boustrophedon scrub.’ Ox-eyed Juno? More like Renoir’s Grande Baigneuse, charged with a glowing exaltation of the female body.”

— From A Journey with Elsa Cloud (1997)

True or False

“…it must always be foul to tell what is false; and it can never be safe to suppress what is true.” — Robert Louis Stevenson in The Art of Writing

“Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Prudence”

“Falsehood is invariably the child of fear in one form or another.” — Aleister Crowley

The Faith of Birds

“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours… Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is to everything where power moves.” — Black Elk (1863-1950), Oglala Sioux holy man

Double Spaces

“In the nineteenth century, which was a dark and inflationary age in typography and type design, many compositors were encouraged to stuff extra space between sentences. Generations of twentieth-century typists were then taught to do the same, by hitting the spacebar twice after every period. Your typing as well as your typesetting will benefit from unlearning this quaint Victorian habit.” — Robert Bringhurst in The Elements of Typographic Style

Doctors of Spin: Platonists or Satanists?

“To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege.” — Plato, The Republic

“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among breathren.” — Proverbs 25:18

“Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; excute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates. And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.” — Zechariah 8:16-17

“He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it.” — John 8:44, in which Jesus speaks of the Devil

Unexpected Answer

“The problem with God — or at any rate, one of the top five most annoying things about God — is that He or She rarely answers right away. It can take days, weeks. Some people seem to understand this — that life and change take time. Chou En-lai, when asked, ‘What do you think of the French Revolution?’ paused for a minute — smoking incessantly — then replied, ‘Too soon to tell.’ I, on the other hand, am an instant-message type…

“But I prayed: Help me. And then I drove to the market in silence, to buy my birthday dinner.

“I flirted with everyone in the store, especially the old people, and I lightened up. When the checker finished ringing up my items, she looked at my receipt and cried, ‘Hey! You’ve won a ham!’

“I felt blindsided by the news. I had asked for help, not a ham. This was very disturbing. What on earth was I going to do with ten pounds of salty pink eraser?”

— Anne Lamott in “Ham of God,” collected in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith


“The sun rose higher. Blue waves, green waves swept a quick fan over the beach, circling the spike of sea-holly and leaving shallow pools of light here and there on the sand. A faint black rim was left behind them. The rocks which had been misty and soft hardened and were marked with red clefts.

“Sharp stripes of shadow lay on the grass, and the dew dancing on the tips of the flowers and leaves made the garden like a mosaic of single sparks not yet formed into one whole. The birds, whose breast were speckled canary and rose, now sang a strain or two together, wildly, like skaters rollicking arm-in-arm, and were suddenly silent, breaking asunder.

“The sun laid broader blades upon the house. The light touched something green in the window corner and made it a lump of emerald, a cave of pure green like stoneless fruit. It sharpened the edges of chairs and tables and stitched white table-cloths with fine gold wires. As the light increased a bud here and there split asunder and shot out flowers, green veined and quivering, as if the effort of opening had set them rocking, and pealing a faint carillon as they beat their frail clappers against their white walls. Everything became softly amorphous, as if the china of the plate flowed and the steel of the knife were liquid. Meanwhile the concussion of the waves breaking fell with muffled thuds, like logs falling, on the shore.” — Virgina Woolf, The Waves

Psalm 15: 1-6

A word to those in and around government who wear an American flag on one lapel and a cross on the other: “Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill? Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to a friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor. In his sight the wicked are rejected, but he honors those who fear the Lord. He has sworn to do no wrong and does not take back his word. He does not give his money in hope of gain, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.”

Lovely Vita

“Travel is the most private of pleasures. There is no greater bore than the travel bore. We do not in the least want to hear what he has seen in Hong Kong. Not only do we not want to hear it verbally, but we do not want — we do not really want, not if we are to achieve a degree of honesty great than that within the reach of most civilized beings — to hear it by letter either.” — Vita Sackville-West in Passenger to Teheran