Dear Quote Investigator: Building a library is an enjoyable lifelong pursuit. Intellectually engaged people are often bibliomaniacs. Yet, many acquired volumes are never read. This behavior has been condemned and praised in two radically different statements that differ by a single word:
(1) Nothing is more impotent than an unread library.
(2) Nothing is more important than an unread library.
Remarkably, both of these comments have been attributed to the transgressive filmmaker John Waters. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: In 2010 John Waters published “Role Models” which contained the following passage. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 2010, Role Models by John Waters, Chapter: Bookworm, Quote Page 163, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. (Verified with scans)
Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own; it’s the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it. Of course, you have to read the books, too. Nothing is more impotent than an unread library.
John Waters did not employ the variant statement with the word “important”. It was mistakenly credited to Waters in a 2012 book mentioned further below.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
Charlie Chaplin? Nigel Bruce? Claire Bloom? Austin Kleon? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Before performing a new show or displaying a novel artwork it is natural to feel fear. Perhaps the audience will condemn you as an amateur. A famous comic actor crafted a brilliant remark about amateurism. It went something like this: Everyone is an amateur because life is not long enough to become anything else.
Charlie Chaplin has received credit for this insight. Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: Charlie Chaplin created the story and screenplay of the 1952 movie “Limelight”. He played the starring role of a fading comedian named Calvero. An impresario decided to produce a gala benefit to honor Calvero. Many popular entertainers agreed to appear in the show. The following dialog between Calvero and the promoter occurred in the dressing room before the event. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:1952, Movie: Limelight, Director: Charles Chaplin, Original Story and Screenplay: Charles Chaplin, (Quotation spoken at 1 hour 55 minutes of 2 hours 17 minutes), (Viewed via Amazon Prime Video on … Continue reading
Postant (Nigel Bruce): Every star in the business is appearing.
Calvero (Charles Chaplin): It’ll be something following all this talent.
Postant (Nigel Bruce): Don’t you worry. Tonight you’re gonna make them all look like a bunch of amateurs.
Calvero (Charles Chaplin): That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
1952, Movie: Limelight, Director: Charles Chaplin, Original Story and Screenplay: Charles Chaplin, (Quotation spoken at 1 hour 55 minutes of 2 hours 17 minutes), (Viewed via Amazon Prime Video on August 14, 2022)