Prior to pursuing a career in literature, Brandon Taylor studied biochemistry. But life has its pleasant surprises. Midway through his doctorate, his vision shifted and instead he pursued Masters of Fine Arts at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop of the University of Iowa where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow. The rest, they say, is history. In 2020, he made his literary debut with Real Life, along with his friend, C. Pam Zhang (with How Much of These Hills is Gold). Both Taylor and Zhang would be longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, with Taylor making it all the way to the shortlist.

In his debut novel, he related portions of his experiences. There were some parallels between the story’s main character, Wallace, and Taylor’s own. While I was not entirely engaged due to some blunders, I was swept by the descriptive prose. The intersection between real and fictional lives made it brim with impressionable lines and passages, some of which are featured in this quotable quotes post. I hope you enjoy them.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“He smiled because he was not sure how to meet someone’s sympathy for him. Ir always seemed to him that when people were sad for you, they were sad for themselves, as if your misfortune were just an excuse for them to feel what it was they wanted to feel. Sympathy was a kind of ventriloquism.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“That he wants to be alone. That he does not want to speak to anyone. That he does not want to be around anyone. That the world has worn him down. That he would like nothing more than to slip out of his life and into the next. That he is terrified, afraid. That he want to lie down here and never move again. What he means is that he does not know what he wants, if only that it is not this, the way forward paved with words they’ve already said and things they’ve already done. What he wants is to break it all open and try again.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“Overhead, trees dappled in sunlight. You can’t know how beautiful the sun is there, how it touches everything and soaks it through, succulent, like water, like moisture. Light beading on the skin, dew, glistening. So much light, an ocean of it, a sea of light spread across everything.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“This could be their life together, each moment, shared, passed back and forth between each other to alleviate the pressure, the awful pressure of having to hold time for oneself. This is perhaps why people get together in the first place. The sharing of time. The sharing of the responsibility of anchoring oneself in the world. Life is less terrible when you can just rest for a moment, put everything down and wait without having to worry about being washed away. People take each others hands and they hold on as tight as they can, they hold on to each other and to themselves because they know that the other person will not.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“The most unfair part if it is that when you tell people that something is racist, they hold it up to the light and try to discern if you are telling the truth. As if they can tell by the grain if something is racist or not, and they always trust their won judgment. It’s unfair because white people have a vested interest in underestimating racism, its amount, its intensity, its shape, its effects. They are the fox in the henhouse.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“That if the world has made up its mind about what you have to offer, if the world has decided it wants you, needs you, then it doesn’t matter how many times you mess up. What Wallace wants to know is where the limit is. When is it no longer forgivable to be so terrible? When does the time come when you’ve got to deliver on your gifts?”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“Being so aware of their bodies makes him aware of his own body, and he becomes aware of the way his body is both a thing on the earth and a vehicle for his entire life’s history. His body is both a tangible self and his depression, his anxiety, his wellness, his illness, his disordered eating, the fear of blood pouring out of him. It is both itself and not itself, image and afterimage. He feels unhappy when he looks at someone beautiful or desirable because he feels the gulf between himself and the other, their body and his body. An accounting of his body’s failures slides down the back of his eyes, and he sees how far from grace he’s been made and planted.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“The past is greedy, always swallowing you up, always taking. If you don’t hold it back, if you don’t dam it up, it will spread and take and drown. The past is not a receding horizon. Rather, it advances one moment at a time, marching steadily forward until it has claimed everything and we become again who we were; we become ghosts when the past catches us. I can’t live as long as my past does. It’s one or the other.”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life

“The truly awful thing about beauty is that it reminds us of our limits. Beauty is a kind of unrelenting cruelty. It takes the truth, hones it to a terrifying keenness, and uses it to slice us to the bone”

~ Brandon Taylor, Real Life