Aphorisms by Norton Juster

Last year, The Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster celebrated its 50th anniversary, as commemorated in this article from The New Yorker. Somehow, I got through my Dr. Seuss-infused childhood without ever reading the book, an omission I only recently rectified. I wish I had read this book as a kid, but it still speaks powerfully to me as an adult, because of its generally madcap manipulation of language and its frequent aphoristic acrobatics. The Phantom Toll Booth mixes the Marx Brothers’ anarchic humor with an Alice in Wonderland-like glee in violating the laws of logic and of physics. I assigned a chapter from it for my Aphorisms: From Ideas to Action course as an example of the linguistic tricks at play in aphorisms … to wit:

You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.

What you can do is often simply a matter of what you will do.

So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

There’s always something to do to keep you from what you really should be doing.

Many of the things which can never be, often are.

The most important reason for going from one place to another is seeing what’s in between.

It’s just as bad to live in a place where what you do see isn’t there as it is to live in one where what you don’t see is.