Monday, April 21, 2014

Revisiting 'Quicksilver'

I mentioned recently my practice of making notes when I read, usually on the 3-by-5 cards I use as bookmarks. If there is something I might want to use in a review of the book, an interesting or well-written passage or just a piece of information I might want to consult later, I jot it down on the card. I may never refer back to a particular note, but sometimes I do, as when I quoted from Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver in last Friday's blog post.

I finished reading that novel several months ago, but when I consulted the card tucked inside to find that quote, I found some other interesting things from the book worth mentioning. Here they are:

"There are two kinds of poor -- God's and the Devil's."

I wasn't familiar with that expression, but apparently it was once common, at least in England. God's poor were defined as widows, orphans and others who deserve help, while the Devil's poor are those considered beyond help. I see from a web search that Henry Ward Beecher once added a third class of poor: the poor devils.

Like a horseman who reins in a wild stallion that has borne him, will he, nill he, across several counties ...

Stephenson's story is set in the 17th century, and in this line he gives us some insight into the phrase we now know as "willy-nilly." The original idea, apparently, was uncertainty. Either he will or he won't. Other spellings of the phrase over the years include "willing, nilling" and "wille we, nelle we." There is also the idea of something happening whether one wills it or not.

Everything in the universe was curved.

Have you noticed how this is true? There don't seem to be any straight lines in nature. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, yet even light, the fastest thing in the universe, travels in waves.

"But I have noticed that the best people are frequently odd in one way or another."

I have noticed this to be true, too. Although the same thing could probably be said of the worst people. We all manage to be odd in our own individual way.

"You are charged with perverting the English language."

There are people among us who give the impression they actually wish misuse of the language were a criminal offense. These are the people who ignore whatever you are saying, but do make it a point to correct your English.

Two quotes

Finally, here are two lines in the novel that would have been worth underlining had I been inclined to do any underlining.

"Fame's a weed, but repute is a slow-growing oak."

"By populating the world with so many different minds, each with its own point of view, God gives us a suggestion of what it means to be omniscient."

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