Thursday, June 18


Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness withholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring winds down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. The most we can hope a watch to do is mark that progress. And since time sets its own tempo, like a heartbeat or an ebb tide, timepieces don't really keep time. They just keep up with it, if they're able.
—from Dava Sobel's Longitude
This is one of those instances that one small passage from a book (in this case a popular account of the worldwide quest to solve "The Longitude Question") stands out more than anything, even though it ultimately is not The Point of The Book.

First of all, anyone with even a mild interest in ocean, sailing, etc. would enjoy this book. Second, anyone with even a mild interest in history would enjoy this book. Sobel's writing makes what could have been a really dry, boring subject into a truly engaging account. And—dare I say it?—You really forget that the old dead white dudes she's talking about wore wigs. The story floats along with lovely, poetic passages like the one above.

So let's get down to it.

I was captivated by the above passage's lyricism right off the bat. But a lyrical style can make just about anything sound awesome. What really knocked my socks off about this passage was its effortless contemplation of a universal truth: Time is unstoppable, uncatchable.

Who would have thought I'd find such a profound, gorgeously penned passage in a book that was, ultimately, about watchmaking and astronomy?


Tina said...

With good authors, you really CAN open a book to any page and find gems like these. This is the stuff that I truly love. People who can write about something that I normally wouldn't be interested in and make it poetical and beautiful enough to capture my attention. I'm adding this one to my Amazon Wishlist. =)

Maggie May said...

Yes, beautiful.

Dan said...

I've read that book, and very much enjoyed it. there is a similar sort of popular history book about the history of canned food which I once picked up and then put back, thinking it would keep till i had more money.

Never been able to find it anywhere again damnit.

Erin said...

Tina—you won't be disappointed!

Maggie May—thanks for coming by. Rest assured, your words are just as beautiful.

Dan—I knew there was some sort of uncanny connection between us. It turns out that random and potentially boring literature is the substance of it. Excellent!

Anonymous said...

I love books about history (OK, well SOME history), especially adventure, exploration, the sea, and human struggles. I've been wanting to read this and am so glad to hear it is good. Hope Half Price Books has it next time I go! --Julie Elander

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