Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The curate’s turnips

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Interest is a peculiar thing. There are hundreds of things in which you feel you ought to be interested—but for which (to be honest for once) you do not give a hang. There are hundreds of other things—odd remarks, pointless little stories, tricks with matches, stray pieces of information—which seem to have no use in life, but which stay in your memory for years. At school we read a history book by Warner and Marten. No one remembered the history (this was no fault of the authors). But there were certain footnotes in it: one about a curate who grew crops in the churchyard and said it would be turnips next year; a lady who blacked out a picture and said, “She is blacker within”; a verse about someone longing to be at ’em and waiting for the Earl of Chatham—everyone knew these years after they left school. These were the things that really interested us.

If you want to remember a subject and enjoy it, you must somehow find a way of linking it up with something in which you are really interested. It is very unlikely that you will find much entertainment in textbooks. If you read only the textbooks, you will find the subject dull. Textbooks are written for people who already possess a strong desire to study mathematics: they are not written to create such a desire. Do not begin by reading the subject: begin by reading round the subject—books about real life, which somehow bring in the subject, which show how the subject came to be needed.

W.W. Sawyer, Mathematician’s Delight

Written by nevalalee

April 28, 2018 at 7:30 am

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