Day: January 30, 2017

Reading as Time Travel:  8 iconic novels

Reading as Time Travel: 8 iconic novels

There are special books, so strong in time and place, they transport us into the past. We walk with the characters through cities and landscapes. We smell the bakery on the corner or the mud of the riverbank. We hear the voices around us and we are immersed. We can begin to feel like Gump, a part of important moments in history.  It’s strange to think we really can live for a time in the past. It’s extraordinary to know that as long as there are people to tell these stories, those times cannot fade away. All readers need to do is pick up their copy and read on.

Books written today contain our present. They cannot help it. They contain what we value, what we abhor, what we do and say. Our streets and towns are captured, the characters and extras, all make it to the page in one way or another. Even those books which bend time and create fantastical places must as a starting point in the author’s mind contain the present. Imagine these books read in the future, the way we now read Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Future readers will be able to see us too as we call into the future and they lay an ear to the past.

Fish the Gulf Stream with the Old Man

Its addictive, this kind of reading. Walk down the Dublin streets at the turn of the twentieth century with Mr Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses or wander around London with Pip in the early 1800’s in Dickens’s Great Expectations. We can push on to New York City post WW2 and feel it via Michael Chabon’s, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Then we can move on to Chicago during the Great Depression with Saul Bellow’s, The Adventures of Augie March. We can feel the pain of Rufus Scott in the jazz haunts in Greenwich Village in the 1950’s in James Baldwin’s Another Country. We can fish the Gulf Stream with the old man and Hemingway.

The thing is we don’t only get a tour of times past, we get a rich story, all that human striving and yearning, whether it be for love, recognition, revenge, a successful life. We humans are in these stories too, just as readers of the future will inhabit our own. And every time we read, is it possible we may learn a little more about ourselves.

All Things Wisdom; All Things Nonsense

I think its true. In seeing what is valued over time and what may be only transitory, we might be able to put our efforts to what is lasting. With no respect for what has come before, we are condemned to find all things important in our own age or nothing at all. All things would be wisdom or all things nonsense and we might dispense with what we should have valued and keep what would inevitably fade.

But even this can be put aside as overly psychological, for we are readers. Our interest in the lives of others is not as theorists. Our writers make us feel and touch and smell and taste these worlds. They sidle even the shyest of us right up to their characters. We ghost them, stalk them even. We need not be archeologists or anthropologists to participate. In reading these iconic books, we are tugging on the string of humanity which connects the past to the present and the present to that which is yet to come.

A String of 8 Iconic Books For You

Please enjoy the books below with this NOTE OF CAUTION: Stepping into the past is addictive. You might find it difficult to return.

  1. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations. (First published in serial form from 1 December 1860 to August 1861) Set in London
  2. Leo Tolstoy’s, War and Peace. (First published in serial form from 1865 to 1867) Set in Russia in the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
  3. James Joyce’s, Ulysses. (First published in serial form from March 1918 to December 1920). Set in Dublin. BOOK REVIEW available here.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby. (1925). Set on Long Island 1922
  5. Saul Bellow’s, The Adventures of Augie March. (Published in 1953). Set in Chicago during the Great Depression. BOOK REVIEW available here.
  6. Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea. (1952). Set in Cuba and far out in the Gulf Stream off the Florida coast.
  7. Michael Chabon’s, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. (2000). Set in New York before during and after World War II
  8. James Baldwin’s, Another Country. (1962). Set in Greenwich Village in the 1950’s. BOOK REVIEW available here.
Posted by Gabrielle Blondell