July’s theme is Time Travel, a fascinating and intriguing type of fiction that attempts to answer the question, what if? What if you could go back in time, what would you do? Would you make a different decision that would change the course of your life? Would you be able to change the course of history? Prevent terrible disasters? Play the stock market? What if Hitler had won the war? What if JFK hadn’t been assassinated? How would the world be different?
There are lots of great books that fall into this category and while all of them have at least some elements of science fiction (time travel!) many of these titles are far more interested in how the past has shaped us and how changing the past might make us into a different person. They tend to fall into two board categories – changing world history or changing personal history. Here are some great titles to get you started.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This one doesn’t easily fall into one of the above categories but more about how the very act of involuntary time travel affects one person (the traveler mostly but also the people around him) both physically and emotionally. Coping with disappearing suddenly (most employers probably wouldn’t take kindly to that) and reappearing in some unknown location and time – without clothes – can be, understandably, stressful. Finding someone to love and building a life with them seems nearly impossible and yet Henry and Clare manage to create their own version of a happy life. I loved this book – funny and suspenseful with a sweet/sad ending. I could barely put it down and cried and cried at the end (but read it anyway) My best advice for reading this is – go with the flow. Don’t try to make sense of the intertwining timelines or you’ll make yourself crazy, just trust the author. And skip the movie.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Well, I hardly need to introduce this book – who hasn’t heard of it and its many sequels and popular television adaptation? It’s popular for a reason – lots of action and angst and romance (not to mention a fair amount of sex!) this adventure tale of a 1940s era nurse finding herself in the Scottish Highlands during the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie has got it all. Be careful, once this story has grabbed you, you’re not likely to return the 21st century Iowa for some time. Besides the sequels and television adaptation, there are companion books to help you keep track of what’s going on and yes, even a cookbook (The Outlander Kitchen). Yum – haggis!
Books by Connie Willis. Willis seems to specialize in books about time travel and most of them are serious and dark. Lincoln’s Dreams returns us to the bloody battlefields of the Civil War, The Doomsday Book takes us to England in 1438 and the Black Death and Blackout goes to England’s darkest hours of World War II. All of these books are beautifully written, with characters that you care about and the ability to transport you to another era. However, they are all rather grim. My recommendation would be to search out To Say Nothing of the Dog, an unexpectedly light and funny return to the Victorian past, loosely based on Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, this is a delightful romp, perfect for summertime reading.
Other titles well worth considering include Replay by Ken Grimwood, with a theme similar to Bill Murray/Groundhog Day; The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes where a woman gets to go back and marry a different man; Kindred by Octavia Butler where a modern black woman is transported to the antebellum South; and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer with a woman thrust into two pasts, one in 1914 and one in 1941.
And what am I planning to read this month? Before I tell you, I have to make a confession. I’ve never read a Stephen King book. Ever. Mostly because I’m a wimp that is easily scared. But I’m going to change that this month and read 11/22/63. A high school English teacher finds a portal that allows him to step back in time and leads him to attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK. It’s gotten excellent reviews and looks like a real page-turner – I’ll let you know how it goes.
Now it’s your turn – what are you going to read this month? Let us know in the comments!