Monday Miscellany

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Time Doesn’t Always Fly When You’re Time-Travelling 

Susan K. Perry, Ph. D., reviews Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, about an attempt to undo the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She begins her review as follows:

The way I see it, there are at least two kinds of time travel stories. There are those that are science-based, real science fiction. A machine is often involved, and some kind of time-space anomaly is seriously pondered. Then there is what I think of as the romantic genre of time travel. Who needs a machine when you can step through a magic mirror, walk along the sidewalk, or step down an invisible stair?

That last is King’s choice in 11/22/63.

I was drawn in by the title of her blog entry and by this opening, but, in this quite short review, she has very little to say about time travel:

It was an odd choice to have the time traveller having to go back to several years before the main incident. That makes the reading a long haul. History resets with each trip, and when the time traveller says he gets exhausted just thinking about going back again to do things better, so does this reader. The suspense becomes much more keen when we finally get to the assassination scene.

Here’s her conclusion:

King fans: you’ll love it. Time-travel fans: its approach is different enough to make reading it worth the time (unless you’ve got only a month left to live, in which case, find something better to do). Conspiracy theorists: it’s a big book, but it doesn’t break any new ground.

I’ve always liked time travel stories because I find fascinating the questions of what I’d do differently if I had the chance to relive a portion of my life or how I would react if I found myself in a time and place other than my own. I had hoped for some discussion of issues such as these in Perry’s review.

A couple of my favorite time-travel novels are The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and Kindred by Octavia Butler. Do you have any favorites?

Related Posts:

The Best Literary Fiction Blogs & Websites

Jane Friedman, publishing mogul and college professor, offers ” a list of the best blogs and websites focused on literary fiction and culture.”

Be sure to read the comments, where other people have submitted their own suggestions.

Doctors Should Use Shakespeare’s Plays To Diagnose Patients

The Huffington Post reports on a study by Dr. Kenneth Heaton, a retired gastroenterologist and researcher at the University of Bristol in the U. K. The study investigated how doctors could improve treatment for patients suffering from psychosomatic symptoms. Heaton concluded that doctors should look at Shakespeare’s plays for help in understanding their patients physical manifestations of psychological distress:

Analysis of the Bard’s major works showed the British playwright’s sensibility of the links between emotional distress and physical symptoms.

Hamlet suffers fatigue after the loss of his father, complaining of his “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” existence, while in King Lear, Gloucester’s despair causes his “senses [to] grow imperfect.”

Heaton hopes that his research, published in the journal Medical Humanities,  “may help lessen the frequent delay in diagnosis for patients suffering from psychosomatic symptoms.”

This Book Is 119 Years Overdue 

The wondrous database that reveals what Americans checked out of the library a century ago

John Plotz admits that thinking about the reading experiences of people in past centuries fascinates him: “I can’t help reading inscriptions, plucking out old bookmarks, decoding faded marginalia. I catch myself wondering who was reading this a century ago, and where, and why?” As a result:

when I learned about What Middletown Read, a database that tracks the borrowing records of the Muncie Public Library between 1891 and 1902, I had some of the same feelings physicists probably have when new subatomic particles show up in their cloud chambers. Could you see how many times a particular book had been taken out? Could you find out when? And by whom? Yes, yes, and yes. You could also find out who those patrons were: their age, race, gender, occupation (and whether that made them blue or white collar, skilled, semi-skilled, or unskilled), and their names and how they signed them.

The database contains information from ledgers discovered in the attic during a renovation of the Muncie Public Library building, which was built in 1904. The collection of ledgers was brought to light by Ball State University English Professor Frank Felsenstein.

But the database is only a jumping-off point for Plotz, who has been trying to follow the life of one Muncie resident, the teenager Louis Bloom, through the library books that he borrowed. The search took Plotz to various genealogy sources. Eventually he was able to track down some of Bloom’s descendants and interview them about their memories of the man Bloom became. Plotz’s enthusiasm for these old records and what they can teach us about cultural history permeates this lively article. I highly recommend it.

10 works of fiction that might change the way you look at nature

Science fiction and fantasy have tackled everything from environmentalist utopias, to horrific industrial disasters that create pollution zombies. Here are ten speculative novels that explore environmental themes, from a variety of political perspectives, that could change the way you look at nature forever.

Read fuller discussions of these 10 works:

  1. Ecotopia, by Ernest Callenbach
  2. The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley
  3. The Color of Distance, by Amy Thomson
  4. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
  5. The Lorax, by Doctor Suess
  6. “The Magic Goes Away” by Larry Niven
  7. The Alchemist and The Executioness, by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell
  8. Lilith’s Brood (trilogy), by Octavia Butler
  9. Watermind by M. M. Buckner
  10. Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood


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