What I’m Reading (No. 109): travels in space and time
This week I finished a couple classic titles that both happen to revolve around science fiction-y travels through space and time.
I picked up A Wrinkle in Time merely because it was sitting on the bookshelf at my in-laws’ place. I knew it was a short read, so I dove in.
As mentioned last week, I also re-read Kindred, a book that deeply moved me in high school. I enjoyed it even more this time around.
Let’s get right to it.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962, 232 pages)
“We can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts.”
This classic YA book got a lot of attention a couple years ago when Oprah starred in a new movie adaptation. A lot of people read it (or re-read it) then, so I’m a little late to the party, but I finally got there.
I had heard from multiple people that this book was sort of weird and out there, which it certainly is. That said, I’ve read far weirder books. Sure, there are strange creatures and beings and instantaneous travel between planets, but the plot is great. Plus, as I’ve written plenty of times before, I’m a sucker for anything with a general theme of “Love wins.”
To the story itself (which is a bit hard to describe succinctly): Meg Murry is 13 years old and considered by most to be a failure at school; she doesn’t measure up to her scientific parents or her smarter siblings. Her 5-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, is oddly mature — like in a supernatural way. Meg and Charles Wallace (as well as another teen named Calvin) run into an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Whatsit. From there, they embark on a universe-spanning adventure to find the Murrys’ father, who’s been missing for a few years.
Ultimately, we find out what sort of forces it takes to beat the Black Thing, and along the way we encounter mind-reading, tesseracts (which inevitably brought Interstellar to mind, which is legit one of my favorite movies), and a variety of planets and beings that will make you think differently about your senses and emotions.
A Wrinkle in Time was an incredibly memorable (and quick) read and one that everyone should experience at some point in their life. There are loads of wisdom-packed one-liners and plenty of teachable moments on what matters in life.
A Time Travel Reading List
A handful of titles I’ve read over the years to scratch your time travel itch.
11/22/63 by Stephen King. One of my top 5 favorite Stephen King novels. Of course the fact that it combines with presidential history had me hooked right away.
Timeline by Michael Crichton. Crichton is an all-time favorite of mine and while Timeline isn’t as well known as his other mega-hits, it’s just as well done.
The Time Machine by HG Wells. A short novel, but a classic for a reason. Wells did a lot to basically invent sci-fi; if it’s a genre you’re into, you have to read this one.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. A delightfully fun novel about a man who isn’t exactly a time traveler, but is actually just very old and ages very slowly. So it feels like time travel. Read more here.
Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. A book I read in college that blew my mind at the time. Another one I’ve long wanted to re-read but haven’t gotten to yet.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I didn’t love this novel as much as everyone else seemingly did, but Ursula Todd is nonetheless an incredibly memorable character as she lives and dies over and over and over again.
Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979, 264 pages)
“I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
I didn’t read many of my assigned books in high school. But I did this one, and it really stuck out. I’ve remembered it and thought of it often in the last 15 years. The vividness of the characters and their experiences was quite possibly the first time I encountered the reality of slavery’s history in America (along with Roots, though I don’t remember when I watched that).
I’ve long wanted to re-read it and figured Black History Month was a great time to do so.
This time around, I came away even more impressed with Butler’s writing and storytelling.
Dana, a black woman, lives in LA in 1976. Her and Kevin, her white husband, have just moved into a new apartment. But before they can really get settled, Dana feels a spell of dizziness and is whisked away to an antebellum Maryland slave plantation. She saves a young white boy, Rufus, from drowning, ends up in trouble herself, and is mysteriously back home again shortly thereafter.
She seems to have a celestial connection with this Rufus, the son of the plantation owner; whenever he’s in mortal danger (which happens a lot), Dana rushes through time to save him. While she ends up at the plantation for months on end, 1976 time barely passes at all. And sometimes Kevin is along for the ride too, making for an interesting dynamic; he can play slave owner while Dana is obviously forced to “act” the role of slave, which comes with the fear, punishment, and belittlement you’d expect.
Not only does Butler capture the reality of being a slave — both physically and mentally — but also the really interesting facet of being made into a slave after only having known a free existence.
Butler was a master of her craft. There’s just no doubt about it. Kindred was certainly a forerunner and influence to Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, and it may be even better. It’s a book that should be part of more Great American Novels lists; you see it some, but not nearly enough. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.
That’s all for me this week. I’d love to hear what you’re reading, and if you have any time traveling reads to add to my list. They’re always fun. Thanks for the time and inbox space; I really appreciate it.