Posts Tagged ‘time’

Book #92: The Time Machine

I read The Time Machine I was in sixth grade. All I remembered of it was that he went to the future and there was this girl thing called Weena and she died. My memory was pretty accurate, I guess.

If there’s anyone out there who somehow doesn’t know, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is the original science fiction time traveling story. You’re welcome, Doctor Who fans. Basically, during the Victorian Era, this crazy scientist dude builds a time machine and is all excited to go to the future and see how awesome everything is. He gets there and finds out that humans have essentially evolved to be unrecognizable. There are two distinct groups – the pudgy, friendly Eloi, descended from the genteel, leisure class, and the dark and ominous Morlocks, who live underground and at one time worked the factories and machines that kept life on the surface going.

While 11-year-old me got the basic plot of The Time Machine, she totally missed the social commentary. I suppose that’s to be expected though. It’s not like I knew a ton about the social order of Industrial Revolution-era England. I’ve re-read several books now that I read when I was younger, but this is the first time that I’ve really been shocked at how much I really missed when I read them the first time around.

There is a clear, “Um, this utopia we think we’re working towards with all these machines is not going to work out very well in the end” vibe here. That, I suppose, is nothing that modern readers aren’t used to now. I did think it’s interesting that Wells wrote an almost evolutionary divide between the working class and the leisure class. The Morlocks are literally a different, darker, and more dangerous thing than the Eloi. And at this point, the Eloi have become useless and the Morlocks dangerous and able to literally feed on the Eloi – the tables have totally turned.

Interesting to think about, even today. I can’t say I’m surprised that I missed out on this aspect of the book when I was a kid, I guess it just goes to show that maybe you should re-read the “classics” you read when you were way younger; you never know what you’ll discover this time around.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Devil and Miss Prym

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Book #38: Slaughterhouse-Five

This was my second reading of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. The first time I read it, I focused on the funny parts. What with the aliens and Billy Pilgrim being “unstuck in time” and “So it goes” and all, I thought it was a hilarious novel.

This time was different. This time I thought it was beautiful. It helps that Vonnegut’s writing is beautiful. Sometimes, one sentence knocked me over and made me stop and thing (“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”). But what really struck me was all the things Vonnegut says about time and death.

Slaughterhouse-Five felt like a meditation on time and moments. Billy Pilgrim learned to see time differently from the Tralfamadorians. Basically, time doesn’t have to be linear. It can be experienced in “out of order” or all at once. I really, really liked the image of humans as centipedes, moving from baby to child to teenager to adult to old person, all at once. It comforts me to think that you can be young, old, and everything in between at the same time, somehow.

I think about time passing and the way people age all the time. Maybe it’s because I’m 22 and feel really stuck between being a college kind and a ‘real adult.’ I dunno. Either way, I like to think that moments in time can be stopped and frozen forever, even if they’re in the past. Slaughterhouse-Five kind of lets me think that way and reflect on those things.

And of course, I couldn’t end a blog post about this book without talking about “So it goes.” After I read Slaughterhouse-Five the first time, I started saying that (or thinking it) when I read obituaries or heard about deaths. It’s one of the most coldly distant, yet accurate and heartfelt statements about death. Death is a thing that happens. So it goes.

But what Billy says about what he learned when he was in a zoo on Tralfamadore was that “when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.” It’s comforting, isn’t it, to think that when people die, they’re not really gone. They’re still there, just at different points in time.

Whether you believe that that’s literally true or not, I think it’s a beautiful way to look at the world.

Rating: *****
Up Next: Jude the Obscure

Book #35: The Sea, The Sea

Next, I’m reading The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch.

I’ve heard that it’s about forgiveness, aging, moving on, and other such things. The basic idea is that a retired theater man, Charles Arrowby, leaves his exciting and gossip-filled social life in London to live in solitude in a house by the sea. There, people from his past show up, and he is forced to confront his past and find a way to move on.

I would imagine, given the title, that the sea is going to prove very symbolic in this novel. With the tides coming in and out, the sea is a perfect symbol for both constancy and change. I’m expecting to like this novel quite a bit.

I seem to love novels that take place by water. I don’t know why, but I love the different things authors do with bodies of water and metaphors and symbolism. For some reason, that sort of thing really gets me reflecting on the writing and themes of the novel.

So far (I’m a little ways into the book), I really like it. The writing is good and there’s something captivating about the way the story’s told. When I read some books, it takes me awhile to surface from them when I stop reading. The Sea, The Sea seems to be one of them.

I hope I enjoy the rest of the book as much as I’ve enjoyed the first 60ish pages.

Faulkner’s In My Head

The Sound and the Fury both repulsed and intrigued me. I did not want to read it, but I didn’t want to stop reading it, either. This is the kind of sentiment I’ve come to associate with Faulkner, though.

The Sound and the Fury is the tragic story of the once-prestigious Compson family’s downfall. This downfall, both in terms of prestige and morality, comes in the form of the four Compson children – Quentin, Caddy, James, and Benjy.

Caddy’s promiscuity leads to the breakdown of the rest of her family. Benjy, whose internal peace relies on order and routine, completely loses it when Caddy is disowned. Quentin cannot bear his sister’s immorality, and James feels wronged and slighted as Caddy’s marriage dissolves.

My favorite part, though, was being inside Benjy’s head. Benjy has no concept of time whatsoever. His narrative is disjointed as he slips between memories. It is always the present, whether something triggers a memory of something that happened when he was a boy, or whether it is actually the present, when he is 33. This makes it hard to figure out exactly what is going on when.

For example, you have to work to figure out which James is mentioned – Benjy’s brother or his father – or whether Quentin refers to Benjy’s brother or Caddy’s illegitimate daughter. The repetition of names, along with the fact that Benjy perceives everything in the present tense, makes time seem incredibly random. Benjy seems to relive his memories as if they are actually re-happening to them; he has no sense of their being in the past.

But most of all, I just really liked the way Faulkner wrote in steam-of-consciousness. It was really interesting, overall, to be in Benjy’s head. It’s so rare to be made aware of memory as it actually works. It’s also rare to be made aware of how you actually think. Reading Benjy’s internal thoughts made me really aware of how memories are actually triggered. When you’re inside your head, your internal monologue doesn’t usually follow the same logic as when you’re talking to someone or writing your thoughts out. You see something or smell something or hear something that reminds you of something else and suddenly you’re there again. Benjy’s portion of the novel really drove that home.

Overall, it was super cool to read Faulkner. It made me feel like I was reading in a new and revolutionary way. It made me think about how I read and how I thought about what I was reading – and about what I was thinking – in a completely different light.

Go Faulkner.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Princess of Cleves

To Bottle Time: Rebecca

What impressed me most about Rebecca was the constant sense of transience, and the different hauntings that took place. The narrator is constantly aware that everything – even the self – changes. She wants to bottle moments to remember them, takes the time to really notice her surroundings in case she wants to remember them later, and is really aware of the emptiness of rooms that she leaves. For a young woman, she also displays a remarkable self-awareness at times. She is constantly aware that she is becoming a different self than she was before.

How right she is. My senior year of college made me aware of how fleeting time is and how changeable we all are.

I think of nights out with my friends at our favorite drink spot, or moments spent sitting in a dorm room and laughing, or a tiny flash of time that is perfect and beautiful. Sure, I can remember these moments, but if only there was a way to remember them so vividly that it was like reliving them. Like the narrator, who wants to bottle moments so they can be opened and their essence relived, like perfume, I wish I had been able to save these moments.

When everything is the last, it takes on a special significance. This is why, at times, the narrator in Rebecca is so aware of them. Everyday actions take on a special weight when you know that they won’t last. I think of the last time I went to class, the last time I went to the cafeteria, the last time I walked across campus, the last time I got coffee or went to the library or locked my door. I did these things every day without even thinking about them. But somehow, the last time I turned the key in my lock and turned to leave my room, the weight on my shoulders was greater. It was like I had never been there.

The narrator in Rebecca says the same thing about leaving hotel rooms. There is something unsettling about leaving a place and knowing that it’s like you were never there.

This weekend everybody moves in at Luther. For the first time in four years, I won’t be with them. I miss college. I miss my friends, I miss taking classes, I miss being with people my own age, and I miss being at Luther in general. I loved it there. Each summer I looked forward to going back and counted down the days. And now it’s over. Just like that. Time’s a funny thing. You don’t usually notice that it’s passing until it’s already gone.

But times like your senior year of college remind you that nothing is permanent. Everything is going to change. Even you. I am a completely different person now than I was four years ago when I first went to college. In four years I will probably be a different person than I am now. This is sad because I really like who I am now. But time passes. Things change. People change. Nothing lasts forever, not even the places we call home.

It probably goes without saying, after all that, that I liked Rebecca way, way more than I thought I would.

Sometimes I wish I could bottle time. Or at least the good moments. I guess since I can’t, the key is to make a bigger effort to enjoy things as they happen. The best anyone can do is try to actively soak up as many minute details as possible and try to enjoy it.

To Luther’s incoming freshmen: Welcome. Enjoy every moment, because it goes way, way too fast.

I want to bottle time

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Bell Jar

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