Dear Common Readers,
When Sandra of A Corner of Cornwall tagged me to participate in The Library Lizard’s Bookish Time Travel Tag, I couldn’t resist joining in. I have a soft spot for time-travel stories and couldn’t pass up an opportunity to discuss them even though it’s a bit outside my usual subject matter here.
What is your favourite historical setting for a book?
I love stories set in the 18th century like the Revolutionary War period in the U.S., the French Revolution, and Enlightenment-era England. There were so many long-reaching and exciting changes happening at that time.
What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?
What I’d really like is to get all these writers together in one place and time. So my magical carriage would travel to back to the 17th Century and stop first in London for a chat with Aphra Behn. Then the two of us would travel to Mexico City to visit Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. She would travel with us to 18th-century London to see Mary Wollstonecraft. Moving on to the 19th Century, we would stop in Paris for George Sand, then in Yorkshire for Charlotte Bronte. Next we would travel to 20th-Century London for Virginia Woolf before traveling to New York City to pick up Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Zora Neale Hurston. We would all settle in a cozy sitting room with tea, hot chocolate, and wine — and something stronger for Ms. Parker and Ms. Millay — for a lively discussion about literature and feminism.
What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?
I’d give myself an English translation of Sor Juana’s Answer to Sor Filotea even though the translation I read didn’t exist when I was younger. It would have made sense of some of the conflicts I experienced as a young woman and hopefully would have made me bolder at an earlier age.
What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self? Weird question, I know. But what I meant by it was more along the lines of – what book do you want to remind your older self of because it was really important to you?
I would give my older self a copy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong and of The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer to remind myself of how much these books influenced my notions of the kind of woman I wanted to be.
What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?
My favorite futuristic setting from a book is the utopian future setting in Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. It’s not perfect, but it is by conscious design more egalitarian than our society. Luxury items are loaned out like library books. Chores are rotated, but dishwashing is automated because no one like washing dishes. Ms. Piercy has some interesting ideas about race and culture, too.
What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?
I’m going to cheat and choose three. Hearts and Bones, the first book in the Hannah Trevor trilogy by Margaret Lawrence, A Free Man of Color, the first book in the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Hearts and Bones is set in Maine five years after the American Revolutionary War. It is a mystery novel with a midwife/detective but what I enjoyed the most was the social history aspect of the book. Margaret Lawrence gives the reader a fascinating look at what everyday life was like particularly for women and at the long-reaching consequences of war.
A Free Man of Color is set in New Orleans in the 1830s. It too is a mystery novel but again it is the social history that appealed the most to me. Benjamin January, a free man of color, is a doctor and musician newly returned from Paris after the death of his wife. Barbara Hambly uses Benjamin January’s involvement in the murder mystery to explore the impact of the Louisiana Purchase and subsequent influx of Americans on New Orleans, particularly the effect it had on French Creole society and the position of the free colored population in New Orleans.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in an incorporated all-black town in Florida in the early 20th century. Hurston’s masterful way with word, vivid descriptions, and knowledge of folk lore bring the entire community to life. I love this novel, though, because it taught me the power of literature to bridge so many gaps. I read this book for the first time at just the right moment. Across time, geography, background, age, and race, Ms. Hurston managed to make sense of experiences I was unable even to put into words at the time. I have reread this book several times and get something new from it each time.
Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?
Sometimes I skip ahead to the end of a book when I’m browsing in the store. Sometimes a book’s premise intrigues me enough to want to know how it turns out but not enough to read the whole book.
If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d go back to 1918 so I could join the last big push for women’s suffrage in the U.S. and then live as a flapper in New York City and brush elbows with Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Zora Neale Hurston.
Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
I can’t name just one! Instead here are five very different books I love:
Kindred by Octavia Butler: Dana, an African-American woman writer in 1970s California, travels back several times to a 19th-century slave plantation in Maryland. It’s an eye-opening look at how racism and sexism operate on individuals.
Orlando by Virginia Woolf: Orlando, a young nobleman, not only travels from Elizabethan England to 20th-century England with several stops in between but also changes gender.
Serenissima (retitled Shylock’s Daughter) by Erica Jong: Jessica, a Jewish American actress in 20th-century Venice, travels back to the 16th-century and meets up with a certain English playwright and poet.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Claire, an English nurse on her honeymoon in Scotland in 1947 travels back to the Scottish Highlands in 1746 and meets a dashing young Highlander.
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: Kivrin, a young female historian at Oxford in 2054, travels back to 1320 to make observations and gets stranded there during an outbreak of the plague.
In general, I prefer time-travel stories in which the means of travel leans more toward the magical than the mechanical. What I love most about all of these books is getting a glimpse at the lives of ordinary people in earlier time periods and how historical events affected them.
What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?
I wish I could go back and read Persuasion by Jane Austen again for the first time. The ending was such perfection that I hesitate to reread the book for fear of spoiling the magic.
I’d love to hear from everyone, but I’ve chosen the following three bloggers because I think they might find this tag especially interesting:
BJ at My Book-A-Logue
Marianne at Books, Life and Everything
Lynn at Smoke & Mirrors
Obviously, there is no obligation and no pressure to play along. Only do so if it is fun and convenient for you. For those who are interested, you can find the original questionnaire here: The Bookish Time Travel Tag. Have fun!
Thank you, Sandra, for tagging me and thank you to The Library Lizard for creating this tag. Thanks for giving me an excuse to discuss my favorite genre. I had a blast!
Your sister reader,