Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The One That Got Away

One of the best things about working in a bookstore was 'hand selling' a favorite book to a customer. Although many folks coming through the doors of the local, independent bookstore where I worked were looking for a particular book, many wanted a little guidance on what to read next. 

Even though I was in book buying mode, I did a bit of hand selling at the Summer Used Book Sale. I was standing with my head cocked sideways trying to read titles lined up on the fiction table when I noticed that the man next to me had a copy of Einstein's Dreams in hand. I couldn't resist breaking into his reverie and extolling the wonders of the book written by Alan Lightman.

It is a 144-page exploration of time which may not sound all that exciting, but in Mr. Lightman's hands is pretty mind-blowing. He takes a young Albert Einstein, who in 1905 is working on his theory of relativity, and explores thirty of his dreams - each a conception of time. He writes about the possibilities of life in a world where time is a circle, or is a flow of water, or moves slower and slower...

Suppose time is a circle, bending back on itself. The world repeats itself, precisely, endlessly.

For the most part people do not know they will live their lives over. Traders do not know that they will make the same bargain again and again. Politicians do not know that they will shout from the same lectern an infinite number of times in the cycles of time.

I actually felt my brain cracking open and expanding when I read this fantastical piece of fiction that was published in 1992. I may have scared the fellow when I told him this, but he put the copy of Einstein's Dreams in his book pile anyway. 

I wrote about another of Mr. Lightman's books, Mr. g (here) which is his take on the creation of the Universe. He is a physicist and author and also the editor of the book of Best American Essays 2000 that I did pick up at the book sale. 

Now I am sorry I did such a good job of selling the Einstein's Dreams! I would have liked to have had it for my own shelves. It is the one that got away.


  1. Hi Belle!
    I have just checked at my library and they have a copy so its on my list. I just finished a book which deals with the same issue(s) of time and our concept of same. Ruth Ozeki's " A Tale for the Time Being" its nominated for the highly prestigious Man Booker Prize out of England. An amazing book but I wont say anymore giving anything away; to say this story is layered is an understatement.

    1. I will investigate Ms. Ozeki's book, Tullik. Thanks. I hope you will like 'Einstein's Dreams'. The author covers a lot of ground in 140 or so pages. Let me know what you think.

    2. Belle, many thanks for the referral, this a wonderful book. Small in size but VERY large in ideas. As if i needed another book I have decided I need to have my own copy, it is something I will come back to regularly. By the by, Alan Lightman (I know I had heard that name before) highly recommended (in a review somewhere) a book I would put into the same category as "Einstein's Dreams" it is "Sum" by David Eagleman, another thought provoker! While I am at it if I may be so bold I would like to recommend another book in the same genre which is my constant companion "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa (translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith). This is VERY different experience and possibly unlike anything you will ever read, ... I know that sounds like a bit of hyperbole. Fernando Pessoa was a Portuguese poet and writer who invented the literary concept of heteronyms, (not to be mistaken with pseudonyms, or the grammatical connection) which is the infusion of a distinct writing style unique to a specific character created by the author; so his cast of characters not only have distinct characters they have their own writing stylism. Like " Einstein's Dreams " it is called "a novel" but it too is more of a contemplation on a myriad of levels.

    3. Tullik, I am so glad you enjoyed 'Einstein's Dreams'. It didn't take you any 'time' at all to read!

      I looked up 'Sum' and my library has a copy and it is on my list. Thank you. It sounds fascinating. And the Pessoa book...Wow! I have not heard of it but am investigating the author and his work. Thanks again. You always have such intriguing recommendations.