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.