In the bits of time available to me, I’ve been reading Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s really quite lovely, and it features as one of the main characters Henry, a librarian for the Newberry who (involuntarily) finds himself temporarily transported backwards and forwards in his own life. What’s not to like? In one scene, an older Henry encounters his younger self after hours in a museum. Taking himself to the rare books collection, he pulls down a copy of “Audobon’s Birds of America, the deluxe, wonderful double-elephant folio that’s almost as tall as my young self. This copy is the finest in existence” They sit and look at the gorgeous plates together while waiting to be returned to their respective times and places:
Turning each page is like making a bed, an enormous expanse of paper slowly rises up and over. henry stands attentively, waits each time for the new wonder, emits small noises of pleasure for each Sandhill Crane, American Coot, Great Auk, Pileated Woodpecker. When we come to the last plate, Snow Bunting, he leans down and touches the page, delicately stroking the engraving. I look at him, look at the book, remember, this book, this moment, the first book I loved, remember wanting to crawl into it and sleep. (35)
What dedicated reader would not recognize her- or himself in this passage? I like the suggestion here of reading as a kind of time travelling, taking us out of the present and sometimes taking us back to contact a previous version of ourselves.
Niffenegger, by the way, is a professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.