Monday, March 01, 2010

Time on Einstein's Terms

It’s funny how different people reading the same book can have such different reactions to it.  I felt like the odd person out as I went to our book club meeting last night to discuss Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman.  Whereas most people loved the little book, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it.  I just felt somewhat neutral.

The premise of the book was a fictitious rendering of the dreams of Albert Einstein, as he worked as a young patent clerk in the town of Berne and meanwhile developed his theory of relativity.

The book is a collection of very short chapters, each of which takes a different approach to time.  There’s time as a circle, where every event will ultimately be repeated over and over and over again.  There’s time that moves backwards, with people going from old to young, snow falling backwards. There’s time traveling to rival the recent Time Traveler’s Wife.  And on and on and on.

Maybe my mistake was reading the entire book in one evening, because all those little chapters seemed to just merge into one big continuum by the end.  The descriptions of so many ordinary people were extremely well written, but the end result seemed like one of those Where’s Waldo pictures, where no one person, even Einstein, stood out.  There was no real plot, just a series of vignettes.

What I observed during the discussion was the fact that the group clearly split into two groups.  One group was so excited and so vocal that they could hardly get enough air time.  They were full of quips and examples and even laughter.  The other group was contemplative and much more quiet, occasionally interjecting a thought.  I was clearly in this latter group.

My only significant comment of the evening was to point people to a statement at the bottom of page 65 that seemed significant.  It was in the sad little chapter which described a man who had neglected to tell his father he loved him before it was too late.  Everyone looked at me somewhat suspiciously as I called out the page number of the quote.  Just about as suspiciously as when I dial a phone number from memory.  I often think my mind doesn’t work like that of most everyone else.

Last night’s discussion made me think I should read the book again and look for all the intricacies that people mentioned.  I think this must be one of those books that continues to improve with subsequent readings.


Blogger Steve said...

I'm always disappointed when I read a book and it leaves me feeling sort of "meh."

But having that discussion might help you see new things in it, so, sure -- give it another whirl!

6:27 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- Yeah, I'm pretty sure there is more to this book since this is a tough group and everyone else really liked it.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know that feeling of being the odd one out. E.g., I sometimes think I'm the only person I know who doesn't particularly like the movie "Fargo"...

Book groups can be great for opening one's eyes to new aspects of the reading. You could indeed re-read the book. On the other hand, life is short, and you could just move on! :-)


11:40 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I still don't think I've finished this book! I've read it one chapter at a time over the years. Maybe we should split the difference - I should pick up the place and you should slow it. :)

7:16 PM  

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