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Reader’s Den

June in the Reader's Den: Time and Again by Jack Finney - Part 1

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"So all in all there wasn't anything really wrong with my life. Except that, like most everyone else's I knew about, it had a big gaping hole in it, an enormous emptiness, and I didn't know how to fill it or even know what belonged there."

What would you do to fill a similar existential hole? How does a spot of clandestine, government-sponsored time travel sound? Welcome to June in the Reader's Den! This month we're reading the classic time travel tale and novel of New York, Time and Again, by Jack Finney. This is a book that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction as well as to science fiction fans, and there's a fair bit of mystery and romance involved, too.

Time and Again, published in 1970, is noted for Finney's meticulous attention to historical detail as he richly describes the urban landscape of 1882 New York, where our protagonist, bored advertising artist Si Morley, transports himself. Si accomplishes this without the aid of a time machine, but more about that later... More than 40 years after its publication, Time and Again has much to tell us about life and attitudes in New York in 1970 as well as providing a vivid picture of the city in the late 19th century.

Jack Finney began his career writing suspense stories for magazines, winning an award from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1946 for "The Widow's Walk," but he is probably best remembered for his science fiction and fantasy writing, for which he received the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award in 1987. Time travel, especially to moments in the past, is a recurring theme in many of Finney's novels and short stories. Some critics have accused him of presenting an overly nostalgic and sentimental vision of the past in his writings. See what you think as you read Time and Again. Reviewing the book in The New York Times, W. R. Rodgers wrote that if you don't try to figure out the novel too literally, "you go back to a wonderful world and have a wonderful time doing it." As you read, you might think about Finney's portrayal of 1882 New York. Does it seem to be more of a painstakingly accurate rendering or a nostalgic whitewash? Or a little of each? Either way, enjoy the trip!

In addition to Time and Again, Jack Finney's best known work is the science fiction thriller The Body Snatchers, later retitled Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The story originally appeared in Collier's magazine in 1954, was published as a novel in 1955 and became the basis for the acclaimed 1956 film of the same name, as well as two later screen adaptations in 1978 and 1993. Time and Again has yet to be adapted for the screen, but plans for a film version were announced last summer. As you read, who would make a great Si Morley on film?

If you've never read Time and Again, I hope you'll give it a try. If you've read it in the past, it could be interesting to reread and note how your impressions of the book have changed. You can reserve a copy through the NYPL catalog. Feel free to post comments about the book or author at any time. If you have an opinion, insight, question, gripe, favorite scene or character to share, please don't wait for my questions, just go ahead and post your thoughts.

In the meantime, to encourage a time travel state of mind, you might enjoy looking at some of the animated stereograms people have created using NYPL's cool Stereogranimator. Looking at old stereograms is something our main character Si Morely enjoys...

//stereo.nypl.org/gallery/indexGIF made with the NYPL Labs Stereogranimator, Skating, Central Park, N.Y. [1860?]-1896

Hope to see you later this month (or maybe in 1882) in the Reader's Den!

Jump to: Part 2 - Discussion Questions      

Part 3 - A Gilded Age Reading List from 1882 New York

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