BOOK REVIEW: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I just keep getting lucky with these audio books. So far, 3 of the best and most affecting books I've read in a long time have been audiobooks. I'm not sure how popular this book is so I'll explain it if you haven't heard of it. It's the story of a man with 'chrono displacement syndrome' who travels, against his will, around in time. He jumps from wherever he is back (and sometimes forward) in time, ending up naked and hungry in various places and times of his life. It's also about his wife, obviously, and their strange relationship. Strange not only because he's always leaving her to travel in time but she meets version of him from his future meaning she knows things about her that he hasn't done yet and he knows all about her because he's been jumping back to meet her since she was 6.

The main thing I know about this book is that if it were being marketed as a straight science fiction book, nobody would have read it. It certainly wouldn't have been in the Today Show book club. But instead, it's been marketed as a romance and it's being read by millions of people who wouldn't go near the sci-fi section of a bookstore unless it's to go through it to get to the restroom. That says more about the ghetto-ization of bookstores and book tastes than it does about this book although I think it were sold directly to a sci-fi audience it would meet with a lot of nitpicky criticism. I can only hope that this being sold as a romance means that more people will take away the sense that science-fiction is more than just aliens and Star Trek.

As a science-fiction reader though, I do have some issues with the time travel in the book. If I may be allowed to indulge my more geeky side for a moment, I have some questions maybe someone can help me with. You can skip this paragraph if you don't care. My first issue is the old problem with time travel I like to call the Terminator Paradox. In Terminator 2, it's explained that the machine that created the Terminators (Skynet) was created based on the Terminator technology that was found after the first one was destroyed in it's past. The problem is, how did it get created in the first place? Skynet had to have been created in order to send the Terminator back which supplied the chip to create it. It doesn't work. The same with some of this book. The time traveller, Henry, teaches his younger self to steal wallets and says he remembers the older him teaching him how to do it. He had to have learned how to do it the first time before he knew how when he went back and taught himself. The knowledge has to enter the loop at some point. These types of paradoxes aren't explained other than to say things like "Cause and effect are a little mixed up for me" and "It's all a little circular". A minor point but it's one paradox of time travel in books that I've never seen explained very well. (To get even geekier for a moment, I would accept that by going back and teaching yourself something, you've changed the timeline so you wouldn't remember the first time through but as you're teaching yourself, the old memories would still be partially in place. That would be an interesting idea to explore, the systematic erasure and simultaneous creation of new "replacement" memories of an event. I've never seen it done though.) The other issue I had was with the fact that Henry never travels outside his own lifetime or to places he hasn't been to, except the meadow outside Claire's house as a child. It's never explicitly explained that he only goes within his own lifetime and only to places he's been before but you have to infer that is the case based on where and when he goes. You'd think if he went back to the Civil War or to the time of the dinosaurs that he'd mention it but he never does. He only goes back to places he knows and often to the same place over and over. The only time that's not the case is the meadow where he meets Claire, his "future" wife. He never says that he's been there before but he goes back there over and over. The only reason he has to go there is to meet Claire and it's never explained that his love for her was preordained or whatnot and that's what drew him there. WIthout going to the meadow there's no book though so I'll give that a pass.

As I said, this was a book written for people who don't read science fiction and on that front it succeeds beautifully. Outside of the very good job Niffenegger does at explaining and intricacies of a relationship between two people who see future and past versions of each other all the time, it's a very well done romance. The relationship between Henry and Claire is incredibly believable and lovely to watch. More importantly, this book made me think more about really appreciating the moments of my life. It's also made me want to learn a lot more about art and music I haven't ever made a point of studying so I can help educate my daughter about them. I read fast enough that I don't feel I need to get a lot out of most books to make it worth the effort so when I find one that makes me think and change how I move about the world, I appreciate it a lot. I will remember this book for a long time to come.