Friday, December 15, 2017

Time Loops

Have you ever formed a time loop while tying your shoes? Probably not. But have you ever read a book or watched a TV show or film where someone experienced a day over and over again? It's more than déjà vu -- it's actually happening on repeat, sometimes with different results, sometimes with the same results, and it seems as if it will never stop repeating - until, of course, the character finds a way to make it stop.

Time loops are not to be confused with time travel, another of my favorite sci-fi plot devices. In time travel, one moves forward or backward in time, willingly or otherwise. Doctor Who has time travel. The Boys are Back in Town by Christopher Golden has time travel. Groundhog Day, however, has a time loop. This film is so well-known that he is often referenced by characters experiencing time loops; more than once, I've read or heard a character say, "This is like Groundhog Day," rather than, "Gee, I'm experiencing a time loop!"

Many movies and television shows have explored time loops. Consider, if you will, the episode "Shadow Play" on The Twilight Zone, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Life Serial," "Monday" on The X-Files, Supernatural's "Mystery Spot," or "And Those We've Left Behind" on Fringe. Some of these loops have been comedic, others dramatic, with the best ones (in my opinion) being those which deftly mix the two.

Another clarification: Plots such as those in the television series Tru Calling and Seven Days (the latter of which I sadly never saw when it aired) weren't considered to be true time loops: both shows had worked off of a second-chance premise, with Tru repeating a day in attempt to save someone's life, while Frank used the Chronosphere (also known as the Backstep Sphere) to go back in time seven days to "avert disasters."

I really enjoyed Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, an intriguing and inventive novel in which the main character, Samantha (Sam), is killed in an accident only 80 pages into the book - then wakes up in bed, unharmed, only to find that it's not the next day - instead, it's the same day, the morning of her last day. She relives the day, bewildered and disbelieving. That evening, tragedy strikes again. The day repeats again, and again, a few times over. Sam does different things each time, spending one day being more cautious, another throwing caution to the wind, still another being more appreciative. It's an amazing book, and I highly recommend it. (And no, I haven't seen the movie yet.)


Like the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Before I Fall has no overt sci-fi elements: there are no gadgets or gizmos or time machines that the characters use, accidentally or otherwise. Neither of those books have wizened characters who assist the protagonists with magic or explain the rules of the game to them. Instead, Henry and Sam have to figure things out (or make things up) as they go along. However, while Henry has Clare to confide in, Sam tells no one; while Henry travels through time involuntarily, Sam keeps repeating the same day involuntarily.

The NeverEnding Story by Michael Ende, the fantasy novel that has owned a piece of my heart since childhood, also employs a time loop. It is not the main plot, but rather just one of the many pieces of this elaborate and imaginative story. I don't want to give anything away; I'd rather encourage you to pick up the novel and discover things yourself. Whether or not you've seen The NeverEnding Story movie (which I think is wonderful) or the subsequent sequels or other film/TV attempts based on the book (which didn't compare), I implore you to read the original book.

Now, if you want to get technical, I haven't read the original, Die unendliche Geschichte, because it's in German, which I don't know. Instead, I've read the English translation by Ralph Manheim.

But I digress. Time loops are delicate things which not always treated so delicately, nor do they always have to deal with delicate matters. Time loops are not always handled or broken in the same way. Sam's story in Before I Fall is nothing like Phil's in Groundhog Day, and when they finally break their loops, they do so in completely different ways. The parameters and circumstances established by Danny Rubin in Groundhog Day do not apply to Sam. Likewise, though concepts such as chaos theory, the butterfly effect, and fate are discussed to different degrees in many time loop stories, they are never exactly the same - unless, of course, you personally choose to read that book or watch that episode or movie over and over and over again - which, in some cases, I wouldn't blame you for doing! When they're really inventive and strong, time loop stories can be fascinating. Some of these stories benefit from a second reading or viewing, because you notice things you may not have noticed the first time through.

Having a lackluster weekend? Go read or watch someone dealing with a time loop. Afterwards, you'll probably be happy that you are moving in a forward direction . . . or are you?

My Side of the Mountain

This has never happened to me before: I enjoyed the sequel more than the original! Be assured, though, My Side of the Mountain
is very good. Young Sam Gribley goes off to live in the wilderness quite comfortably in a huge hollow tree. He trains a young falcon he named Frightful:
"Every day I worked to train Frightful. It was a long process, I would put her on her stump with a long leash and step back a few feet with some meat in my hand. Then I would whistle. The whistle was supposed eventually to mean food to her. So I would whistle, show her the meat, and after many false flaps she would finally fly to my hand. I would pet her and feed her. She could fly fairly well, so now I made sure that she never ate unless he flew to my fist.
"One day at breakfast I whistled for Frightful. I had no food, she wasn't even hungry, but she came to me anyway. I was thrilled. She had learned a whistle meant 'come.'
"I looked into her steely eyes that morning and thought I saw a gentle recognition. She puffed up her feathers as she sat on my hand. I call this a 'feather word.' It means she is content."

I also enjoyed this, from near the end of the book: "I returned to my patch on the mountain, talking to myself all the way. I talk to myself a lot, but everyone does. The human being, even in the midst of people, spends nine-tenths of his time alone with the private voices of his own head. Living alone on a mountain is not much different, except that your speaking voice gets rusty, I talked inside my head all the way home, thinking up schemes, holding conversations with Bando and Dad and Matt Spell...
"I cooked supper, and then sat down by my little fire and called a forum. It is very sociable inside my head, and I have perfected the art of getting a lot of people arguing together in silence or in a forum, as I prefer to call it. I can get four people all talking at once, and a fifth can be present, but generally I can't get him to talk. Usually these forums discuss such things as a storm and whether or not it is coming, how to make a spring suit, and how to enlarge my house without destroying the life in the tree. Tonight, however, they discussed what to do about Matt Spell. Dad kept telling me to go right down to the city and make sure he published nothing, not even a made-up story. Bando said, no, it's all right, he still doesn't know where you live, and then Matt walked into the conversation and said that he wanted to spend his spring vacation with me, and that he promised not to do anything untoward. Matt kept using 'untoward' - I don't know where he got that expression, but he liked it and kept using it - that's how I knew Matt was speaking; everything was 'untoward.'"

What I liked there was that it seemed that author Jean Craighead George described how her stories got generated. Characters in her head interacted, and she transcribed what took place onto paper. I could be wrong, but maybe.

The sequel that I liked even more is called On the Far Side of the Mountain. There's a third book, Frightful's Mountain, but I have not read it yet. It's here at my desk, so it won't be long.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz




Lyrical, visceral, and wise, The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz haunts the melancholy middle between heartbreak and hope.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork

9780545944472_mres.jpg (800×1209)Sara is a journalist who wholeheartedly throws herself into her work as a journalist for a newspaper in Juarez. Mexico however is a country where journalists sometimes do their work under threats to themselves and their families and going to the police is not always a good idea. Sara soon finds that if she wants to pursue this particular story she could be putting the lives of herself, her younger brother Emiiano and their mother in danger.

Emiliano is a soccer star at his high school and in addition to this he is also a member of a school group called Jiparis who do hikes through the desert in order to build character in the young men, some of whom were involved in unsavory activities before joining the group.

One part of the Jipari pledge goes , "I will be honest with myself and others". This is easier said than done especially in a city like Juarez. One of the characters tells Emiliano, "everything is a spiderweb" and the speed with which he is enveloped in said web is astounding. Emiliano tells himself that he wants to help his family and friends out but are those his real reasons? Like any teen he wants to be seen as cool and there is also the small matter of a girl he wants to impress.

The first part of the book is told from each character's viewpoint and the author weaves the tale together in a very credible way showing how circumstances

Make no mistake, Disappeared is not a peaches and cream, hunky dory teen novel. It is a gritty and very realistic novel with a ripped from the headlines quality to it. The city of Juarez and the violence there doesn't dominate the headlines as it did a few years ago, but Stork's novel is a timely reminder that evil still exists and that it takes many people working in tandem to defeat it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

On behalf of Ballou Library in Washington DC, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

The final total of books gifted to Ballou Library via the October Book Fair & Cyber Monday  holiday shopping (which continued all week), comes in just over 200 titles! Thank you so much for buying books and helping to spread the word for this DC high school!


The wish list remains open year-round and there are a ton of great books on it, all of them chosen and approved by Ballou students. These are books the teens want and we so enjoy doing everything we can to get these books to them.

In the coming days I will be moving things around a bit on the list, getting series books together so they are easier to find. (I really really REALLY wish that amazon had "search by title" and "search by author" functions. So frustrating!) And we will, of course, be continuing to assist Ballou to fill its shelves next year and hope that you will return to the list and also help us spread the word about the amazing work done by librarian Melissa Jackson.

Have a lovely holiday folks, and thanks again for all you do to support this high school library.