Traveling into the past


Awhile back, the library held a Reader’s Advisory challenge on Facebook, where librarians battled to recommend the best books.

My hubby (with perhaps a little persuasion from me) joined the fray and asked for recommendations. His challenge: he reads a ton of science fiction and finds himself mostly reading male authors (Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke, etc.). Surely there are some good, female, science fiction authors out there, right? Who are they?

The ever talented librarians answered his request and recommended some sci-fi females, including Connie Willis. Willis isn’t just any writer, two of her books have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards (this is what you’d call a big deal in the sci-fi world). It puts her in some pretty rarefied company – the only other authors to accomplish this feat are Ursula K. LeGuin, Joe Haldeman and Orson Scott Card.

Based on the librarian’s recommendation, we both read the Doomsday Book and Blackout/All Clear (one story in two volumes) by Willis. The books are a fun mix of sci-fi with historical fiction. They take place in the future and follow historians who use time travel to study history. So, rather than just reading about England during World War II, the historians travel back in time and experience it for themselves. The concept is fascinating and Willis does an admirable job transporting the reader back in time with the characters.

Preserving historic records

I also couldn’t help but notice that, despite having time travel, the historians in the novels still rely on historical records. Before they go jaunting back to bomb-stricken London, they want to know everything from where the bombs fell to what the average person wore. The time travelers have to fit in and keep themselves safe, and it takes a lot of information to do this, the type of information that you’d find in an archive.

We have one of those

Imagine if we had time travel and could transport ourselves back to the early days of Grand Rapids – what would we learn? Obviously, this isn’t (yet?) possible, but our very own archival collections have some great resources to learn about what life was like before our time, everything from journals to photographs.

Grand Rapids in 1831

There are far more practical reasons to preserve our historical records (learning from the past to make the future better), but I find myself completely drawn in by this notion of time travel. If you’d like to explore the past for yourself, visit us in the local history department, browse our digital collections or check out one of Willis’ books.

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