In a “former life” I was a bookseller in Manhattan, the perfect job for a recently minted English major and enthusiastic reader. While I’m still an avid reader, I tend toward borrowing books from our wonderful New York Public Library system, so the books on my own shelves are skewed more toward literary and non-fiction classics, and popular titles that I sold in my store during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
One book, a 1970’s bestseller called “Time and Again,” by Jack Finney, somehow escaped my hungry eyes during those years and has quietly sat on my bookshelf since. But one of my recent b&b guests brought it with him to read while visiting New York City, and he began to talk about the vivid picture the novel paints of the city in 1882, and how much he was enjoying visiting the sites described and seeing how they’d changed. So I picked up “Time and Again,” and I’m hooked!
I won’t give away the plot, but the “glue” that binds it is the science-fiction voyage of New York advertising illustrator Si Morley from the 1960’s back into the city during its Gilded Age. Finney has done his research and captured the details of architecture, dress, transportation, food, even the slang that was current at the time. He makes us hear the din of thousands of carriage wheels and the clip-clop of horses, the 19th century equivalent of our taxi horns, bus engines, and ambulance sirens. We visit a Central Park still occupied by farms, Fifth Avenue when it was lined with mansions rather than office buildings and boutiques, and a subway system dominated by elevated lines. It’s truly magical, and I find myself so thoroughly captivated that I cannot put the book down — not so much because I want to know how the story ends, but because I want to linger in that time and place.
I see why “Time and Again” was a bestseller, and why it continues to appear on lists of best books set in New York. Carry it with you on YOUR next visit and you will experience my city in a richer and livelier way.