Are the jokes that we’re in the worst timeline obsolete? Out of date? Not in the timeline or feed anymore? I don’t know — and frankly, the idea of writing my silly goofy column seems a little bit weird in the face of everything.
Things feel weird right now. They feel wrong — as if we should only be watching the news and donating to organizations and protesting at the Wilshire Federal Building, and not being like AnnaLynne McCord. I wish that we weren’t in this timeline.
If I could choose any timeline to time travel to, I would go back to the summer of 2016. I remember it being blazing hot in California and reaching the triple digits. I remember that Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” was inescapable, and I remember people regularly getting trampled on their way to PokéStops. For a second, I think that people genuinely thought that Pokémon Go would bring world peace. The Instagram feeds were saturated and filled with white borders, and it was the year that the Starbucks mobile order feature was unveiled. Frankly, that entire world seems very, very far away.
Recently, I told a friend, “Have I told you about my Spotify playlists?” and she didn’t even have to think twice when she said, “You mean your little time travel machines?”
Maybe I’m repeating myself too often with friends, but these are perhaps the magnum opuses of my school years. My little Spotify folder is filled with playlists ranging from my freshman year of high school to my current senior year at USC. Each one is filled with songs that I listened to from August to around May or June of that school year. It’s amazing how I can listen to “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit and immediately be back in gym class my freshman year of high school or “Doom Days” by Bastille and remember the first time I stepped foot onto USC’s campus my sophomore year of college. It’s time travel without the hassle of needing to learn math and science, and now that Spotify brought back the lyric feature, I can learn all the lyrics that I used to mumble.
I’ll start off by taking time travel literally. I remember being on vacation to San Diego, seeing the ocean from my window on a quintessentially beautiful California day and still being unable to put down my book. That’s how addicting it was. That book was none other than “Ruby Red” by Kerstin Gier, translated from German to English and fully immersive. “Ruby Red” might read a bit young to you because it was written for a young adult audience, but don’t count it out for that reason. The plot of the novel is that one day, 16-year-old Gwenyth Shepard feels dizzy and then finds herself rocketing through time and learns that she inherited the “time travel gene” that is passed down through her family. There is family drama, famous locales and a hint of romance. It is the young adult time travel novel you never knew you wanted.
“The Starless Sea” is a second gift to the world from “The Night Circus” author Erin Morgenstern. It was described by writer Chuck Wendig as “narrative ASMR.” I’m including Morgenstern’s sophomore novel in this week’s column because the book itself travels through different spaces and transports you through the narrative.
I don’t think anyone could reasonably construct a good synopsis for Morgenstern’s “The Starless Sea,” but I always love to attempt a futile project, so I’ll try. Essentially, a man named Zachary Ezra Rawlins picks up a book filled with far-flung stories — that we also explore throughout the story, hence, time travel — and flips to a page that features a story about him. Of course, like any reasonable person, he was curious as to why his life was etched in the pages of this weird book, and as he tries to find answers, he falls into the world of the Starless Sea. The novel is, of course, lyrical and is a fitting comeback for Morgenstern, whose book before that came out in 2011. Of course, I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t want to fall through a door and into an infinite library (I know that I would jump at the chance).
Speaking of falling, I think that a lot of people fall into Fredrick Backman’s “Anxious People” because they think, “Hey, I’m an anxious person!” which honestly is a legitimate reason. But there are so many other reasons to pick it up, one of them being how Backman really dives into humanity and why people do what they do in their lives. As for the time travel element, there is no linear timeline here. We dig into the lives of our characters as if we were excavators on a construction site. We backtrack to their childhoods or where they were that morning. If it were not done so skillfully, it would feel jarring as if the reader were on a roller coaster. “Anxious People” sees eight strangers held hostage at an open house in a Swedish apartment. Backman’s writing is, in equal measure, hilarious and heart-wrenching. I decided to put “Anxious People” as my final book of the column because there is one major message in the story: Be compassionate. We don’t know what’s going on in any of the characters’ lives until they peel back their onion layers. We don’t know what made them decide to go to that apartment on that day and not the previous day, nor the apartment down the street.
So, as we navigate all of our different timelines — the good and the bad — and all of our different responsibilities and all of the different people in our lives that we dote upon, be kind and enjoy your spring break.
Rachel Bernstein is a senior writing about books in relation to the arts and entertainment news of the week. Her column “Read a Book Today” runs every other Friday.