“We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.”
– Carl Sagan
The month of January draws to a close, and a newly born year beckons us to embrace an extra curl at the end of each date. Consciously bound to the present, time inches and sprints through our senses, weaving whimsy and wounds alike. And too often old years fade from memory, lost to the silent cadence of the cosmos. But the permanence of the past cannot be overstated. The dull sheen of cicatrix endures in spite of the aging skin that hems it in place…
Easy as it may be to wax poetical on the nature of time, it is another thing entirely to understand it. Perhaps a mountainous task for third-dimensional beings like ourselves, but many have certainly endeavored to try. If you are new to the topic and looking for an accessible starting point, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an illuminating page-turner, filled with accessible concepts explained in a friendly and often cheeky voice. For those familiar with the subject, Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time lays out a deeper analysis of temporal conundrums, both scientific and philosophical. The more we know about the nature of time, the better equipped we can be to endure its hardships.
The immutable nature of the past and its adamantine ties to the oncoming future has been explored by many fiction authors as well. This past year, Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Sea of Tranquility gave us an intimate vision of the cyclical nature of time and trauma. Those looking for similar plot in cinematic form should check out Terry Gilliam’s cult classic 12 Monkeys for a dark dystopian romp (not to mention Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt in their prime). In spite of its permanence, history can have profound effects on us when viewed in the context of the present. In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi weaves a tale of a coffee shop that allows patrons to travel back in time, albeit briefly, reliving events that shaped their lives. While the past may be set in stone, the effects of time on individual consciousness is a much more malleable concept. Margarita Montimore explores this in Oona Out of Order as her protagonist’s consciousness leaps to a different epoch in her life each time the new year rolls over.
In this decade, years seem to blend together in a most effortless fashion. Luckily, 2022 was rife with new authors working hard to cement the era in our minds. Among those storming the scene, Sequoia Nagamatsu delved into the enduring resolve of humanity in her century-spanning novel How High We Go in the Dark. If you are looking for a fresh voice to help define the last year, check out this list of some of its finest debut novelists.
No matter how you feel about the past year, take time to appreciate the immediacy of today and now.
“Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today”
– Robert Jordan