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When The Veil Between The Past And Present Is Thinnest

Updated on November 5, 2014

A Favorite Theme

At 24-years old, I am a self-declared book hoarder. I own more than 350 novels, a number that increases whenever I have a little extra spending money, and I rarely allow people to borrow them. This includes my mother and my best friend, who borrows my books and never returns them, much to my chagrin. Even the most desperate pleader- usually those friends who spot Jodi Picoult or Stephen King lying amongst the other rubble- will be met with fierce opposition. Why is this, this strange, almost materal aspect of my personality? It is because of the fact that through ownership, I have developed a bond with the stories enveloped between their covers.

The beginnings of an immortal love story: Cleopatra and Marc Antony.
The beginnings of an immortal love story: Cleopatra and Marc Antony. | Source

Envisioning The Past Through Words

Recently, I have been collecting novels that feature a certain type of duplicity. In my opinion, these books actually contain THREE stories: one of the past, one of the present, and one of how the past and present merge to create an entirely different account of the original two! (Yes, it is confusing, but also enthralling. Stay with me here.)

I find myself inexplicably drawn to these types of stories over every other kind in existence. One or two summers ago, I was fascinated by the fictitious biographies of some very interesting historic characters, among them Cleopatra and Henry VIII (did you know that the majestic and once-handsome Harry actually perished from syphilis? Incredible!). Then, I suppose that I moved onto novels that took place in different countries- India, Ireland, Romania- and different cultures- the Iroquois Indians, the Aboriginals, the various clans of Scotland and Ireland. All held such power for me, until I started on the past/present stories that have since utterly possessed me.

It is a certain type of phenomenon that people living in modern times can read a novel about the past and oftentimes catch themselves pondering what will come next in the story, even when not reading. It is even more fascinating to me that as one of these people, I often agree (and wholeheartedly, nonetheless!) to my boyfriend playing hours of Call of Duty: Black Ops simply so that I could crawl back into bed, recrack open my novel and drift into a world that once existed.

The human pull to the past in undeniable. It is easily observed in such popular ancestry sites as and; it can be seen in the vast collections of antiques that exist throughout the world and are owned by very modern, present-day individuals. But what is it about the past that drives such interest, such fervor?

I can only assume that this intensity is spurred by what human beings feel as though they are lacking in their daily lives. One thing that the past fully embraces is romance- the romance between ancient lovers Cleopatra and Antony; the romance of the 1891 Vernier family and their undying devotion to one another; the romance (and danger) of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer's voyage down the Mississippi River. Surely, such thoughtful dwellings in the past occurrence of such events must be a variation of "....I want THAT to happen to me."

So, the question remains: Is the past more captivating than the present, and why? 

Past Life Therapy

Over the years, I have discussed my affinity for history and its happenings with many people. Much more recently, however, I spoke of this and my love of books that encompass this mystery with a very close friend of mine. He mentioned "past life therapy", which is the psychological acknowledgement that sometimes, the things we read are so mystifying because they remind us of the lives we once led.

This is actually a real thing, so don't make fun of me.

An example I was given involved a woman who was obsessed with reading about the culture and people of Thailand. She had never been there before, nor did she know of anyone who came from Thailand. Her friends felt as though this obsession was irrational; after all, how can you be so engulfed by a place you've never even seen? This woman eventually sought advice from a past life therapist, who told her that yes, she has most definitely been to Thailand before. In her past life.

If this is true, then I am Cleopatra.

I plan to look more into this sometime in the future. It is supposedly a revolutionary new approach to explain the attraction of the past for some people. Perhaps I can attempt to explain why we lose ourselves the way we do in books, and why we daydream about other places and other times.

Readings In Which To Lose Yourself

Below, I have included several readings for those of you that are interested in experiencing this phenomenon for yourselves. I have also included those historical and cultural novels that I have referenced above, just in case. 

Second Glance: A Novel
Second Glance: A Novel

Too enthralling for words.

The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel

The life and loves of Cleopatra.

Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy

The fascinating story of the woman who caused the Trojan War simply by being beautiful.

The Monstrumologist
The Monstrumologist

This is actually a book for young adults, but in all honesty it was the most disturbing novel I've read in a long time!



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    • littleleza profile image

      littleleza 6 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I enjoyed this hub because I truly understand. My husband and I have very interesting conversations about time travel and movies and stories encompassing it. It's even more fun writing them! Will definitely check out your suggestions. Great job!

    • jjackson786 profile image

      Jennifer 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Sooooo, no "Twilight", huh? :)

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      that sounds dangerous. I'm a writer. part of being a writer is also being a reader.m I'm a fan of anything well written and thoughtful- and anything that doesn't appeal to teenage girls :-)

    • jjackson786 profile image

      Jennifer 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      PDX- Have you ever heard of Margaret George? She writes historical fiction; not sure if you're into that kind of thing, but there's a link to three of her books above.

      And you sound like kindred soul/book-loving nerd- I just got a new job at a book distribution center and I get 40% off of millions of books whenever I might want them. Needless to say, I will never have a paycheck!

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      i am a huge book nerd as well- I love novels (fave authors are S King, Salinger, Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk), biographies (currently reading a fabulous one about Bonhoeffer) poetry, history and theology (CS Lewis, Rob Bell). I generally reread books, but I also love to share books I've read with others- that's part of the joy for me

    • jjackson786 profile image

      Jennifer 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I agree with you, Jean. Courtroom dramas are definitely not my favorites. "The Pact" as well as "Nineteen Minutes" are phenomenal. The latter is about an attack in a high school if you're not familiar with it. Check it out- it's good!

      Thanks for your comment, Tom. And if you have any suggestions for a great "time-traveling" summer read, feel free to share!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      There is so much fiction that is good for mental time travel. Thanks for sharing some of your choices with us!

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 6 years ago from New Jersey

      I get really lost in books as well. Not lending them is a good idea, I find that people seldom return them. I first read a Jodi Picoult about 2 yrs ago, and promptly went back and read them all. Second Glance was one of my favorites. She is very talented. The only issue I have is that perhaps it is hard to churn out a bestseller every year. It seems now every book has a sort of "disease of the year" problem, and there is always a lawsuit and courtroom drama. Perhaps she wanted to be a lawyer. I always go back to The Pact. The story of Chris and Emily, especially when Chris gets on the stand breaks my heart, but is so compelling I can't stop myself. She really knows about teens.