MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. They say that love means never having to say you're sorry, yet sometimes we love things that we feel a need to apologize for, like campy horror movies, cheesy pop songs and even books. As part of our series, My Guilty Pleasure, author Susan Jane Gilman offers this confession.
SUSAN JANE GILMAN: Years ago, when I was leaving my beloved hometown of New York, my father tucked Jack Finney's novel, "Time and Again," into my suitcase. I was heading to graduate school in the Midwest. There, I was supposed to study high literary fiction. Instead, I spent my first week devouring "Time and Again."
This cult pop thriller is the story of Simon Morley, an artist recruited by the U.S. government. Using self-hypnosis and a famous New York landmark, Morley travels back in time from 1970 to 1882. He's supposed to do this as an observer, of course, but as soon as he finds himself in 19th-century Manhattan, he gets swept up in its magic.
As he walks down bucolic Fifth Avenue, full of horse-drawn carriages and mansions, he becomes infatuated with a lovely lady from his boarding house. He also becomes ensnared in a mystery that threatens to cause, and I quote, "the destruction by fire of the entire world." Soon, he's besotted in and with 1882 - and so was I.
"Time and Again" is a fabulous historical novel and sci-fi romp and a mystery and a romance. It's wildly inventive. It's gripping. It's even based on Einstein's unified theories. So, as we say in New York, what's the problem? Why am I embarrassed to love this book?
Well, for starters, it's a male bodice-ripper, a macho fantasy of saving a damsel in distress through time travel. It's a Harlequin romance for geeks. Its worst defense, however, is sentimentality.
New York City in 1882 had monumental problems, but while Morley acknowledges these, they're nothing, he implies, compared to the pollution, war and skyscrapers of 1970. The good old days, in his eyes, really were the good old days. And okay, maybe they were for guys like him. If you were a healthy, wealthy, white, Protestant male, 1882 really was a kinder, gentler place, but for the rest of us, not so much, I think.
Yet "Time and Again" sends out a huge valentine to the past. It's nostalgic. And there's something deliciously comforting and escapist in its promise of, well, a New York Eden.
Ever since my father gave it to me, I've taken pleasure in reading Finney's novel time and again, whenever I've been homesick or blue. But with my 21st-century sensibilities, I feel guilty, like somehow, this New Yorker should know better.
SIEGEL: That was author Susan Jane Gilman praising Jack Finney's "Time and Again" for My Guilty Pleasure. Gilman's newest memoir is called "Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven." And you'll find more recommendations in our summer books 2009 section at our Web site, npr.org.