I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis is a modern fantasy novella that I sort of stumbled on to at the library (literally). When I saw that it was a book about books, I went ahead and checked it out. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from this, yet after finishing it, I found that I couldn’t stop pondering some of the themes in it.
I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land is about a blogger named Jim who strongly believes that in the age of digital everything, eBooks are the future and old, physical books need to be retired because they’re so outdated. One afternoon, while he’s in NYC for various interviews, a downpour begins and Jim is forced to seek refuge in an old shop, which just so happens to be a hole-in-the-wall bookstore. As he browses the shelves, trying to kill time and waiting for the rain to stop, Jim comes across something quite remarkable and it will change his life and his perception on physical books forever.
The book was rather decent overall with good writing, excellent progression, and special lessons for everyone, not just lovers of books. It’s not mind-blowingly brilliant, probably due to its somewhat ambiguous nature, but all in all, I’m very glad I picked it up.
The storytelling is fast and goes into just enough detail to give the reader a sense of the environment and the happenings. The parts that are given more detail and attention play a bigger role to the overarching theme, so it works to highlight the importance of those sections. This is a writing technique that can work fantastically well or turn a narrative into a hot mess. For the purposes of the novella, I feel it worked splendidly.
Jim can be an unlikeable character, more so if you are like me and love the power and presence of physical books. I don’t care what kind of format works for you as a reader—books are books no matter what format they are—but I’m a sucker for old ink and rough pages. Digital reading also tends to give me migraines since my eyesight isn’t the greatest, so that may play a part in my distaste for them as a whole (and I will still read them when I can because I like variety in formats). Yet, his whining about how they take up a lot of space and everything is “digitised” and backed-up on the cloud or web or whatever starts to become grating to me. Nevertheless, that is the point. He’s not supposed to be liked too much or the message of the novel would get lost. So, I believe this is something to keep in mind if you decide to pick it up and if characters like tend to irritate you.
Jim’s development as it pertains to his infuriating opinions is something I liked to read about the most. People just need to experience why something is important or visualise how an event or item can be impactful to society as a whole—even in the subtlest of ways—before they can truly encapsulate the other side of an argument. When people grow after undergoing such interactions or exchanges that distinctive progression feels far more genuine to me than them simply changing their minds. So, when it occurs with Jim, my heart felt warm and empathetic to him.
The whole point of the story is to discuss the greatest villain against humanity, which is time. Time never stops for anyone and we haven’t created the technology that successfully allows us to turn back time, or to travel backwards into the past yet. So, as we move forward second-by-second to day-by-day to year-after-year, we are getting closer and closer to being forgotten, and that is a supremely terrifying notion for so many people. Additionally, time has an impact on the sorts of people that we as individuals will grow up to become; it shapes our identities, beliefs, and ideals.
A secondary theme that sort of runs parallel with the one pertaining to time is about respecting seemingly inconsequential things because no matter how pointless something may seem to you, it can be a world-changing power. Books, especially nowadays, get a lot of shite from so many folks. But without books we would never have the things that we do today, or be as evolved, or have such strongly developed civilisations. Our histories would be a gigantic mystery. There would be no schools and without schools we probably wouldn’t have doctors, engineers, authors, and so much more. Books also—for some of us, not all—are tied to memories. I remember reading with my mum as a little person and she helped me learn English that way; my third language and the most difficult one I’ve ever had to learn. My brother instilled in me a passion for reading complex and intellective stories, specifically science-fiction and fantasy, which in turn made me interested in astrology and quantum physics and made me want to become an author. The point is to be more aware of the small things in our lives that make our existence more validated and fulfilled; things we take for granted so horridly nearly every day.
The book’s finale is bittersweet, but so are the messages shared within it. As I get older and as I deal with frightening health-related death-scares, I try to be more optimistic and appreciative of many things that make my life as comfortable as it has been, or as memorable. That’s what I loved about I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land because it’s about fighting that compulsive desire to forget as much as we can, for when we forget we don’t simply lose sight a piece of ourselves, but also a piece of what makes the world as intricate and vibrant and alive as it is today. Highly recommend for folks who enjoy modern or urban fantasies, and are in the market for a quick, easy reading experience packed with wisdom.
4 antique pages outta 5!