Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: History; Non-fiction
Published: September 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 528
Summer 1927 was a pretty bang-up time for history.
A young man from the Midwest made a solo flight from Long Island, New York to Paris, France. Fordlandia was just getting its ill-fated start in the Amazon rainforest. Babe Ruth had a record season. Two Italian immigrants were put to death for a crime many believed they did not commit. Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States. The Mississippi River produced the flood of the century. Motion pictures started talking.
Bill Bryson details all these events and more in a book of narrative nonfiction which chronicles not a certain person or event, but a certain time.
Author: Ransom Riggs
Genre: YA; Fantasy
Publisher: Quirk Books
Published: June 7, 2011
Number of Pages: 382
Jacob Portman must be crazy. The night his grandfather died, Jacob saw a terrible monster that has haunted his dreams ever since. He has become very withdrawn and shows signs of PTSD. His entire family is worried. Thanks to the help of his therapist, Jacob eventually convinces his parents to take a trip to Cairnholm, Wales—the small island where his grandfather grew up. The island is beautiful, but Jacob has not flown across an entire ocean for a relaxing vacation. In an effort to understand Grandpa Abraham’s final words, Jacob sets out to, “find the bird in the loop.” Whatever that means.
NOTE: This book, as well as the other two in the trilogy, is filled with strange black-and-white photographs. These pictures are real. Ransom Riggs has been collecting weird old photographs for years. Eventually, he used these real-life found photos to create a very imaginative story involving Peculiars, wise old birds, and time loops. It’s quite the ride.
The Ties That Bind
Warning: Spoilers follow in the form of details and plot points.
Due to the natures of these stories, it is impossible to point out the connections between them without including these details.
Both books have slightly unconventional roots. Rather than focusing on a single event, person, or group of people, One Summer details several disparate events. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children originated as a series of strange found-photographs that were used to string together a Peculiar narrative. The tie that really binds the two together, though, is time. Both books are preoccupied with events that took place—and people that lived in—a very specific time.
In One Summer, Bill Bryson describes several major historical events that take place during the summer of 1927. Bryson was initially going to write the book about Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and Babe Ruth’s 60 home run season. He found it very interesting that they had both taken place in the same summer. The more Bryson looked into the summer of 1927, though, the more influential historical events he found. Planners began building Mount Rushmore. Riots broke out in Europe after the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti in America. The same storm system that allowed Lucky Lindy to make his historic flight also created the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. A court decision initiated the beginning of the end for Al Capone. Despite expectations of an easy victory, Calvin proclaimed, “I do not choose to run,” for reelection of President of the United States. The more he researched, the more Bryson became convinced that he had stumbled upon the most influential time of 20th century American history. He tried very hard to leave nothing out.
In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Jacob eventually finds his way into a time loop where it is always September 3, 1940. During a WWII bombing raid that evening, the entire Children’s Home was destroyed. With no other hope of saving the house or the children, Miss Peregrine created a time loop. Within this loop, the bombing has not taken place, the Home is still intact, and the children are still alive. On the other hand, the children are still children—having experienced the same day over and over again for more than 50 years, they have not aged. Though this has brought with it the danger of aging forward (or rapidly aging to their “true” age) if they spend too much time outside the loop, inside they are safe from hollowgasts. Hollowgasts are terrible, tentacled creatures that gain sustenance by sucking the life out of Peculiars. (In my head, I picture them as a cross between a dementor and Cthulhu.) Over time, the children have acclimated to the rhythms of reliving the same day over and over again. Though they and Miss Peregrine remember the events of the last 50 time-looped years, events that take place outside the Home generally do not vary—the weather is always the same, the apples are always ripe, and the villagers (who are memories rather than true people within the Time Loop) do the same things at the same times day after day. Millard, who is invisible, has made careful records of every movement of each person and most of the animals. At any given point in the day, he can report the locations and actions of a given person down to the minute.
By zeroing-in on very specific times, both authors force the reader to consider time in way he or she usually would not. Can a single summer, or even a single day make much of a difference in history? According to Bill Bryson and Ransom Riggs, the answer is yes. Yes, it can.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and This is Where it Ends by Marieke Nijkamp