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If you asked most people, the one thing they’d wish for other than more money is time. Regardless of your position in life, time is finite. There is only so much time in one lifetime and we always wish for more of it. From the time we are children asking to stay up for just five more minutes, there is never enough of it.

 

The exploration of mortality is a popular subjects in fiction, and was a central theme in the ancient Greek myths and epics, filled with immortal gods and demigods. In the 19th century, Bram Stoker gave us the immortal vampire Dracula, and Oscar Wilde examined the quest for eternal life in his gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and his portrait, not Dorian will age. Through his portrait, he comes face-to-face with his true self, and everything cumulates in a brutal but fitting end.

 

These themes have also extended to several recently published novels, and examine immortality from a more philosophical perspective. One of my favourite reads this year is the sleeper hit How to Stop Time  by Matt Haig. Thanks to a rare condition that has drastically slowed the aging process, 41-year-old Tom Hazzard has been alive for 439 years. While he could die from a gunshot wound, he’ll never get sick, and he could be a thousand years old by the time he could die of old age. 

 

This condition also means he has to start his life over somewhere else every 8 years or so when the people around him notice that he isn’t getting any older. He's also not allowed to fall in love. After all, forming attachments means he risks exposing not only his secret, but his heart.

 

One of the things I loved most about this novel was the way Haig explored the positives and negatives of being immortal. On the upside, he pretty much has all the time in the world to explore the things that interest him. How many times have you wished you had enough time to learn a particular skill or to pursue a hobby? Tom loves music, and having unlimited time has allowed him to master 30 instruments.

 

Tom has also lived history we can only read about. From the plague to wars to massive generational shifts, he’s seen it all. He’s played with Shakespeare, dined with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, sailed with Captain Cook, and encountered countless other popular figures in history. Fittingly, Tom’s current job is a history teacher, and not surprisingly, he’s pretty good at it.

 

There are also some lighter moments in the book such as when Tom muses over what birthdate to put on his Facebook profile, realizing that 1581 just isn’t going to work.

 

On the down side, being a literal old soul makes him an outsider and has effectively forced him into a permanent exile.  Anybody he once loved is gone, and he can’t get close to anyone because they would eventually realize that he didn’t look a day older and risk exposing him. Aside from the fact that most people would think he was certifiable if he tried to explain, there is a genuine danger that he could be turned into a lab rat and exploited by those who would try to profit from his condition.

 

The book really made me wonder if given the choice, would I choose to live forever. While I definitely wouldn’t want to be a child or a teenager forever, I wouldn’t mind being frozen in my 30s or 40s. Having all the time in the world to do everything I want to do (like making a substantial dent in my to-be-read pile) is an attractive prospect. I’d also love the opportunity to see how the world will evolve over the next several centuries, but not if I can’t share it with anybody. Not keeping any friends or putting down roots somewhere would be a deal breaker, as wood having to say so many goodbyes.

 

A new book called Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return by Debut author Martin Riker takes a different take on immortality, and it’s getting a lot of buzz.

 

The book starts with Samuel Johnson waking up in the body of the man who killed him. Unable to die, when one body expires he jumps to another, all the while searching for a way to get back to the son he left behind.

 

This idea fascinates me and it seems like a much more interesting and less lonely way to live forever. Sure, there’s always a possibility of getting stuck in a crappy body, but imagine being able to literally view the world through somebody else’s eyes! He’d also probably be the only person who could say he’s lived a thousand lives and mean it, which also has its perks. Comical and philosophical, it is a unique take on an old theme, and is worth checking out!

 

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Happy Reading!

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