A Person Who Doesn’t Learn From The Past Is An Idiot, In My Estimation

(11/22/63)

If people who don’t learn from the past are idiots, the world keeps proving that a lot of it is populated by idiots. I hate sounding like a pessimist or misanthrope, but I can’t help what is. As I write this, the Supreme Court is poised to move us at least 50 years into the past and justifying it with legal precedent from hundreds of years in the past. The ability to learn from and apply the past is not getting better.


Anyway, 11/22/63 is routinely hailed as one of the better books of Stephen King’s later period. I don’t think I agree that this chunk of years of his writing is noticeably worse than any other chunk of years, but I can’t argue that this is a good book. It’s absorbing from the jump. Jake Epping is a likable enough guy. I’m not a huge fan of Sadie (hey, Stephen King and a million other authors, “clumsy” is not a personality trait. Making a woman clumsy is not endearing.) but he does give her agency. Eventually, at least.


And it’s a fascinating look at how time travel might work, what the effects of changing the timeline might be like — and why someone might want to risk it anyway. One thing I found very compelling was the potential ripple effect of Kennedy not being assassinated. If he’s not assassinated, would Robert Kennedy also live? Martin Luther King? Many of the people who died in Vietnam? It seems possible. Would the world be better if all of these men had lived… well, we don’t really know? Maybe not if it means that the universe starts ripping itself apart.


I’m not old enough to have lived through or remember Kennedy’s presidency or assassination, and I’m not a history scholar either. So don’t take my opinion as definitive of anything — it’s just my opinion, and it is subject to change if I learn different things. But my take on JFK generally is that he’s lionized due to a combination of factors — the whole Camelot/Kennedy legacy thing, the assassination itself, the fact that he was an attractive man, and maybe his relative position compared to those around him — he looked better because some of them looked so bad, in other words. I’m not convinced that he was “the last gunslinger” or that he would have been transformational had he lived or that he should be considered as highly as he is. Don’t get me wrong — if I’d been a voting adult back then, I’d have definitely been a Kennedy voter. But I’ve voted for a lot of people that I didn’t believe to be transformational or a savior or anything else, just better than the alternative. Sometimes a little better, sometimes a lot, but even “a lot better than the alternative” doesn’t equal out to “mythic levels of ability to fight evil/bring positive change.” I really don’t believe Kennedy would have changed everything had he lived. But would the ripple effect have changed everything? That, I could buy. That makes me understand why someone might be desperate enough to undo it if they had the chance, regardless of the risk.


Besides, by this point, I’ve also lived through a few events that I might risk a paradox to undo.


I appreciate King pointing out that it “wasn’t all Andie and Opie” and using the example of the board over the stream designates as the restroom for POC as an illustration of that. On the other hand, I was also irritated that the narrator kept thinking about how women were basically on equal footing by his time in history — that makes me think he didn’t understand his own time in history so well. I mean, we were better off in 2011 than 1958, sure. But that didn’t mean we had nothing to worry about in 2011. In 2022, we may be doing worse than we were in 2011 — which is what comes of thinking you’re done and taking the strides you have made for granted, maybe. For someone who keeps going on about not learning from history, the position of women in history seems to be a blind spot for the narrator, and maybe the author as well. I’m not ascribing bad intent here, I don’t believe there is any. I’m just relaying how reading this mindset reads to me as a woman living through this time period.


I’m looking at the parts of the book I highlighted, and one quote sticks out, “But never underestimate the American bourgeoisie’s capacity to embrace fascism under the name of populism.” Speaking of things we should have learned from history. This is still happening. That quote is true enough to hurt. So is Sadie’s question “I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel as well? Why does it have to bite?” Good question. I don’t know of any good answers.


I wonder if the time paradox puts us into a world where Richard Bachman is the primary author and Stephen King is the pen name. Because I notice that after Jake returns, there’s some talk about oldbucks, and the last time I heard about those was in Running Man. I thought it was kind of funny — like the world that the Bachman books depict is the messed up one that happens because someone screws with the timeline.


11/22/63 is a Hulu miniseries that I’ve seen part of. I’ve seen varying opinions on it, mine is that I kept falling asleep watching it and eventually just gave up. I probably ought to give it another try — I don’t want to say it’s terrible. But it sure didn’t hold my interest.


I feel like this book isn’t one of my top choices. I can’t deny that it’s a very good book. There’s not a lot wrong with it, and while I’m reading it, it’s definitely captivating. But I never seem to feel a big desire to revisit it — it’s one I’ll definitely pick up when I’ve too recently read all the ones that I do feel a desire to revisit, and I won’t regret it. And a lot of people definitely rank this one high. But it’s just not quite that high for me, I guess.

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