Time Travel From Costco

The Outlander Books 1–4

A hundred years ago I used to live in suburbia. Doing so forced me to spend random Saturday’s messing around with “car things” like oil changes, bald tires or dry batteries. One such Saturday I was stuck in a ginormous Costco waiting for the equally ginormous shop to put tires on my trusty old Somethingwagon.

I wandered aimlessly. As someone who has chosen to not have children or get married, there are actually only three things I can reasonably buy in a Costco: Toilet paper, wine, and frozen burritos. Usually I was the designated cart-pusher while my friends filled it up with jumbo _____ that young families apparently need. On this Saturday, I was Costco friendless and purposeless until I accidentally discovered a whole row with nothing but mass market paperback books. I was suddenly happier than a pig in shit.

There is no rhyme or reason to a Costco book collection. It looks like someone simply signed the manifest for a giant crate marked BOOKS, pried open the top, and stacked the contents on tables that run half the length of a football field. Oprah’s pick sits next to the deep and meaningful biography of last year’s super bowl team, and cookbooks shack up with Pulitzer-prize winning fiction. In the middle of this wad o’ words I stumbled across Diana Gabaldon’s first book in the Outlander series.

In the Romance Section!

Outlander: A Novel 
(Book one of the series)

I read the flyleaf and thought, “huh.” But what really caught my eye was the author’s background. Ms. Gabaldon has a PhD in ecology and was a University professor. Cool! Historical fiction conceived and written by a highly educated woman in the sciences? This has to be good.

I started reading in the store, and then moved to the curb outside. And then I sat in my car glued to the thing until it got too dark to read. I think it took me about four days of free time to finish what is a fairly massive 500 page tome.

The lead character is a female, ex-combat nurse from 1945, who accidentally travels back to 1700s Scotland. It was a wonderful story, and I devoured it with glee, though I do remember raising an eyebrow at how much sex these people were having. I certainly wasn’t complaining — Ms. Gabaldon knows how to write a damn good sex scene. But, more importantly, she clearly did her research and wrote fascinating vignettes about a well trained nurse from the 1940s trying to figure out how to be useful in tribal, war-torn Scotland of the 1700s.

I finished the book in a fever, though unfortunately not from the heat coming off of the characters’ proclivities. I had come down with the flu and was stuck at home in a greasy-haired mess. I loved the first book so much that even though I was surely going to die… I HAD TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT.

Published in 2004, there was no Kindle download option yet — I had to actually get dressed and try not to cough on anybody when I dragged my body to the closest Barnes & Noble. I walk in sporting slept-in sweats looking like Death’s strung-out bride.

OF COURSE the store is packed. I am confronted by a huge crowd of people there to meet a famous author. Sigh. I slunk past the throng searching the lit-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and regular fiction sections for Dragonfly in Amber. After twenty-minutes of desperation, I finally gave up and croaked out a plea for help from a staff member. She looked up the title in her inventory system, looks at me with the smile one gives a pathetic soul, and drags me past the literary crowd to the ROMANCE SECTION.

I seriously died. Like caught in the video store porn section by your Mother died.

I tried to argue with this girl and explained that there was no way this was a shitty romance novel. It had TIME TRAVEL. HISTORY. WAR. TOTALLY ACCURATE MEDICAL STUFF. …and a whole bunch of impressively good sex scenes. Err. Ahem. She looked at me with raised eyebrows, brightened her leper charity smile, and handed me the book. I stomped to the front of the store and bought it. Fine. Whatever.

By the time I finished the second book, I had to concede that what I was reading was indeed a romance novel. The sex got more creative and happened more often. Unfortunately, the interesting bits about history and time travel and combat medicine became less so. I still forged on with hope to find the excitement of the first novel in Voyager, the third book, but alas. Even the formerly epic sex scenes became monotonous. I mean good lord. Didn’t that woman have calluses in her hooha by now? Epic endurance I must admit.

My interest in the series had officially peaked.

A couple of years later Gabaldon’s series grew and developed significant pop culture attention in America. My hopes of adventure rekindled, I picked up Drums of Autumn. Meh.

That was the ironically limp ending to my experience in the romance section.

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