I need help to know what this sentence means? I have trouble understanding phrase "just snap right back to your book"

Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plaid cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in one heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route. You wait a minute to see if maybe you will just snap right back to your book, your apartment, et cetera. After about five minutes of swearing and shivering and hoping to hell you can just disappear, you start walking in any direction, which will eventually yield a farmhouse, where you have the option of stealing or explaining. Stealing will sometimes land you in jail, but explaining is more tedious and time-consuming and involves lying anyway, and also sometimes results in being hauled off to jail, so what the hell.

The Time Traveller's Wife — Audrey Niffenegger


2 Answers 2


The passage seems to be describing the subjective experience of suddenly vanishing from one place and reappearing in another. It is a disconcerting and alarming experience and the narrator (Henry) is stating that, in this situation, he finds himself expecting (or rather hoping) that he will shortly find himself suddenly back in familiar surroundings (he was reading a book at the time) rather than the hostile environment he's "arrived" into. There is an implication that he's wishing it's all a (bad) dream, because you often find "snapping back to reality" used in that context.


In the context of the quoted passage, the usage seems a bit unusual to me. Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) provides a single definition for snap back as a verb:

snap back vi (1945) to make a quick or vigorous recovery

But neither "you will just make a quick or vigorous recovery to your book" nor "you will just make a quick or vigorous recovery to your apartment" sounds like entirely natural or normal phrasing. Instead, given the context of the quotation above, I think that the author is using "snap right back to" to mean something closer to "to come back to [oneself] in [a particular setting]."

If I understand the author's meaning correctly, "you will just snap right back to your book, your apartment, et cetera" means something like this:

you will come to your senses and find yourself back in your apartment, sitting in a chair and holding a book you were just reading, for example, after having dozed off or gone into a reverie

This is much the same conclusion that Deepak reaches in an earlier answer, but I wanted to tie it explicitly to a dictionary definition of "snap back."

  • I don't think this is so much related to the phrasal verb snap back as to the simplex verb snap. When you snap out of something (like a daydream), you leave it and return to reality with a quick, sudden burst—that's the same sense intended here, except here it's not the place (daydream) you leave behind that's expressed, but the destination you snap back to. Treating it as a non-phrasal simplex, you could say that you snap [out of a fantasy] [back to reality], for example. Jul 28, 2015 at 21:07
  • @Janus Bahs Jacquet: That sounds right to me—but in such cases, I think it is much more common to include the out and to identify the thing out of which one is snapping than to compress the larger idea into the words "snap right back to [the thing from which one had departed]." The final sentence of your comment presents the intended sense of snap as I would expect to see it rendered in most cases.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 28, 2015 at 21:42

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