What could be said of our March book club meet up if not that, given all of its infinite potential outcomes in parallel universes, we enjoyed a stimulating discussion in this particular time and place! (Here’s hoping that in a parallel universe book club we had fewer no shows☺) The LBC has developed a penchant for books that feature time travel and jumping from era to era, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being was no exception. This story included quite a cast of characters: the bullied sixteen year-old Nao who tells her story from a maid café in Tokyo, her feminist Zen nun grandmother living in a mountain monastery, Nao’s World War II pacifist kamikaze pilot great-uncle, Nao’s depressed computer engineer father with a tendency to perform acts of courage, and Ruth, who reads all about them in Nao’s diary after it washes up on the shore near her home in British Columbia.
Reviews were mixed among this veteran crew of book clubbers (no newbies this time), with some of us spotting potential that the author didn’t manage to realize and others feeling that the book tried to do too much. The words we used to describe the book also captured our array of opinions, ranging from “disjointed” and “ambiguous” to “connected” and “diverse.”
A number of heavy themes emerged throughout the evening, including depression, suicide, and bullying, as we wondered together why those who are bullied like Nao often become bullies and whether the fact that Nao’s unemployed dad put on a suit and “went to work” every day was admirable or delusional. We dove into a debate about whether conscious gratitude can and should be cultivated, and whether appreciating the small things in life (e.g. working toilets!) helps us better face our larger problems.
We also took our cues from the book’s exploration of the author-reader relationship, asking whether the three main female characters were incarnations of various aspects of the author’s identity. Someone even suggested that the character of Ruth, possibly suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s like her mother, was the author of Nao’s diary and was reading the story she’d written as if for the first time. No clear answers to these questions emerged, which is probably just as well for a book that encouraged us to question what reality actually is (and isn’t).
Near the end of the night, Philip drew our attention to the following quote from Proust, an author whose work featured heavily in great-uncle Haruki #1’s French letters (a veiled reference to British contraceptive terminology?!? Layers of meaning everywhere!):
In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth.
Thanks to everyone for another evening of thought-provoking discussion. We’ll miss having the captain of this book club ship away from us for the next few months, but we trust that she’ll somehow manage to transcend time and space and will possibly show up to us in a creepy dream featuring a magical crow!