A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (#20BooksofSummer book 4)

Another week has passed and I’m just now writing a post.  This summer my son has been staying up a little later at night, and by the time he’s asleep I’m just TIRED, y’all.  I just want to read a bit or watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for a minute and then GO TO BED.  I know that when we get back in our routine and he’s going to sleep by 8:30 I’ll have more time to myself at night, and hopefully more energy for blogging!  Tomorrow’s his birthday!  He’s been bouncing off the walls and I’ve been consumed with party plans.

tb-cover-993x1500But I did read another book for #20BooksofSummer, and it’s also my book group’s pick for June.  (We meet to discuss in about a week.) Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being was one of those books that I had avoided reading until now, despite near universal acclaim and one very persistent library patron telling me that I MUST READ IT.  I know, I know, I’d say – it’s on my list! Only for some reason I wasn’t all that excited to read it.  If it hadn’t been our book group pick, I probably never would have.

And that would have been a real shame!  I am quite glad that I was forced to read it.  It was strange, occasionally beautiful, sad, mind-bending, and startlingly original.  I didn’t wholeheartedly love it, but I very much enjoyed it.

It was a slow start for me, however.  The first 150 pages or so were not really landing. Here’s the Goodreads description, because it’s a super tough book to try and summarize:

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

I usually enjoy dueling narratives, flashes forward and backward in time, all of that.  I enjoyed the playfulness of the contemporary character, Ruth, being a novelist named Ruth, living in Canada with a husband named Oliver.  (All things true of Ms. Ozeki.)  But the novel didn’t take off for me until Nao goes to stay for a while with her amazing great-grandmother, Jiko, a Buddhist nun, at her monastery.  That’s the point where I became fully invested in the book, and remained so for the next 250 pages.  While I empathized with Ruth and was interested in her search to find out of Nao ever really existed or was still alive, it was Nao’s narration that I was more eager to return to.  Nao’s life was really hard – her struggle for identity, feeling more American than Japanese, having grown up in America; her father’s depression and suicide attempts; the insane cruelty of her classmates’ bullying.  Ozeki doesn’t shy away from dark topics, yet there are flashes of humor throughout.  Ruth and Oliver have a cat named Pesto, who they call “Pest” for short (cute.)  And there’s this line from early on in Nao’s diary:

My dad wants me to apply to an international high school.  He wants me to go to Canada.  He’s got this thing about Canada.  He says it’s like America only with health care and no guns, and you can live up to your potential there and not have to worry about what society thinks or about getting sick or getting shot. 

The book takes a turn towards the magical realism/speculative genre towards the end, and I don’t want to give away too much.  I’ll say that for a brief time I was left wondering whether or not I was a character in a book that someone was reading, and I’ve never felt that particular feeling before because of a book.  I felt a bit dizzy when I finished reading this, and I took that as a good sign.  I think it’s going to be a very good book for discussion at my book group meeting.  There’s an experimental vibe to the book that was interesting, unique, and trippy, but somehow it didn’t add up to a book that I could say that I loved.  I’m glad I read it, however, and sometimes that’s enough.

20-booksHave you read this?  What’s the determining factor for you in rating something either a 3 or a 4 on Goodreads?  Have you ever been so flummoxed that you couldn’t give a book a star rating?  I’d love to read your thoughts.



30 thoughts on “A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (#20BooksofSummer book 4)

  1. Shout out to Canada!!!!! hahaha
    But yes, I feel the same you did about this book, about many books; I liked it, happy I read it, can’t say I loved it. I think that happens when you read as much as we do, we can’t love or hate everything!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree that Nao’s plot was better, but I tend to hate self-reflexive novels about the novelist herself, and I was disappointed in this one because I like My Year of Meats and All Over Creation, so my expectations were high.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy birthday to your baby!! And I hear you about being tired at night! Take care of yourself!

    This book sounds amazing… I’m intrigued about the diary aspect of it – I’m definitely adding it to my list of books to look for!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that you had so many different thoughts about the book. This is a book that has been on my TbR for so long. I have read a few pages. But now I do not remember why I put it down. I must pick it up soon. Maybe your confusion about the rating will settle down after a while. Sometimes our thoughts about the book varies few days after we finish it

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve read this! And I agree with you that Nao’s sections of the book are the most compelling ones — her voice is what drew me into this book in the first place. I did end up loving the book as a whole, though. I adored the utter weirdness of the ending in particular, which I know was kind of a sticking point for some other readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’m still not sure what I think of the weirdness at the end. I don’t hate it, but I don’t think it added to my enjoyment either… hopefully talking with my book group will settle things out in my mind!


  6. This sounds like an interesting book. Thank you for this post! I bought this book at an indie store bookstore in Chicago, when I was travelling alone. It’s been one year since I bought. I haven’t read it yet. I look forward to reading this soon.

    The stars always confuse me. Sometimes, I give four-stars to some books, and go back to change it to five-stars. Star system makes me feel dizzy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oooh, your ending comment about feeling like you were a character in a book really enticed me. And you know, I thought this book sounded familiar, and then I was positive someone else has reviewed it when you wrote that you were not invested until the grandma entered the story. Someone else wrote that too! That’s the part I remember from the review!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. “I’ll say that for a brief time I was left wondering whether or not I was a character in a book that someone was reading” oh that gave me shivers! Ozeki is on my list of have to get around to reading sometime. I am glad to know I have something good to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yay! I’m so glad that you read this and you *enjoyed* it. I listened to the audiobook for A Tale for the Time Being which I think helped me a ton with the first 150 pages of the book. Having someone reading the book to me meant I couldn’t really stop to consider some of the darker and scarier things. I’ve read and learned a lot about what is happening in contemporary Japan and Nao’s experiences line up with what’s going on. It’s a bit terrifying, honestly.

    I agree with you about that really interesting moment where suddenly the reader seems to become a character. I had to rewind and listen to that section a few times to help my brain digest it. I love how Ozeki takes seemingly simple concepts and twists them on their head. It’s like I’m reading something and fulling understanding it– then suddenly it gets twisted and I’m enlightening to see these words in a different light. That aspect of her writing really captured me.

    I hope that your book group has a great discussion. Based on this wonderful review, I know you’ll have lots to add. I hope they enjoy it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jackie! I can imagine how listening to that section would require a rewind! You’re right, the bullying was terrifying. We did have a great meeting today. There was a lot to talk about. We all liked it, some more than others. The ending was problematic for a few.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I haven’t read this yet, and I get the same recommendations to read it as you were getting. Most people seem to love this book. I even had it out of the library not too long ago, but had to return it unread. I’ll get to it sometime!
    I find summer a hard time for keeping up with the blog. The kids go to bed later and later all the time, and I don’t like being on the computer when they’re around. I’d rather them see me reading. (Although, time has been short for that lately, too!)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great review Laila. I like the different themes in the this book although they do sound quite heavy. The magical realism was unexpected but from your comment it sounds like it worked out well in this book. I like the feeling that you described in the end of being one of the characters, That sounds amazing.

    As for ratings, I never get that right so I always end up having mostly 5 stars or 2 stars basically to show if I like or didn’t like a book. I struggle with the middle ground reviews.

    Happy belated birthday to your baby.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This one is in my library bag right now! I loved My Year of Meats and I am really looking forward to this. Teresa put it in our book swap so I can’t wait.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. There were definitely elements of this one which I loved, and those included many of the things you (and some other commenters) have mentioned. But it’s not my favourite of hers. Still, if you respond to her characterization, I think you’ll enjoy the others even more.

    As for bedtimes, we are super strict with them, even though they’re teenagers now Although it’s a half hour later in the summer holidays (big concession, eh? *laughs*). So, we are very unpopular parents. But, hey, sanity, cuz evenings are important for parents too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re not the first to mention that they loved her other books, so I’ll definitely try her again someday!

      I think you’re wise not to deviate too much from the usual bedtime in summer. We’re still learning, ha ha! He starts school week after next, so next week we will be getting back to an earlier bedtime in preparation.

      Liked by 1 person

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