I love getting book recommendations, especially from trusted friends with similar reading habits but perhaps different bookstore browsing patterns. Quite awhile ago, a friend recommended Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which was only out in hardcover. I don’t like hardcover, so I waited patiently and finally bought it in paperback.
I read it. I read it again almost immediately after I finished it the first time. Now, I must admit, I have to stop myself from just picking it up and reading it once more. You might find that a bit odd – most people don’t read books two times in quick succession, however, it is something I do with almost all books I love. Why? Well, let’s start with this – if I had to name my one talent in this world it would be speed reading. I devour books. Whole ones for dinner. Perhaps because I grew up with no television at all, not even a device for movies, I became quite good at ingesting my one major source of entertainment: books. While my reading comprehension is just fine, because I am a speed reader I sometimes don’t get to live with the books long enough. They are over too quickly. I don’t linger for weeks with concepts like some of my friends do. So, I read it again.
A Tale for a Time Being is awfully human. Suicide, sex, quantum mechanic quandaries, coming of age, Alzheimer’s, it has it all. At first glance I thought, great, another book that tries to deal with everything, but Ruth Ozeki creates an incredibly raw, yet lyrical tale of what it’s like to be human. As Nao, a lively Japanese teenager in terrible circumstances, recounts a story to Ruth, a displaced, forgetful, and currently uninspired author on a remote Canadian isle, they both discover how to finally live. Yes, we have had these types of “many worlds” tales before, Sophie’s World comes to mind immediately, but this one really goes beyond it’s premise to deliver a thing of beauty. What the author is truly making us experience are the struggles of these two women, which naturally deals with all things human.
This might sound like a whole sale endorsement with no reservations, and to some extent it is, but I would be wary to recommend it to everyone. It deals with difficult and distressing topics, and I must admit that I sobbed, SOBBED for parts of it. I might be a sap when it comes to movies, and books often make me shed a tear, but I can’t say I have cried like this for very many books at all. However, I wasn’t depressed when I finished it – quite the opposite in fact.
Finally, the last, masterful stroke of Ruth Ozeki, is that she interweaves reality so well within her fiction that I ended up learning amazing things because of it. I have countless little earmarked pages where I researched gooseneck barnacles, the “anti-imperialist terrorist” Kanno Sugako, the Japanese literary genre I-novel, the Sliammon culture, and the list could go on. This is my favorite type of novel – the type where I learn amazing things about the world around me.
So what am I saying? If you are in need of a good book, and haven’t had time to do your own research on what to read next, read this. Or just read it in general. Because I said so. :P