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"A Tale for the Time Being", by Ruth Ozeki: DISCUSSION Friday, August 12, 1:00 PM EDT

Unionist
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Unionist
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Continued from here.

 


Caissa
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Good to go.


infracaninophile
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I (alas) failed to re-read the whole book as I had hoped, but did look through parts of it again. Time, that destroyer of plans! Oh well.

I am anxious to hear sagacious insights from you guys. My contributions will of neccessity be more appreciative than perceptive. I have a 2:15-3:15 appointment  in the environs but will keep tabs on the discussion until I can get back to my keyboard.


Unionist
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dp - too many clicks.


Unionist
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In the good old days, when we were able to book (e.g.) an author to be present during the discussion, it was far more important to stick to an agreed several-hour timeline. And a deadline always has salutary effects on procrastination (speaking for myself, anyway). But I don't believe we need to be so strict. If people want to weigh in next week, or whenever, with a viewpoint, I don't see the big problem. Likewise with books of the past. I was actually thinking to revive the "Between the World and Me" conversation in light of events of this summer, and may yet do so.

Just saying.

 


infracaninophile
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Unionist wrote:

In the good old days, when we were able to book (e.g.) an author to be present during the discussion, it was far more important to stick to an agreed several-hour timeline. And a deadline always has salutary effects on procrastination (speaking for myself, anyway).

 

Absolutely. If I don't have a deadline, I don't allot time to get something done, so having a timeline is very beneficial.

Quote:
I was actually thinking to revive the "Between the World and Me" conversation in light of events of this summer, and may yet do so.

Just saying.

I second the motion!  For one thiing, people who might be interested may have felt (as I did) that they could only contribute on the discussion day appointed.  And while having a definite time to get started is also a good strategy, it excludes people who can't participate at that time  - work schedules may interfere, as often happened for me, and I expect may be an issue for other people. Then too, there are the slow processors, also like me, who mull over a comment or contribution and don't have a ready response but want to add to it a day or more later. it would be good to encourage a continuing discussion. As for Between the World and Me I thought there was much more to mull over in that book (and I wanted to respond to a thoughtful post you made on the subject) but figured I was too late.

So yes, let's foster ongoing discussions. 


infracaninophile
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Unionist wrote:

In the good old days, when we were able to book (e.g.) an author to be present during the discussion, it was far more important to stick to an agreed several-hour timeline. And a deadline always has salutary effects on procrastination (speaking for myself, anyway).

 

Absolutely. If I don't have a deadline, I don't allot time to get something done, so having a timeline is very beneficial.

Quote:
I was actually thinking to revive the "Between the World and Me" conversation in light of events of this summer, and may yet do so.

Just saying.

I second the motion!  For one thiing, people who might be interested may have felt (as I did) that they could only contribute on the discussion day appointed.  And while having a definite time to get started is also a good strategy, it excludes people who can't participate at that time  - work schedules may interfere, as often happened for me, and I expect may be an issue for other people. Then too, there are the slow processors, also like me, who mull over a comment or contribution and don't have a ready response but want to add to it a day or more later. it would be good to encourage a continuing discussion. As for Between the World and Me I thought there was much more to mull over in that book (and I wanted to respond to a thoughtful post you made on the subject) but figured I was too late.

So yes, let's foster ongoing discussions. 


Caissa
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Open discussions, closed discussions. Same thing.


Unionist
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Caissa wrote:

Open discussions, closed discussions. Same thing.

LOL! Channeling Jiko already, and the discussion hasn't even begun!


Caissa
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This isn't a book I would have found on my own so I am once again thankful to BBC for expanding my reading horizons. I found the book slow for me to get in to a reading groove. Once I did, I appreciated the various ways that the book played with the concept of a time. My first two degrees are history so the use of artifacts and research were appealing.


Unionist
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I have a weakness for books with interweaving stories (different spaces, different times) - Cloud Atlas comes to mind. This one was both easier and harder to reconcile in some ways. But ultimately I found it fascinating.


Unionist
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Anyone else here yet? Infracaninophile? Left Turn? Did I mention there's detention for late arrivals?


Left Turn
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I've yet to finish the book. I'm on page 196, which is basically halfway through, so I'll contribute my thoughts so far, as this is the scheduled discussion time, even though we're not sticking to a strict discussion timeline.

I'm enjoying the book, Nao's story in particular. Though I had difficulty getting into the book at first. It took me almost a month to read the first 40 pages. The story wasn't really going anywhere at that point, and I wasn't sure I wanted to take the time to read the whole thing.

I'm also a slow reader, which doesn't account for why it took almost a month to read 40 pages, but does partly count for why I'm only halfway through the book at this point. The other reason is that my reading has been competing with my watching of season 1 & 2 of the Sopranos (finally decided to start watching that show), and more recently the Olympics.

I'm enjoying Nao's story, and I'm looking forwards to where it goes in the second half of the book. I really like the uniqueness of Nao's story.

Ruth's story I'm not enjoying as much. I generally like it when writers put more of themselves into their work, as Ruth Ozeki seems to be doing with Ruth's story; yet the narrative function of Ruth's story seems to be mainly as a framing device for Nao's story.

Based on the descriptions that I'd seen online prior to starting to read the book, I thought the book was going to be about a woman who to Japan to find out about an old Buddhist nun through interviewing people who knew her. So I've been a bit disappointed that Ruth's story doesn't seem to be moving in the direction of her travelling to Japan.


infracaninophile
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Since I rarely read fiction, I can confidently say I would never have stumbled across this book (in fact I had never heard of the author, and I do follow Canadian literary news in a general way so that surprised me). However although it starts slowly I found it engaging from the first (though the footnotes kind of bogged me down, as I felt obliged to read them all, and I am not at all familiar with Japanese culture so it was helpful to have terms and customs explained).

I liked the way the author adeptly juggled a realistiic approach with narrative sections that can be ambiguously interpreted. Were they magical? Were they hallucinatory? I found the author was playing with ideas - not only ideas of time, but also of reality. What is real? All this was helped along by my favourite character (other than the cat), Jiko, who gave voice to some central Buddhist concepts, like the circularity and interconnectedness of existence (I'm not phrasing this right, but I hope it makes sense) as well as the Moebius strip nature of things - up, down, same thing. Ozeki brought in the many-worlds ideas playfully too, leaving it up to the reader to determine whether such a thing was actually happening (in her story) or whether the character was imagining things. I love this stuff, it's intellectually stimulating and the ideas are fun to play with. 


Unionist
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Ok, first thought.

It's primarily a story of three women and how their lives intersect. One (Ruth) is obviously the Japanese American author, removed from her New England comfort zone and transplanted to a post-hippy life on a B.C. island. Another is a 15-year-old Japanese girl transplanted from her California comfort zone back to Japan, where she faces bullying and rejection and confusion about who and where she is. And then there's the 104-year-old anarchist feminist turned Buddhist nun.

Somehow, all three help each other resolve the contradictions and turbulence and loose ends in their lives.

Not very erudite, but that's what I felt.

ETA: WHOOPS, all 3 of us posted simultaneously! Better go back and read your comments, and maybe fix mine up once I've done so LOL.

 


Caissa
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I am not sure I liked Ruth at times. I put this down to her interactions with her partner who I found a more sympathetic character.


infracaninophile
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Caissa wrote:

I am not sure I liked Ruth at times. I put this down to her interactions with her partner who I found a more sympathetic character.

 

I kind of identified with her partner, not only because of his name, but also because of his affinity for Pesto. Still, I could relate to Ruth's curiosity and, well, obsession. Her experience with the "blank" pages made me think of a similar experience of my own which was not at all mystical (IMO) but was equally unsusceptible of rational explanation.


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Caissa, I had the same feeling, though felt a little guilty about feeling that way.

And it kind of highlights another aspect of the story: The role of the main male players (Ruth's partner, Nao's father, Jiko's son). We know them primarily through the perception of the women. The women come to know them more fully as the story unfolds, gradually glimpsing past initial appearances to find noble attributes that weren't obvious from the start. And in keeping with the intertwining tales, the women often help each other to find the truth about "their" men. I thought it was rather brilliantly done. I'm hesitant to go into detail, because I don't want to spoil it for Left Turn.


Caissa
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It is interesting that Ozeki wrote her namesake as a not completely loveable character. I think that helped because all of the characters had to contain some warts. If Ruth was a saint that part of the book would have read differently.  This is not a book that carrying you along. It would give you temporal bumps at times.


Caissa
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In many ways until we open a book, it only contains blank pages.


Unionist
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Caissa wrote:

In many ways until we open a book, it only contains blank pages.

Nice!

And these days, even after I've closed a book, it often seems like blank pages.

I need to take more notes.

ETA: I just sent Ozeki a message on her web site, telling her we were discussing the book. Wish I'd thought of doing that before. Who knows, one day we might get lucky!


Caissa
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I wonder if some of the female bablers would have experienced this book differently?


Unionist
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Caissa wrote:

I wonder if some of the female bablers would have experienced this book differently?

My female partner turned me on to Ozeki. But she ain't no babbler. I'll see if I can wrench some comments out of her later.

By the way, there's so much rich background to the time-space uncertainty thing. I enjoyed this:

Quote:
'Quantum information is like the information of a dream,' " he said. " 'We can’t show it to others, and when we try to describe it we change the memory of it.' "

And I find that's what's happening to me when I try to comment here on what I remember from the book!

Comparing Ruth's obsessive need to know whether Nao was alive or dead with Schrödinger's Cat - stroke of genius, I thought.


Caissa
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The question of who/what was alive or dead ran through the book.

Another group I belong to has a monthly book club. The book is picked in adavnce and it is discussed throughout a month. They have a different facilitator each month who posts questions around the 10th  to animate discussion while more general discussion takes place prior to that date. I wonder if something like that would be worth pursuing?


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infracaninophile wrote:

I liked the way the author adeptly juggled a realistiic approach with narrative sections that can be ambiguously interpreted. Were they magical? Were they hallucinatory? I found the author was playing with ideas - not only ideas of time, but also of reality. What is real? All this was helped along by my favourite character (other than the cat), Jiko, who gave voice to some central Buddhist concepts, like the circularity and interconnectedness of existence (I'm not phrasing this right, but I hope it makes sense) as well as the Moebius strip nature of things - up, down, same thing. Ozeki brought in the many-worlds ideas playfully too, leaving it up to the reader to determine whether such a thing was actually happening (in her story) or whether the character was imagining things. I love this stuff, it's intellectually stimulating and the ideas are fun to play with. 

Wish I'd said all that. There, now I have! I said, you said, same thing.


infracaninophile
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Power outage here. Just catching up now. I have a mundane and pointless question to ask as soon as I verify my battery sump pumps are working. flood/no flood, NOT same thing!


Unionist
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All questions are pointless until you get to the point.

Waiting.

Wishing good luck on sump pump operation.

 


infracaninophile
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Sump pumps OK.  Now, I don't want to give away any spoilers for Left Turn so will endeavour to be sufficiently vague.  However,  I have actually two questions. One is (I believe) a misprint in the text that threw me for awhile - I will come back to that one later. This one is simpler. In the PS at the end, Ruth says,  "P.S. I do have a cat,  and he's sitting on my lap, and his forehead smells of cedar trees and fresh sweet air. How did you know?"

I don't remember anywhere where Nao speculates/opines/affirms that her reader has a cat, and scratching my head, I went back and reread significant portions of Nao's part looking for it. Did I miss it? When did Nao mention her reader having a cat?

My other question (where I think I found a misprint) will require me to thumb back and find the right page, will get to that after some other tasks.

 


Unionist
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infracaninophile wrote:

I don't remember anywhere where Nao speculates/opines/affirms that her reader has a cat, and scratching my head, I went back and reread significant portions of Nao's part looking for it. Did I miss it? When did Nao mention her reader having a cat?

The very beginning of the beginning of "Nao", chapter 1:

Quote:
Are you curled up with your back turned coldly toward your snoring wife, or are you eagerly waiting for your beautiful lover to finish his bath so you can make passionate love to him?

Do you have a cat and is she sitting on your lap? Does her forehead smell like cedar trees and fresh sweet air?


infracaninophile
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Unionist wrote:

The very beginning of the beginning of "Nao", chapter 1:

Blush. I went backwards through the Nao chapters but gave up before I got to the very beginning. Big mistake. Thank you.

That statement does look somewhat prophetic, given that Ruth lives on an island with cedars abounding. Of course, that ties in with the theme that the writer, as Nao also says somewhere early on, "I reach out across time to you.... you reach back in time to me" (not exact words -- I'm paraphrasing from memory). Which I think is the reciprocal relationship of writer and reader, in many cases. It's  demonstrated literally (and metaphorically) in this story, where the reader - Ruth - also reaches back in time and influences the writer, and her world (or does she? We are left to determine that for outselves).  But one doesn't have to take it literally, if one is turned off by the many-worlds hypothesis or the quantum dynamics. Writers are influenced by their readers, if not in such dramatic ways and across tranches of time. Feedback from readers, from editors/partners to wider circles of appreciative (or not) readers does influence most writers, consciously or otherwise. It's a dynamic relationship even though it's not usually personal.

 

Hope this makes sense. I know what I mean but I flunked lit crit as I have pointed out before.

 

I like, now that I reflect on it, that the book begins and ends with reference to the cat, who is of course Pesto, and who symbolizes both death and life, and perhaps possible lives. I was worried about him until that ending. Which end of Schrodinger's box would be open?

 

I found the passage I thought was a misprint, and it's not, but it's puzzling (to me) so I will elaborate on it in a separate post.


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