2013 Booker Conversations: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Booker_ConversationsThe 2013 Booker Conversations is a series of in-depth, spoiler-free discussions between BookerMarks bloggers about this year’s nominated titles.

Today, Aaron Westerman, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Hirst partake in an in-depth (mostly) spoiler-free discussion about Ruth Ozeki’s novel A Tale for the Time Being.

Aaron is Opinionless. Except of course when it comes to books or movies. He’s the co-founder of Typographical Era where he blogs on a regular basis about the latest in translated literature, foreign cinema, and more.

Michelle Williams is an avid “reader” of books and a “rider” of bicycles. When she is not cycling you can catch her reading and when she is not reading, well, she is probably pedaling about somewhere. Her blog, A Reader and A Rider journals her reviews of literary fiction.

Jackie Hirst is a book freak and a Duran Duran enthusiast.  She’s also 1/3 of the Literary Hoarders.

Ruth Ozeki’s Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel A Tale For The Time Being is chock full of references to cat anus and dog nuts.  It’s also a fascinating novel about quantum physics, religion, faith, writer’s block, and bullying.


A Tale For The Time Being

Michelle: I listened to A Tale for the Time Being on Audio. The author Ruth Ozeki was the narrator. Typically the author does not make a good reader. In this case I think Ozeki did a great job.

One reason I am glad I listened to the book was due to the pronunciation of the name of one of our main characters, Nao. I would have pronounced her name as “Nay-Oh”, instead of the proper pronunciation of “Now”. Not getting the pronunciation of our protagonist’s name correct really would have caused me to lose a central connection in the book.

Jackie, I know you listen to a lot of audiobooks, what do you think about the narration and do you think the listener lost anything by listening to the book or do you think the reader may have missed something from not listening?

Jackie: I thought that the narration by Ruth Ozeki was absolutely fantastic! I think that she gave the characters the real voices that were intended to have (I loved her old Jiko voice the best!) and the Japanese pronunciations were extremely helpful for me too. Like you, I think I would have “pronounced” Nao’s name wrong or at least skimmed it over as I was reading and wouldn’t have made the “now” connection if I wasn’t listening.

I also thought that the Buddhist chanting and music that you could hear while listening to the audio enhanced the experience all that much more. I did begin to read the ebook after I finished the audio just to see what the differences were (she mentioned at the end of the audio that there were some differences between the two—footnotes and doodles in the hard copy and music in the audio). I really didn’t notice too much of a difference tho—in the ebook you had to click on the footnote to translate the Japanese words or get an explanation of what a word meant or the history of it all. I actually liked that in the audio the Japanese was pronounced then translated—when I was reading I just totally skimmed the Japanese—the audio flowed so much better because of it!

Did you really think there was a lot of cat ass in that book? Why wasn’t the pooping chant mentioned? I thought that was a lot weirder than the cat ass.


Cat ass and balls

Aaron: It’s been a while since I read this one, but I clearly remember lots of cat balls and puckered asses. What I don’t remember is a poop chant! Is that part of the audio only experience? Perhaps I need to listen!

As I go for a dump
I pray with all beings
that we remove all filth and destroy
the poisons of greed, anger, and foolishness

Seriously though, I thought there were way too many references to animal genitalia. Furry cat balls, giant dog balls, cats assholes. It was just too much and it distracted from what was otherwise a fascinating piece of meta fiction about writers block, quantum physics, and family bonds. Maybe when you’re listening it’s easier to dismiss the comments, I don’t know, but when I was reading, they just kept piling up! Every time I’d start to get into the story either Ruth or Nao would start randomly commenting on the size, shape, and color of animal balls. I mean, at least throw some nipples in for us guy readers, right? Wait, I take that back, no nipples is better than dog or cat nipples. Speaking of nipples…

Did you find Nao to be sympathetic as a character? I mean, to an extent yes, but c’mon, she’s a big old bully, right? She has little patience for her father and flat out tortures her poor classmate Daisuke!


Ruth Ozeki

Michelle: That is a hard question. I did find Nao to be sympathetic but agree that her bullying of Daisuke was out of character. I would have liked to have seen her apologize to him and they become allies. I have no experience with bullying and have not looked it hard in the eyes so I don’t understand what makes a bully tick. I would think that the victim may become the aggressor to anyone they think they can take their frustrations out upon.

On the other hand, I can understand her role toward her father. To be uprooted from a comfortable life with friends and a future and be deposited into a life you hate and are hated – plus your father seems to have given up – has to be trying for a teenager. I feel Nao was giving her dad every chance to pull himself up by his boot straps. Yet time and time again, he exhibits a “loser” mentality which eventually brings Nao into an unfortunate situation. Had he been honest with everyone I think he could have saved Nao much grief and worry.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the story to me was the relationship Nao had with her grandmother Jiko. I really loved and valued the relationship I had with my grandfather. He gets the credit for encouraging me to be a stronger reader by introducing me to books that were outside my comfort zone and reading level. He was always a positive mentor and I could easily talk with him and always looked forward to spending time with him. Aaron, do you have an older relative or mentor in your life that helped shape your life?



Aaron: My grandfather was certainly an influence when I was much younger, but by the time I had reached Nao’s age, no I can’t say that I did.  It’s interesting to me that she still has such an attachment to her grandmother during this time period considering the fact that she’s at that awkward age when children tend to separate and discover who they are independent of their family.  I mean I loved my family as a young child, but as a teenager?  Not so much.

Jackie, this book covers a lot of ground.  A LOT.  But what’s the overall message it’s sending?  It’s about quantum physics and limitless potential certainly.  It’s also about writers block for sure.  To me though, the most prevalent theme is the lack of face-to-face, real-time communication that happens between people in today’s day and age.  We’re so desperate for instant answers, yet we don’t want to listen.  Do you agree or did you key on another aspect of this story?  What was your biggest takeaway from Ozeki’s novel?


Special Edition

Jackie: That’s the thing I love about discussing books! Everyone has a different view and it is so great to hear other people’s interpretations! I never even thought of the theme you put out there Aaron—about the lack of face-to-face and communication of the age—wow!! Yet another reason why I loved this book!

I thought the biggest takeaway message had to do with the limitless potential angle—how important it is to find your own inner strength to adapt to life’s challenges—no matter how petty or how extreme. When you can rise above the sh*t pile you can live your best life and achieve anything.

Michelle, what do you think happened to Nao in the end? Do you think she ever wrote Old Jiko’s story?



Michelle: Spoiler Alert!!!!!! Skip this part if you don’t want to know some of the ending!!!!!

I think that Nao was able to make it through her teenaged years and put the past behind her. Ozeki actually referred to that much towards the end of the book. I think a countless number of teenagers loose their way for a few years before they finally get past puberty. I think that Old Jiko’s story may still be a work in process. Is Nao a product of Ruth’s imagination and old Jiko’s story will be a sequel to our story? Or is Nao a tangible person who finished Jiko’s story as part of her master’s thesis? I think that this is just another one of the wonderful layers of this novel.

Being for All Times as a sequel!

Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale For The Time Being is shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. It is currently available in from Cannongate Books in the UK and Viking in the US.

Aaron, Michelle and Jackie are all founding members of the BookerMarks project, which is a yearly collaboration between 8 bloggers who shadow the Man Booker Award and try to predict the winner. So far, they’re 1-for-1.

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