Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Club for the Time Being

I still don't know what that means in the context of this book, "for the time being."  There's a LOT going on in Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being--like, a LOT; maybe more than is good for the book--and the idea of time and time beings is just one of many, many things.

Well, wait, I guess it's not so much that I don't know what it means--a person, anyone who lives in the flow of time, is a time being.  It's more like I don't quite know why that observation is useful.  As I said, a lot of things going on here.  As usual, I think a question list is a good place to start, although I also think that the last question will be the most important one.

1) Time: since it's in the title, let's talk about it.  This is a multipart question, though, and some parts work better than others.
   a) Where does time come up?  What kind of references, what kind of metaphors?  Explicit references and the ones that are built into the story, like the relationships between all the threads of narrative and how they unfold.  (I am really tempted to spew out a list here--the Friends of the Pleistocene, Ruth pacing herself as she reads, Proust--but you could go on forever.)
   b) How do all of these references to time support or relate to the actual themes of the book?  Is time actually a theme, or more of a motif?  Why are these references there?

2) Okay, so we've done time.  Let's do other themes.  There are tons--alienation and the character against society; nature (the island/the temple) vs. civilization (Tokyo/New York); death (duh).  Can you think of more?  Are they related to each other, or just piled on top of each other?

3) Does this book contain too many symbols and motifs?  Like, what's up with the Jungle Crow?  And pet cats?  What about the protagonists' relationships with little old ladies? French language and literature? Did all the parallels between Nao's life and Ruth's seem meaningful or add to the story for you? How?

4) Is there a difference between magical realism, surrealism, and dream logic?  And do you hate dream sequences as much as I do?  I also hate drug trips and mad ramblings (OMG JOSS WHEDON I'M LOOKING AT YOU), but what this book had in spades was dream logic.  Is this book magical realism?  Like, what do you think was going on with the pages of the journal? And what about the scene where Nao goes to class after the attack?  Is that her telling her story the way she wants it, or is it dream logic, or magical realism?

5) What's your general opinion of books where the protagonist has the same name and many of the same characteristics of the author?  Do they make you suspicious, seem overly precious?  Do you ever wonder what it must be like to know that person and either look for or see yourself in their books?  Have you read Everything Is Illuminated?  Do you suspect that Jonathan Safran Foer is too precious to live?  Woah, wait, that had a lot of magical realism in it, too.  Do you think the books are related in other ways? 

6) Back to Time Being and eponymous characters, how did you feel about Ruth's relationship with Oliver?  Did they seem to kind of hate each other?  Was this just standard long-marriage stagnation, or was it actual disdain?  Were you rooting for her to maybe leave, move somewhere with a good internet connection and a Starbucks? And harking back to question (5), how would you feel about this book if you were the real Oliver?

7) Did you feel like the story was hitting you over the head with things, or did they creep up on you?  For example, did you figure out what was going on with Babette before Ruth explained it to Oliver? (I didn't.)  Did you figure out what was going on with the internet bidding war before Oliver explained it to Ruth? (I did.) At what point did you realize that the book was not actually going to be the remarkable life story of a Buddhist nun that you were promised in the cover copy?  Were you resentful?  Are you still?

Dude, there is a lot to say here, and I've been writing this post for days (around getting a new computer due to a major crash experience).  I don't know how much I loved the book itself, but I did like it.  And I truly did love that it had me asking so many questions.  If I knew the answers to half of them, I think I would have loved the book itself, too.  I do like questions, but I'm very, very big on answers.

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