In June we read A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, a novel about reading and writing, time and space, east and west. There is just SO much stuff in there! The story is about two women, Nao and Ruth, who ‘meet’ through a journal that has crossed an ocean and a couple of odd years. Ruth reads Nao’s diary and becomes increasingly invested in her story. It’s a very well written book which most of the book clubbers enjoyed a lot!
So what else is there for you to read if you liked A Tale for the Time Being? Plenty in fact! In the back of the book there actually already is a bibliography for anyone who wants to read the works the author herself used in her research, but here we’ll try to stay away from those.
Starting with Ozeki’s other works, we can recommend you My Year of Meats. It’s her first novel and also tells the story of two (American-) Japanese women. The main character is a documentary maker who lands a job on a TV show in Japan, which is sponsored by an American meat-exporting business. Here she meets the other women who’s a true housewife stuck under the thumb of her overbearing hubby. The story is somewhat of a thriller with a corporate meat conspiracy, but it also explores the complexity of human relationships and life.
If you liked the idea of the I novel, a Japanese genre of literature of the confessional kind based on the author’s life, I have some bad news for you. A lot of it is solely printed in Japanese and translations of these old works are hard to find. However, through our extensive search on the internet we can present you with some examples! Love of Mountains: Two Stories by Uno Kōji is a small book that parodies the lyrical love for the Japanese Alps and the romantic feeling of being in the mountains. The author constantly breaks the fourth wall (page?) in an attempt to gain back control over his story. It has a very postmodern feel to it in which fiction and fact are impossible to keep apart.
Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s work is a bit more famous as he penned down Rashomon. His other work Kappa is a somewhat fantastical I novel about ‘Kappaland’ and it explores the moral foibles of 20th century Japan. But if you are looking for something a little less traditional and more modern, give Haruki Murakami’s Hear the Wind Sing a try.
Sticking to the Japanese elements of the story, we recommend lovers of ghost stories and tales of the weird to check out Kwaidan. The word means something like ‘weird tales’ in English and the different collections published under that name will tell you haunting tales of Japanese spirits and other creepy crawlers.
Ozeki plays a lot with the distinctions made between readers and writers and asks us what their relationship actually entails. In the book Ruth becomes responsible for finishing Nao’s story, upending her idea of what reading actually means. Anyone interested in the role of the author vs. the reader should start by reading the essay The Death of the Author by Roland Barthes. If that is all old news to you, continue with the essay Discourse in the Novel by Mikhail Bakhtin or Michel Foucault’s What is an Author?
And the final recommendation is one given by Ruth Ozeki herself! For anyone wanting to learn about Zen and become a Zen Buddhist Priest, she recommends starting with the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. It’s a short but extensive introduction which gets to the heart of Zen without being all vague and mysterious. If you liked Jiko’s ‘straightforward’ approach to Buddhism, this one should be right up your alley.
If you have any other recommendations after reading A Tale for the Time Being, we’d love to hear them! Tell us all about the books in the comments and we wish you happy reading!