Yesterday I mentioned that Simone van der Vlugt's Shadow Sister was (one of) my gym books. The only thing (or nearly the only thing) that gets me through my daily workout (half hour walking on a treadmill and half hour on an elliptical--in both cases I can prop my book up and read while exercising) is knowing I get to read at the gym! So, did you catch that little teaser yesterday? Did you wonder what 'the other' gym book was? I tend to rotate and it depends too on the book and how easily I can either hold it in hand or set it comfortably on the machine, but I try and concentrate on one or two books and bring the same ones along each day. You would be amazed at how having that dedicated reading time helps me make my way through books. With a really good book, an absorbing story, that hour will fly by (which is exactly what I want and need).
So, the other book in question is Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I must admit that I have had a few false starts with this one. My curiosity was piqued when it first came out, and then Buried in Print and I were discussing different books we could read in tandem and discovered the Ozeki was one we were both interested in. I had already dipped into it and knew I wanted to read it, so back it came from the library (it had gone back once unfinished) and happily we started reading. And then you know how it goes. Due dates sneak up on you, life intervenes and it got quietly set aside and then the next person in line for it wanted me to return it, so more time passed.
Now, however, once again Buried in Print and I are going to approach it a little more systematically and have set little reading goals in order to make sure it doesn't once again fall through the cracks. The thing is, each time I started reading I was wholly impressed by it. I was going to skim the part I had already read, but instead I just started reading and kept going. It's the sort of story that is so fascinating, has such intriguing narrators who completely pull you in that you don't mind that you have already read this bit or that before.
I just have to share a few passages with you, so you can see what I mean. And maybe this way, too, it will make me more honest and not quietly shift it about again (and it helps that now the book is in paper and I own my own copy).
"My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you."
And I happily gave Nao, a sixteen-year-old Japanese schoolgirl more than just a moment and will give her many more as I read her story. She is a quirky young girl listening to her, reading her journal is so engaging that you almost feel like answering her when she puts forth these little questions.
There is another story that runs, well, I'm not sure--parallel in time? Maybe not, as the second narrator (though her sections are in third person not first) is Ruth who lives on a remote island with her husband and cat off the coast of Canada in the Pacific Northwest. I think Ozeki is going to riff quite a lot on the idea of/nature of/meaning of time. Ruth finds washed up on the beach a journal which happens to have been written by Nao. So each has a story to tell. Nao is a schoolgirl in a difficult family situation who is being bullied by her peers. She keeps a journal made from a used book--the cover of Proust's In Search of Lost Time (convenient as who amongst her peers would find this French book of any interest? A diary, yes, but Proust, no--tricky!). And Ruth is a writer. I like Ruth, too. (Curious fiction Ruth sounds a little like writer Ruth Ozeki. Hmm).
"They [Ruth and her husband Oliver] liked books, all books, but especially old ones, and their house was overflowing with them. There were books everywhere, stacked on shelves and piles on the floor, on chairs, on the stairway treads, but neither Ruth nor Oliver minded."
I have already been making little pencil markings all over because the voices in this book are so very good. There's lots more I could tell you, things I want to tell you, but maybe I should save a few? And I am just barely back in the story. Like Nao's great-grandmother is a 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun, a novelist and New Woman of the Taisho era. Oh, and that the book comes complete with footnotes and appendices and an extensive bibliography which I plan on reading. There are loads of cultural references that I want to know more about.
It's a cool book, and yes, utterly fascinating. I can feel it. Third time's a charm and the perfect sort of book to read along with a friend.