I’m an occasional joiner (click here for other times I’ve joined the fun), but I am really excited about this entry. Many of the books I read with Fellowship I had already intended to read. If not for Katie choosing A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, however, I would never have given this book a second look. But the fact that I loved it so completely, despite its description not catching my eye, drives home the value of being part of a book club, especially a digital book club that is run the way Katie runs hers. I really do love it. So that is my push to encourage any readers out there looking for book suggestions and a chance to talk about what you’ve read: Keep an eye on Fellowship of the Worms and join in when something strikes your fancy!
Now on to the fun of answering Katie’s thoughtful questions:
- One of the things that struck me about this novel was how quickly Ruth became attached to Nao through her writing. Have you ever found yourself becoming attached to someone you don’t actually know through their writing?
Not with books, whether they are fiction or memoirs. I find myself being attached to characters in fiction, but never the writer. But blogs are different. You get more of a sense that someone is writing what you’re reading, more so than books. But that might be because the blogs that keep me coming back are the ones that I feel I begin to know the writer, even if they never share anything more personal than their first name. Blogging is such that the voice of the blogger is as important as the content. You begin to recognize a blogger by their word choice, tone and subject matter. Then you draw conclusions about that person and can become attached. It was crazy when a blogger I read religiously made the decision to stop blogging. I understand their decision and the need to do what’s best for them, but it still left a hole in my life and I still find myself wondering their opinion on something. If that’s not attachment, I don’t know what is.
- How much did you love Old Jiko? Do any of you have an impossibly wise older relative who has shaped who you became?
Old Jiko was awesome. I love everything about her. I don’t have anyone like that in my life, though. But knowing how much wisdom from Jiko I absorbed, perhaps I can count her as a wise older relative. Speaking of attachment, if you begin thinking, “What Would Old Jiko Do?” when faced with a difficult situation, does that mean she’s kind of your relative now? Can that happen if someone is fictional? This makes me think I may allow myself to get a little too attached to fictional characters. I wonder what Old Jiko would have to say about that? Ack! I’m doing it again! 🙂
- Did any of y’all break down when reading about the bullying Nao went through at school?
I didn’t actually break down, though I think that’s because I was so horrified by what she went through that I was sort of numb. There are times when you have to put a book down not because it is badly written, but because it is so well-written that it becomes too real for you to handle. This book was full of those instances, but in the best way possible. Fiction can have a way of revealing truths to us that we don’t want to accept, but we are forced to face. The reality of what Nao – and the many people like her – have gone through or will go through is something we as a society need to face. If for no other reason than to learn to accept the realities of bullying, we all need to read this book!
- I feel like we can’t actually discuss this novel without addressing the elephant in the room, suicide. Despite Haruki #1’s kamikaze mission, Haruki #2’s failed suicide attempts, and Nao’s suicidal thoughts, the overall tone remains hopeful. How do you think Ozeki pulled that off?
I think the reason discussions of suicide have failed to be hopeful in the real world is that there is still such a stigma attached to it, so much so that conversations on the topic are not held out in the open. We are not allowed, as a society, to discuss it. No one talks about it, and they feel they aren’t allowed to talk about it even if they want to, so how can there be any choice for them to just do it? Once it becomes acceptable to talk about it, then we can begin to feel hopeful. Those thinking about it can openly discuss it and have a choice. I think by allowing Nao to openly and frankly discuss it, to just put it out there as a fact, Ozeki was able to break through that stigma a bit and infuse her narrative with hope. And it was beautiful.
- Nao’s narrative finding Ruth is pretty much the ultimate message-in-a-bottle scenario. Have you ever fantasized about leaving your story for an unknown reader to discover? What would you tell them?
When I was a child I had a diary (didn’t we all?). I filled it with my hopes and dreams, written in multicolored gel-ink pens that were incredibly popular in the 1990’s. It had a unicorn on the cover and I was so proud of it and so serious about it. I wrote in it the way Nao writes in hers, to an unknown person I expected would someday read it. I fantasized about dropping it somewhere to be read by a stranger. And then I lost it. Sometimes I wonder what happened to it. Sometimes I hope someone found it. And then I remember that I had nothing to say so I filled it with ridiculous things – everyday observations that are actually quite silly and embarrassing, and I hope that it never gets read. I actually remember writing something to this effect once: “My mom forced me to drink milk today. It’s disgusting but she says it will make my bones strong. What if I don’t want strong bones?” What a little snot, right? But it is funny to think about someone finding it and wondering who they heck put such effort into trivialities.