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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: fiction

Guest Post: How to Read a Book

A Tale for the Time Being invites us to read in a slightly
different way than many of us are used to. 
Not only does the book alternate between two narrators, but when we read
Nao’s diary, we’re reading it as annotated by Ruth, whose chapters are told from in the third-person voice.  It took me a while to realize that the
footnotes in Nao’s diary are written as though they were written by the
character Ruth, not the author Ruth.

If you’re interested in other approaches to reading, you may want to listen to
the November 24, 2013, edition of the public radio show To the Best of Our Knowledge.  The Nov 24 show is all about “How to Read a Book.” Hearing Billy Collins’ read his poem “Reader,” immediately made me think
of Tale.  There’s also an interview with an author who
wrote a novel which features another novel written in the margins of the book,
among other thought-provoking segments.

Beth Harper
Reference Librarian, Memorial Library

“A Crucial Collaboration”: Ruth Ozeki on the reader-writer relationship

A Tale for the Time Being author Ruth Ozeki

If you’ve started reading this year’s Go Big Read book, A Tale for the Time Being, you’ve probably figured out that it’s not exactly an ordinary novel. The book’s two main characters, Ruth and Nao, speak to each other across distance both geographical and temporal; at the same time, they do their best to break out of the confines imposed on them as characters in a work of fiction. Ruth boasts more than a few similarities to the real-life Ruth Ozeki, and Nao is constantly aware that she is writing her own story, frequently appealing directly to the reader or calling into question her own motives and reliability as writer.

A Tale for the Time Being brings up a lot of questions about the relationship between the reader and the writer. In an essay for Poets & Writers, Ruth Ozeki recently explained her own understanding of this complicated relationship, and how it plays out in the separate-but-connected experiences of reading and writing. It’s an interesting essay, but I’m going to pull out my favorite part:

All meaning is created through relationship, which means all meaning is
relative. There is no one, single, definitive book. There is no one, single,
definitive author. And clearly there is no one, single, definitive reader,
either. There is only the exchange, the meaning that you and I, in any given
moment, make together, as your eyes scan these words and your mind makes sense
of them. And because we are always changing, the words you read today mean
something very different from those same words if read a month or a year from
now.

If ever a book disproved the existence of “one single, definitive book,” “one single, definitive author” and “one single, definitive reader,” it’s A Tale for the Time Being. The entire book is built around the idea of exchange, the meaning created between two people—even, or perhaps especially, two people who will never meet. At its heart, A Tale for the Time Being is a book about the power of books.

If you haven’t started reading it yet—what are you waiting for?