The Literary Blog Hop

Welcome to my giveaway post for The Literary Blog Hop, hosted by Judith @ Leeswammes! I’m excited to be participating in my first blog hop. I am giving away a paperback copy of Helen Oyeyemi’s Mr. Fox, a creative re-imagining of Bluebeard tales.

From the book description: Fairy-tale romances end with a wedding. The fairy tales that don’t get more complicated, that is. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can’t stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels and neither can his wife, Daphne. It’s not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Mary challenges Mr. Fox to join her in stories of their own devising, and so, through different times and places, the two of them seek each other, find each other, thwart each other, and try to stay together even when the roles they inhabit seem to forbid it. Their adventures twist the fairy tale into nine variations, exploding and teasing conventions of genre and romance, each iteration exploring the fears that come with accepting a lifelong bond. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox’s game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

You can read my original thoughts on the book here, and here is an interview conducted by Fantasy Matters with Oyeyemi about the book. Oyeyemi is one of my favourite authors. Born in Nigeria and raised in London, her first novel, The Icarus Girl, was published when she was 21. Now 29 years old, she has just published her fifth novel Boy, Snow, Bird.  While her books are not without drawbacks, I adore her prose and her storytelling, and her characters generally intrigue me as well. Her stories will not be for everyone, but if you haven’t read anything by her, I encourage you to do so! To enter to win a copy of Mr. Fox, please see below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway Once you’ve finished entering, check out the other participating blogs’ giveaways! Have fun, and good luck 🙂

Participating Blogs:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
  8. WildmooBooks
  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
  13. Words And Peace (US)
  14. Ciska’s Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters (me!)
  16. Readerbuzz
  17. The Relentless Reader (US)
  18. Mom’s Small Victories (US)
  19. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
  5. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  6. River City Reading (US)
  7. Books Speak Volumes
  8. Words for Worms
  9. Wensend
  10. Bibliophile’s Retreat
  11. The Book Musings
  12. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
  13. Books on the Table (US)

Review: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Author: Ruth Ozeki
Title: A Tale for the Time Being
Format/Source: Hardcover/library 
Published: March 2013
Publisher:Viking
Length: 403 pages
Genre: Contemporary + splash of magical realism
Why I Read: Canadian and Japanese characters/setting + pretty cover + on my radar
Read If You’re: A fan of Haruki Murakami, the genre, or Japan
Quote: “Or maybe none of these things will happen except in my mind and yours, because, like I told you, together we’re making magic, at least for the time being” (5).
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

The cover of A Tale for the Time Being caught my eye. Bright, bold, clean, and elegant, it stood out on the express shelf at the library. I had put it on my TBR list because the description mentions the 2011 Touhoku tsunami. I decided to sign it out because I’m off to Japan soon and want to read more Japanese-related literature. Though the tsunami is a part of the novel, it’s more of a background framing device than the primary focus on the novel. The story alternates between two storylines: the first-person narrative of Japanese schoolgirl Nao and the third-person narrative of Canadian author Ruth. Ruth finds Nao’s diary washed up on the shores of the remote British Columbian island where she lives (the tsunami comes into play as Ruth wonders how the diary could have reached her). Nao fills the diary with thoughts on her difficult life, while Ruth becomes absorbed in finding out what ultimately happened to Nao. Nao’s tale spans generations, including stories of her suicidal father, her Buddhist nun great-grandmother and her deceased kamikaze grand-uncle. Ruth’s story is less enticing than Nao’s as she functions primarily as a receptacle for Nao’s story. Regardless, the story captured by attention and I read at least 75 pages at a time. I only made three notes about this book. But, now that I’m ready to reflect, there is a lot about this novel to comment on (I think this is my longest review to date!).

This book had many components that, when combined, create the sort of story I enjoy digging into. Some of the components are:

  • Observant and introspective narrators
  • Few but strong characters with deep relationships
  • Zen philosophy and practice
  • Vibrant settings in Japan and remote British Columbia
  • Exploration of the reader-writer relationship
  • Japanese involvement in WWII
  • Minor elements of magical realism (ex. ghosts)

Each of these components alone are perhaps not enough to truly capture my interests. The first two points are what create a novel’s hook for me. I love this type of story, where the central character or two is a reflective observer, sharing thoughts both mundane and profound about themselves and the world around them. Maybe that’s why I have trouble connecting with books like The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.

There are some very dark parts of this book, dealing as it does with nasty incidences of bullying, depression and suicide. I felt very uncomfortable during the height of Nao’s bullying and had a hard time accepting that this could be someone’s reality. Thankfully, Nao’s relationship with Jiko (spiritual, philosophical, grandmotherly) balanced the dark parts of the story for me, made them more bearable, as I think it did for Nao.

A lot of the aspects of A Tale for the Time Being that I enjoyed can also be found in the works of Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors. Perhaps I enjoy this book so much because it reminds me of my favourite Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore. It’s not that I like A Tale for the Time Being because it emulates Murakami; I like both of these novels because I like this type of story. Some similarities between the two that I like include:

  • Thoughtful young person struggling to find their place in Japanese society
  • Connection to old wars gone by
  • Touches of magical realism
  • Two interweaving storylines, one in first-person and one in third-person*

Personally, I connected emotionally to Kafka but not to Nao. Kafka is so similar to me, while Nao has few experiences to which I can relate. This is why, and I emphasize again for me, Kafka on the Shore is a five-star novel while A Tale for the Time Being is a four-star novel. For another reader, Ozeki’s story could be the one she deeply connects with.

I loved old Jiko and would have liked to read more about her. The book description states “[Nao] wants to accomplish one thing: to recount the story of her great grandmother, a 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun, in the pages of her secret diary. The diary, Nao’s only solace, is her cry for help to a reader whom she can only imagine.” Nao’s documentation of Jiko’s life is a framing device through which Nao tells her own life story. Jiko has a prominent role in the story, but the book is Nao’s story. Nao expresses great pride in her great-grandmother’s life, but the reader only learns about Jiko’s final stages of life. I would have loved to hear more about Jiko’s younger days, as a feminist radical, and how (the why is briefly discussed) she transitioned to a Buddhist priest.  Jiko is not the main character in the novel, but she is the most fascinating to me and I would have been happy to read more about her.

Ruth’s story has less plot than Nao’s, but I found her story calming and grounding even though it has moments of stress. I think this is because I can picture myself in Ruth’s position, out on this remote island living in a beautiful but discontent state of solitude. In Ruth, the reader encounters encounters a blurring of fiction and reality. Even from the sparse author description on the book, I recognized similarities between Ruth-narrator and Ruth-author. I wondered how closely the two are related (as I did with Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being), but I didn’t investigate further until after finishing the novel. With A Tale for the Time Being, we find an author who openly acknowledges how much of herself is in the fictional Ruth. Of course, the book is first and foremost a novel. I have been conditioned not to make sweeping correlations between fiction and reality based on what I’ve read in a novel**. Therefore, I find it fascinating when an author clearly recreates herself as a character in her own work of fiction. Here are some of Ozeki’s comments on including a version of herself in the novel (these quotes also speak to how the tsunami influenced the book):

“At that point I realized that the book I’d written was not relevant anymore, and I needed to do something to address and respond to the events in Japan. Actually it was my husband who came up with the idea. He said, “Why don’t you put yourself in the book?” And that would give you a voice to use to respond to these events in a more direct way.” (Goodreads Interview)

“The novel is told as a kind of dialogue with two interleaved voices, Nao and the Reader. I realized that Nao’s voice was still fine. The problem was the Reader I’d written. So I unzipped the manuscript, threw away that Reader and stepped into the role myself, as the character of Ruth. Somehow, stepping into the role as a semi-fictional version of myself seemed to be the only way of responding to the magnitude of the disaster, and once I did this, the writing came very, very quickly […] The character of Ruth in this book is me.” (Book Slut Interview

Some final notes: The book contains a handful of experiments in typography. In one instance, Ruth imagines what ‘temporal stuttering’ would like if it were typed (228). Finally, my favourite passage in the book described “the cold fish dying in your stomach feeling” (180). I think it deserves to be quoted in its entirety, so skip if you’d rather read it in its natural habitat!

It’s the cold fish dying in your stomach feeling. You try to forget about it, but as soon as you do, the fish starts flopping around under your heart and reminds you that something truly horrible is happening. Jiko felt like that when she learned that her only son was going to be killed in the war. I know, because I told her about the fish in my stomach, and she said she knew exactly what I was talking about, and that she had a fish, too, for many years. In fact, she said she had lots of fishes, some that were small like sardines, some that were medium-sized like carp, and other ones that were as big as a bluefin tuna, but the biggest fish of all belonged to Haruki #1, and it was more the size of a whale. She also said that after she became a nun and renounced the world, she learned how to open up her heart so that the whale could swim away. I’m trying to learn how to do that too. (180)

The Bottom Line: I enjoyed this book particularly for the introspective narrative style. The bulk of the story describes the difficulties of an American-Japanese schoolgirl from her point of view, so if that sort of thing particularly disinterests you I would avoid this book. I strongly recommend A Tale for the Time Being if you appreciate observant narrators, Haruki Murakami novels, or Japanese culture.

Further Reading: 

*Though Ozeki’s novel is far less surreal and the connection between the storylines far more straightforward.

**I attribute this particularly to The Lord of the Rings and The Fault in Our Stars. Tolkien vehemently disliked anyone trying to find allegorical meaning in his work. Tolkien famously wrote in his foreword to The LOTR, “I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author”. Regarding TFIOS, I have been a fan of the vlogbrothers and John Green’s writing since 2007. Green has always been very adamant (and rightly so) that his book is a work of fiction. As he writes in the author’s note to TFIOS, “neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species”. I generally agree with both Tolkien and Green’s sentiments. I’m not immune to correlating fiction and reality when I think my reading of story will benefit from doing so, but I prefer to let a work of fiction stand for itself.

Summer Library Challenge: Library Social, Ideas Fair + Book Haul #1

 This week’s challenge: “Find out what kind of social media your library uses and if it would be useful, follow them! Make a post, tweet, etc. about what you found useful!”

 My library uses the following social media:

I think that’s all of the accounts! I didn’t realize how many there are. I follow the library on Facebook and read the main blog. I recently discovered the Flickr account while completing my individual practicum project last semester at the head branch. I did not know about the YouTube account, so I just checked it out and there are videos about programs, recordings of events, and how-to tutorials. The account doesn’t appear to be utilized too much – prior to two weeks ago, the last upload was one year ago and then three years ago. But, the videos that are there look like good resources. The Flickr account has many photos and is frequently updated. I like to see what’s happening at the different library branches. I like the main library blog because the posts are always substantial and thoughtful. I particularly like the posts that discuss a subject and provide book reviews, such as this post about the history of cities. Does your library maintain a blog?

***
This month my library is hosting Idea Fairs to gather feedback about what is important to library goers and their community, in order to “help shape the future of WPL!” I was excited to attend this fair at the main branch, especially because my class practicum project explored ways in which public institution can engage visitors and created our own installation at the university library to gather ideas about how the library can be more beneficial to users. The library had four interactive stations set up (as well as one station for children):

  1. Space – A poster board displayed eight photos of libraries. You received three stickers to place under the library setting you liked best. On another board, you could write a sticky note explaining why you chose that setting.
  2. Collections – Ten jars were labeled with different library collections (digital media, books, Aboriginal resources, etc.). You received ten tokens to deposit in the jars to indicate which collections in which you think the library should invest. Again, you could write a sticky note explaining why you chose those collections.
  3. Programs and Services – You received a paper with an alter ego and had to write how you thought the library could best meet that character’s needs. My persona was a budding young writer – this was easy as that used to be me!
  4. Community Involvement – A giant map of the city hung on the wall. You received a sticky note to mark your favourite aspect about your neighbourhood and how the library might become involved in that aspect.

The Ideas Fairs are put of a two month public consultation stage of the WPL’s strategic planning process called “Inspiring Ideas”. From the website:

“Input gathered during the public consultation process will be used to help shape the future direction of Winnipeg Public Library by helping set the development of a new five-year Strategic Plan that will include goals and actions for the Library to pursue.”

This strategic plan will not be revealed until the fall, when I will no longer be living here, but I’m eager to see what sort of changes might come from this process. Online, I read too much about libraries losing funding or shutting down completely, so it really is inspiring to see my library engaging in this process.

***

After submitting my thoughts for the Idea Fair, I picked up some books. The last batch of library books I signed out were books I felt I should read and not books I was excited about at the time. So, this time, I focused on some ‘lighter’ reads that really piqued my interest. I didn’t mean to start reading them until I finished the three books I was already reading, but I kept peeking at The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender on the bus and now I’m halfway through! I hope to finish these five books and the other three I’m reading by the end of the month.

Leeswammes’ Literary Blog Hop

Just a quick post for today – this month I will be participating in eighth Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by Judith at Leeswammes’ Blog. From Judith’s announcement:

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop is an event taking place from Saturday June 21st until (and including) Wednesday June 25th. If you’re a book blogger and you’d like to give away a book to your readers, maybe to show your appreciation or because you have a special celebration, this is your chance to join up with others.
Most giveaway blog hops seem to be directed towards young adult and romance audiences. Those hops are not so ideal if you want to give away more literary books.

I had a great time hosting a giveaway for ArmchairBEA and I’m excited to be a part of this event. Currently 33 bloggers have registered to participate. Please read the full announcement to register or check out the other participants. Watch for my giveaway post on June 21!