It’s Monday night, the first Monday back to school with students in full attendance, and it’s going to be a long week (a full five days - yikes!!), so I think this will be a short-ish post.
I wanted to tell you about the discussion from Saturday morning’s Volunteer Book Club meeting. The book selection was Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and everyone loved it. I think everyone admitted that they would never have picked it up if it wasn’t on our list, but that they were so glad they did. I listened to the audiobook last year and here’s what I said about it:
“The… book I want to mention is A Tale for the Time Being by Canadian author Ruth Ozeki, who also narrated. I have to say that this was a phenomenal novel. It was so good that I ended up buying a print copy and adding it to my book club list for next year. Told from the point of view of two narrators, this novel spans the globe and takes us to Tokyo, where troubled teen Nao (pronounced “Now”) is contemplating suicide as the only escape from the bullying and loneliness that she is experiencing. At her parents’ insistence, she spends the summer with her grandmother in a Buddhist temple high in the mountains and begins to find a connection to her past that may help her deal with her present struggles. She also finds solace in her diary, where she refers to herself as a “time being”. Travel across the Pacific and we find ourselves on a remote island off of the coast of British Columbia (I think the island was called Desolate), where Ruth, a middle-aged writer, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing these diaries washed up on the shore. Ruth also struggles with loneliness and a lack of connection, and these diaries give her a project to work on, purpose to her days, and an opportunity to connect with others on the island and across the ocean. This book is about so much more than what I’ve just written, I know I will never be able to do it justice. But I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone, as it has a little bit of everything in it, history, romance, Buddhism, even quantum physics!”
We talked a bit about everything, from Japan in WWII and the cruelty and bullying that went into training Kamikaze pilots to themes of honour and consequences and the unbelievable levels of bullying Nao faced in school. One member who listened to this as an audiobook said she thought at first that it was a teen novel, as that is what it seems like at the beginning, but by the end she thought (and these are her exact words), “I am not smart enough to talk about this book” (you certainly are!!). It was unfortunate that, of all our meetings, I had to cut that one short, as I had a funeral to go to, but I’m sure if we had more time we could have discussed much, much more. In fact, we all agreed that this is the kind of book that should be discussed in small chunks as you read along, as it has so many interesting storylines and is so complex, with so many topics touched upon. And the level of research that went into this book astounded everyone. In short, we were awed by this book, so much so that there was a resounding “yes” when I asked if I should put her award-winning The Book of Form and Emptiness on the list for next year.
And I read a short novel by another Canadian writer, The Most Cunning Heart by Catherine Graham. A friend of mine told me about this book, which was written by her cousin, and was curious to know what I thought of it. I recommended it as a purchase for my local library and was able to borrow it from there. I’ll admit that I was feeling a little apprehensive about reading this book and sharing my thoughts with my friend, as it is a book about poetry and poets (specifically Irish poets), written by a poet, and I worried that it might be too literary and esoteric for me. Well, it was literary, but also very accessible. I’m sure if I knew more (or really anything!) about Irish poetry and poetry writing, I would have been able to understand this on a much deeper level, but I think I was able to get much of the story. Set in the early 1990s, this short, beautifully written, lyrical novel tells the story of Caitlin Maharg, a poetry student and teacher who, when facing the loss of her parents, leaves her home in Canada to study in an exclusive poetry workshop in Northern Ireland. Living in a cottage by the Irish Sea, she is reminded of her early years as a child, and she grapples with her memories as she tries to understand her parents’ secrets amidst the backdrop of the Troubles. When she becomes involved with well-known poet Andy Evans, she loses herself in his charms and searches for a place to belong, even as she struggles to understand their relationship in the context of that of her parents. This is yet another book about loss and grief, and each book that I’ve read has been told so differently, with such different stories and coping mechanisms. But they all tell of the difficulty of grief, and illustrate in various ways that grieving is a process, one that is unique to each person and takes different forms, sometimes taking a year, sometimes a decade, sometimes a whole lifetime to resolve. In this novel, Caitlin, or Cat, must come to her own conclusions about her relationship with Andy (despite my wanting to tell her again and again to stop and think about what she’s doing!!). I don’t want to give too much away, but this was a quiet, captivating novel that explores the inner workings of the grieving heart as it learns to understand and heal itself. I would like to thank my friend for bringing this lovely book to my attention - I hope I’ve done it some kind of justice here.
That’s all for tonight. Take care and have a wonderful week!