MADISON, Wis.–“A Tale for the Time Being,” a new novel from critically acclaimed and best-selling author Ruth Ozeki, is the selection for the fifth year of Go Big Read, UW-Madison’s common-reading program.
Ozeki tells a powerful story of the right book falling into the right reader’s hands. A novelist on a remote Canadian island finds a diary, written a decade earlier by a troubled teenage girl in Tokyo, when it washes ashore following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Go Big Read organizers encouraged the campus community to suggest fiction titles that fit into a theme of global connections. UW-Madison Interim Chancellor David Ward chose “A Tale for the Time Being” from the short list a selection committee culled from 192 nominated titles.
“‘A Tale for the Time Being’ is an engaging and broad ranging novel that will find a home for discussion in classrooms across the campus,” Ward says. “It is original and inventive and offers a thought-provoking reading experience for our students and the UW-Madison community.”
The book’s inventive narrative alternates between the two characters, examining the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction. Ozeki draws on history, myth, quantum physics and Zen philosophy as the diary’s author and its reader try to find meaning in their lives.
The Washington Post called the novel “as emotionally engaging as it is intellectually provocative.” The Seattle Times called the diary’s author, Nao, “as moving a witness to coming of age as J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, if not more so because she is so contemporary.” The other narrator, Ruth, is a writer who Ozeki has said bears “more than a superficial resemblance to me.”
Brooke Williams, a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Studies and a member of the selection committee, was intrigued by the book’s discussions of Buddhist meditation and Japanese pop culture, and fascinated by how Ozeki built a narrative bridge between two cultures that seem to have very little to do with one another.
“There is so much in this book that students can connect to,” Williams says. “There are fascinating historical threads intertwined throughout the story, along with more recent events, such as the tsunami in Japan. I think students will get a lot out of it.”
Since the common-reading program began five years ago, readers across campus, around the Madison community and throughout the state have participated in class discussions, book groups and public events, says Sarah McDaniel, program manager for Go Big Read.
“Our goal is to create connections around books and reading, and participation from campus and community members has exceeded our wildest expectations,” McDaniel says. “It has always been our intent to choose books from a variety of genres, and we have fielded many requests for work of a fiction. We think readers will really enjoy Ozeki’s novel, and are thrilled to be able to bring her to campus.”
Ozeki’s first two novels — “My Year of Meats” and “All Over Creation” — have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries. She is a filmmaker, and her documentary and dramatic independent films, including “Halving the Bones,” have been shown on PBS, at the Sundance Film Festival, and at colleges and universities across the country. She is also a Zen Buddhist priest and affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation. Ozeki lives in British Columbia and New York City.
Planning is underway for how students, faculty and staff will use the book in classrooms and for special events associated with “A Tale for the Time Being.” UW-Madison instructors interested in using the book can request a review copy.
Ozeki is scheduled to visit campus in October, when she will give a talk at Varsity Hall in Union South. Copies of the book will be given to first-year students at the Chancellor’s Convocation for New Students and to students using the book in their classes.