A Tale for Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Time is defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” But a definition cannot begin to capture what time feels when you have to live through it. Through this PhD program I have wrestled with the concept of time. There is never enough of it. It either passes too fast, or too slow. Reading this book was extremely lethargic, for the main characters, speak of time often.
Nao, the sixteen-year-old girl who’s diary is the center of this story, explores what time means and how frustrating it can be. Her diary is for a time being, “…someone who lives in time…”; this book is meant to be read, for we readers are time beings. It is not often that you find a narrative that looks to explore this conception of time and does it so well. I have to say though, the plot line is heavy and it took me awhile to finish reading this story. And by awhile, I mean several months. It is not a book that one devours, just like Ruth (the other main character) did not devour Nao’s diary in just one sitting.
In A Tale for Time Being, there are two stories being told side by side, with one narrative’s character addressing the other one. Nao writes her diary addressing the person who will find it and speaks to them as if they were already a part her life. At some points you aren’t sure who needs the other more, is the writer needing the reader, or is the reader needing the writer?
The juxtaposition of reading both the perspective of the writer and the reader, while yourself being an additional reader is trippy. It plays well into the themes brought up throughout the book, particularly the theme of time. Because time passes by differently for the writer, the reader of the diary, and then you the reader of the book. There are three different timelines, but everyone is centered on Nao’s story.
I was most stricken by Nao’s definition of “now”. Nao explains “now” as: “…in the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then. Then is the opposite of now. So saying now obliterates its meaning, turning it into exactly what it isn’t. It’s like the word is committing suicide or something.” This blew me away because she’s hitting the nail on the head. Can we ever capture the now? As I am typing now, it is already then. Is it futile to attempt to capture the now, when it will always be the then? Is even trying to capture the now not allowing you to experience the now?
The theme of exploring the conception of time resonated with me. Time is as elusive as the wind. You can feel it happening, but you can neither touch or see it. However, both wind and time can have physical effects on the world, and you can feel them both passing by. Time is also something that we all have to experience, regardless of how short or long we remain on this earth. However, it is not often enough that we appreciate time for what it is. Our time is limited; we only have so many heartbeats to be had, so spend them wisely.
“In reality, every reader, while he is reading, is the reader of his own self. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument, which he offers to the reader to permit him to discern what, without the book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself. The reader’s recognition in his own self of what the book says is the proof of its truth.” —Marcel Proust, Le temps retrouvé