Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Power of Books

In Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, both Nao and Ruth (the character) show their changing views on life through their relationship with books.  I have also learned how to better connect with fellow students and staff through reading.

Ruth is a novelist who moves from New York City to Vancouver Island with her husband and mother.  She initially struggles with the move, as is illustrated by her dependent relationship on books.  Ruth feels a connection to her home through her books.  However, this tie begins to wither with time.  Ozeki writes, “Recently, however, she had started to notice that the damp sea air had swollen their pages and the silverfish had taken up residence in their spines.  When she opened the covers, they smelled of mold.  This made her sad.”  The degradation of her books mirrors her creeping misgivings about moving to “Desolation Sound.”  Ruth is again comforted and intrigued when she discovers Nao’s diary.  After finishing the journal, her husband Oliver asks whether she is happy, to which she responds, “Yes, I suppose I am.  At least for now.”  Readers are led to believe that although Ruth is now settled in her new home, she is still motivated to continue writing and living.

Nao is young girl living in Tokyo.  Ruth learns her story by reading her diary, which is in a “hacked” book by Proust.  The more Ruth reads in Nao’s diary, the more readers get to know her, discovering that she is really a complex character with many burdens.  We learn Nao is suicidal and only wants to live long enough to write down her grandmother Jiko’s story.  By the end of the story, both characters have come a long way.  My favorite passage in the book was the last paragraph when Nao decides to continue writing.  She expresses a new keenness to learn, and it seems as though her ambition has been restored.  Readers can only hope this means a new beginning for Nao.
Books are used throughout the novel to help characters transition in both places and states of mind.  I have also learned how books affect my life in my own experiences at UW-Madison.  I came from a small town in northern Wisconsin, and moving to a large school was a big change.  The Go Big Read book has helped me feel welcome in such a different place by connecting me with other students.  Also, like Ruth, I brought a couple of books from home as a comfort in a new place.  When I was speaking with one of my professors, I mentioned how I had brought The Great Gatsby with me.  This is one of his favorite books and we ended up talking in length about it.  I realize I have undergone a transformation, just as Ruth and Nao did.  Books are no longer just a comfort to me; they are a way to connect with others.  I am now more confident and social in light of this transformation.  I enjoyed learning these characters’ stories and look forward to applying the lessons they learned to my life.

Dana Kampa

UW-Madison student

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