Reading and Discussion Guide: A Tale for the Time Being, Everybody Reads 2023

Here are some questions to consider while reading and discussing Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, Multnomah County Library's Everybody Reads title for 2023.

1. The title of Ozeki’s book hints at many meanings, which are explored throughout the book. What does it mean to be a "time being" and how is that reflected in each of the characters’ ways of looking at the world? 

2. Places like Tokyo, Silicon Valley, New York City and British Columbia provide the backdrop for characters in the story. Nao and Ruth feel ill at ease in the new places where they settle. What is the connection between geography and belonging, and how are Ruth and Nao different and alike as they try to fit in?

3. When Nao’s classmates take bullying to a new level by staging a mock funeral for her, they post it on social media. Nao takes a sort of perverse pleasure in watching the views rise on the video. What comment do you think the author might be making about the identities we present online, and how that impacts our sense of self? Are there other places in the story where this theme arises?

4. As Nao and Ruth’s stories unfold, a connection between them grows, even though they haven’t met. How does this connection mirror the relationship between any writer and reader? Is there an implied mutual obligation or collaboration in this partnership? How do reader and writer combine to, as Nao says “make magic”?

5. Ruth’s husband Oliver observes, “We live in a bully culture.” How did you respond to the passages describing the bullying to which Nao is subjected? What did you make of Nao’s bullying of her classmate, Daisuke, in turn? From your own lived experience, does Oliver’s assertion feel true?  

6. Discuss the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat. How does it relate to discussions of time and being in the book? How does the fact of discovering stories in boxes or other kinds of containers (journals, books) parallel the concept?

7.  Some readers have suggested that Ruth and Nao are two parts of a whole person. In the story, we see many characters who are struggling, and who are fractured in some way. Is there a character who doesn’t fall into this category, and what role does that person play?

Find more questions for discussion from Penguin Random House.

Everybody Reads 2023, a community reading project of Multnomah County Library, is made possible by gifts to The Library Foundation with author appearance made possible by Literary Arts.


Thank you for introducing me to this engaging and multilayered book - I am especially appreciating my new favorite word: zazen - I am going to practice more zazen to build my supapowa <3

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