First College Year Common Reading 2015
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TopA Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

Ruth Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest, whose award-winning novels have been described as "witty, intelligent and passionate." The daughter of a Japanese mother and a Caucasian-American father, she was born and raised in New Haven, Connecticut. She attended Smith College and graduated with degrees in English Literature and Asian Studies. She received a Japanese Ministry of Education Fellowship to pursue graduate work in classical Japanese literature at Nara Women’s University. During her years in Japan, she worked in Kyoto’s entertainment or "water" district as a bar hostess, studied Noh drama and mask carving, founded a language school, and taught on the faculty of Kyoto Sangyo University.

Her first two novels, My Year of Meats (1998) and All Over Creation (2003), have been translated into 11 languages and published in 14 countries. Her most recent work and the Brooklyn College First College Year Common Reading selection for 2015, A Tale for the Time Being (2013), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been published in over thirty countries. 

Ruth's 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.

A longtime Buddhist practitioner, Ruth ordained in 2010 and is affiliated with the Brooklyn Zen Center and the Everyday Zen Foundation.

She lives in British Columbia and New York City.

This page by the Brooklyn College Library is meant to act as a supplement to the 2015 First College Year Common Reading events and activities, which include students writing their own memoirs, reading groups and panel discussions by our faculty, and even a visit by the author herself. Click here to visit the official Freshman Common Reading site.

If you are a first-year student and you have not yet received your copy of A Tale for the Time Being, stop by 3208 Boylan Hall.

Happy reading!

TopRuth Ozeki: Reviews & Interviews

The Freshman Common Reading experience is meant to build community, foster dialogue, and be fun!

There is so much to talk about in A Tale for the Time Being.  On the one hand, it's a simple coming-of-age story about Nao, whose family returns to Japan after her father loses his Silicon Valley job.  But the book's concerns are also historical, cultural, and philosophical, and the ways that Ozeki interweaves its many themes is astonishing: the nature of time, transnationalism, Japan's history and culture, Buddhism, meditation, Kamikaze pilots during World War II, teenage bullying, depression, suicide, death, memory, biculturalism and cultural assimilation, the Japanese tsunami, ecological disasters, and the fate of the planet.

Check out these primary and secondary sources to dig deeper into the book and explore just a few of its many themes, whether for personal interest, or to help you in your ENGL 1010 class.

Watch the official trailer for A Tale for the Time Being.



Lost and Found: 'A Tale for the Time Being' by Ruth Ozeki (New York Times Sunday Book Review)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - review (The Guardian, UK)

Ruth Ozeki's 'A Tale for the Time Being' is a diary, a puzzle, a novel (LA Times)

Review: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki (The Independent, UK)



A Conversation with Ruth Ozeki (Penguin Books)

Tsunami Delivers A Young Diarist's 'Tale' Of Bullying and Depression (NPR)

Where We Are for the Time Being with Ruth Ozeki (Los Angeles Review of Books)

"A Universe of Many Worlds": An Interview with Ruth Ozeki (MELUS 38.3, 160-171)


TopJapan: History & Culture

Within the pages of Nao's diary, she recounts to Ruth (and to us, the readers) the story of her great grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old Zen Buddhist nun.  By hearing Jiko's story, we learn about Nao's recovery, her family history, and the history, religion, and culture of modern Japan.

A History of Japan: From Stone Age to Superpower (e-book by Kenneth G. Henshall, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Contemporary Japan: History, Politics and Social Change Since the 1980s (e-book by Jeff Kingston, John Wiley & Sons, 2013)

Japan Copes With Calamity: Ethnographies of the Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disasters of March 2011 (e-book edited by Tom Gill, Brigitte Steger and David H. Slater, Peter Lang, 2013)

Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers (e-book by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Women Living Zen: Japanese Sōtō Buddhist Nuns (e-book by Paula Kane Robinson Arai, Oxford University Press, 1999)

Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness (by James H. Austin, MIT Press, 1998)


TopAsian Americans and Biculturalism

Nao was born in Japan but her family moved to Sunnyvale, California when she was three years old.  She has no memory of Japan and considers herself American.  But suddenly, at sixteen, she finds herself transplanted back to Japan.  In school, Nao is cast as "the foreign kid."  Adjusting to life, language, and culture in a "new" country are issues that Nao struggles with throughout the book.

Building the American Mosaic: A Report from the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Asian American Assimilation: Ethnicity, Immigration, and Socioeconomic Attainment (e-book by C. N. Le, LFB Scholarly Pub)

Rethinking Japanese American "Heritage" in the Homeland by Ayako Takamori (article from Critical Asian Studies 42.2, 2010)


TopTeenagers in the US and Japan: Bullying & Depression

Nao is relentlessly bullied by her classmates in Tokyo.  Because she doesn't fit in, Nao struggles with depression and experiences suicidal thoughts, which she records in her diary.  Luckily, she gains strength when she visits her great-grandmother Jiko, a Zen Buddhist nun, and learns the ways of "time beings."

Discriminatory Bullying: A New Intercultural Challenge (e-book by Esoh Elamé, Springer, 2013)

Bullying as a Social Malady in Contemporary Japan by Jacqueline Noel Tremly (article from International Social Work 44.1, 2001)

A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Factors Associated With School Bullying in Japan and the United States by Jeanne M. Hilton, Linda Anngela-Cole, and Juri Wakita (article from The Family Journal 18.4, 2010)

Physiological Stress Response of Young Adults Exposed to Bullying During Adolescence by Lisa Dawn Hamilton et al. (article from Physiology & Behavior 95.5, 2008)

Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide by Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin (article from Archives of Suicide Research 14.3, 2010)