We left our mark in truck stops and motels across the country. So much was new to them. In Taos, New Mexico, Suzuki and Oh stayed in a pink adobe suite with a fireplace. They got drunk and made a small, cozy fire in the hearth, and when they ran out of firewood they burned the telephone book and the Bible, then a chair and a bed-post, and finally the bedroom itself. After the fire departement had left, Oh explained, somewhat sheepishly, "In Japan fireplaces are not so common."
I wouldn´t have expected this book to be so funny. I´m really enjoying it so far.
This is a story about drift. Drift in the sense of ocean currents that wash artifacts up on a distant shore. Drift in the sense of our lives, as we bob along, hopefully keeping our heads above the waves but sometimes finding it easier to let ourselves sink down to the bottom. And I think that the best headspace to read this book in, is to allow yourself to drift through the story.
It is a story that winds the lives of our two narrators, calling into question the role of reader and storyteller by way of quantum physics and Buddhism. Curious? Confused? Either you'll really get into A Tale for the Time Being, or it won't be your cup of tea. I suspect that fellow Murakami lovers will enjoy the existential nature of it.
So I'm not going to tell you any more. I'm not going to dissect character or give you more plot than you already have. Get comfortable, open it, take a deep breath, and plunge.
"My Year Of Meats" was a delightful read that provided an accessible story, engaging characters, humorous glimpses of two culture misunderstanding one another and still managed to take a serious look at the American meat industry and the American public's unwillingness to believe unpleasant truths.
Published in 1999, "My Year Of Meats" tells the story of Jane, a Japanese American documentarian, who spends a year making a series called “My American Wife” that is intended to promote the sale of American beef in Japan by showing wholesome American housewives cooking wholesome American meat.
Much humor arises from the gaps in perception between what is happening in front of the camera and what makes it to the TV show, the gap between Japanese and American views of wholesomeness and the gaps between how men and women react to things. It's a sign of Ruth Ozeki's skill that the same gaps are also used to generate empathy and compassion for the people involved.
One of the themes of the book is our willingness and ability to take in a fact-based view of the world and to take action on what we know. Jane's journey from seeing her role as "Hey, it's a job." through, "I want to be fair to the people I film" to "I need to do something about these abuses" provides a vehicle for us to consider how and why we engage with what we know. During her journey, Jane comes to the view that, to some extent, we all cultivate an level of ignorance to protect ourselves from "Bad Knowledge", that is, knowledge that we acquire from a constant barrage of bad news that leaves us feeling powerless because we can't act on what we know so we would rather no know it.
I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki's lightness of touch. Her people are believable. Her humour is compassionate in its way and yet she still manages to seed new ideas and concepts.
One of the joys of reading fiction is unexpectedly encountering a truth relevant to my daily life in a work written many years earlier.
Today, while listening to a book published eighteen years ago, I came across a truth that helped me to take a fresh look at Brexit and the election of Trump, two decisions that I have come to realise feel like a personal betrayal, undermining my understanding of the world.
The book was Ruth Ozeki's "My Year Of Meats". Published in 1999, it tells the story of, Jane, a documentarian who spends a year making a series called "My American Wife" that is intended to promote the sale of American beef in Japan by showing wholesome American housewives cooking wholesome American meat. By the end of year, Jane is no longer able to stay within the propagandist role she signed up for and wants to tell the truth about the adulteration of American meat.
Jane knows that much of this truth is already available in the public domain but that people, including herself a year earlier, resist knowing about it. She reflects that a constant barrage of bad news creates the self-defensive classification of some knowledge as "Bad Knowledge".
What Ozeki wrote next made me stop and go "Yes. Yes, that. I knew that but not how to say it.".
"Ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge has become synonymous with impotence.
…If we can’t act on knowledge then we can’t survive without ignorance. So we cultivate the ignorance.
…Fed on a media diet of really bad news, we live in a perpetual state of repressed panic. We are paralysed by bad knowledge from which the only escape is playing dumb. Ignorance becomes empowering because it enables people to live. Stupidity become pro-active, a political statement. Our collective norm.
I've always preferred knowledge to ignorance, even when the knowledge makes me angry or afraid or depressed, as so much of what I learn about Brexit and Trump does, but I recognise that mine is an outlier reaction. Ruth Ozeki's words capture the mainstream reaction and help me to understand the appeal of ignorance and why people put so much effort into preserving it.
I see now that sharing more "bad knowledge" is not the way to engage with "pro-active stupidity".
What is needed is a way to defeat the sense of impotence, to give people the ability to act and make a difference, to stop lecturing and start offering help.