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The Book of Form and Emptiness (2021)

by Ruth Ozeki

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5772935,670 (4.14)84
"A brilliantly inventive new novel about loss, growing up, and our relationship with things, by the Booker Prize-finalist author of A Tale for the Time Being After the tragic death his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house-a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn't understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where "things happen." He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book-a talking thing-who narrates Benny's life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter. With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki-bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking"--… (more)
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» See also 84 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
This is a very intense story. It seems to be headed in one direction at the beginning, but takes a completely different tack about 20% of the way in. I found myself having to take breaks from time to time simply because the story pulled me in so completely I needed to back away. I imagine its similar to becoming so engrossed in a video game that hours go by before you know it. ( )
  grandpahobo | Nov 10, 2022 |
(8.5) It was good. A clever original format but I didn't love it. At times it dragged. ( )
  HelenBaker | Nov 8, 2022 |
Benny Oh’s father, Kenji, dies in a tragic accident when he is twelve, and he starts hearing voices from inanimate objects. His mother, Annabelle, starts hoarding. To help organize her life, Annabelle reads Tidy Magic and feels a connection with the author, a Buddhist nun. Benny begins skipping school and finds solace in the library. He develops friendships with two eccentric characters – a street artist and a wheelchair-bound veteran. A metaphysical aspect is introduced through the use of “the book” as a character. It speaks to Benny, and Benny speaks back. Benny is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, but his true mental state remains unclear.

This book a long and ambitious undertaking. It addresses a massive number of topics. One of the main topics is the impermanence of things and the inability to obtain happiness by accumulating them. Another is how books and readers interact – how each book is interpreted differently by each individual. Mental health is another topic, particularly how it is impacted by grief and loss, and the importance of social support networks. It contains philosophical elements of Zen Buddhism. It addresses homelessness and addiction.

I liked the combination of themes and topics but perhaps it was overly ambitious. It is a book filled with a continuous stream of tension, discomfort, stresses, and struggles. Overall, I can say I liked it and found it worthwhile, but I think it would have been more impactful if it had been more focused and shorter.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
A work of fiction that exceeds 400 pages must be exceptional to earn at least four stars using my rating formula. A book that exceeds 500 pages must be a masterpiece. Ozeki’s work is not a masterpiece, nor is it exceptional. Don’t get wrong. The book is imaginative, enlightening and even touching in some spots. But it simply drags on for too long. The saga of Benny and his mom could have been a riveting tale in the hands of a more discerning editor. I was intrigued by the book’s examination of mental illness and the challenges of coping with profound loss. But as the story moved beyond 400 pages, I was eager for it to end. ( )
  brianinbuffalo | Oct 23, 2022 |
Not sure I can describe this unique book. Grief. Hearing voices. Friendship. Gifts. Hoarding. Homelessness. Poetry. Books. Libraries. I loved it from beginning to end. ( )
  DonnaMarieMerritt | Oct 19, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
The title – taken from the Buddhist heart sutra – implies a more earnest book than is the case; The Book of Form and Emptiness is a big, polyphonic, often comic, magical-realist collage of a novel [...]
added by Nevov | editThe Observer, Stephanie Merritt (Oct 10, 2021)
 
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Epigraph
(Pro captu lecoris) habent sua fata libelli.
(According to the capabilities of the reader) books have their own destinies.
-Walter Benjamin, "Unpacking My Library."
Dedication
For my dad, whose voice still guides me.
First words
A book must start somewhere. One brave letter must volunteer to go first, laying itself on the line in act of faith, from which a word takes heart and follows, drawing a sentence into its wake.
Quotations
Things are needy. They take up space. They want attention, and they will drive you mad if you let them.
Music or madness. It’s totally up to you.
Stories never start at the beginning, Benny. They differ from life in that regard. Life is lived from birth to death, from the beginning into an unknowable future. But stories are told in hindsight. Stories are life lived backward.
That’s what books are for, after all, to tell your stories, to hold them and keep them safe between our covers for as long as we’re able. We do our best to bring you pleasure and sustain your belief in the gravity of being human. We care about your feelings and believe in you completely.
Fantasies, being something that we books excel at. The real stories—the ones that happen—belong to you.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"A brilliantly inventive new novel about loss, growing up, and our relationship with things, by the Booker Prize-finalist author of A Tale for the Time Being After the tragic death his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house-a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn't understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous. At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where "things happen." He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many. And he meets his very own Book-a talking thing-who narrates Benny's life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter. With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki-bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking"--

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After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. So Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher-poet; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny's life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

Blending unforgettable characters with jazz, climate change and our attachment to material possessions, this is classic Ruth Ozeki - bold, humane and heartbreaking.
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