Ruth Ozeki’s new novel, “The Book of Form and Emptiness,” will be released by Viking on Sept. 21.
One year after the death of his beloved musician father, 13-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.
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.
Ozeki is a novelist, filmmaker, and Zen Buddhist priest. She is the award-winning author of three novels, “My Year of Meats,” “All Over Creation,” and “A Tale for the Time Being,” which was a finalist for the 2013 Booker Prize. Her nonfiction work includes a memoir, “The Face: A Time Code,” and a documentary film, “Halving the Bones.” She is affiliated with the Everyday Zen Foundation and teaches creative writing at Smith College, where she is the Grace Jarcho Ross 1933 Professor of Humanities.
Named a “Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2021” by Time, Vulture, Los Angeles Times, Lit Hub, The Millions, Publishers Weekly and Bookpage.
“Ozeki has shifted her readers’ way of perceiving what is ‘normal’ through a sort of slow, capillary action. Her books are not didactic, but they are useful; they’re not mission-driven, but they are richly moral. She writes urgently about the environment — you leave an Ozeki book knowing more about ocean contamination or factory farming — and her novels tend to include a painful parent-child rupture as well as a burbling stream of absurdist humor . . . Ozeki started writing ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ eight years ago, but it is eerily suited to what readers are going through now, a quantum companion to ‘A Tale for the Time Being’: If time is part of healing, sorting through matter — through stuff — is part of mourning.” — New York Magazine
“Heartfelt . . . Ozeki, a practicing Buddhist priest, infuses her story with Zen philosophy, using themes of mindfulness and our connection to the living world to highlight pressing modern concerns like climate change, capitalism and the function of art. Inventive, vivid and propelled by a sense of wonder, ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ will delight younger and older readers alike.” — Time
“In giving the Book a point of view, Ozeki creates a loquacious, animated voice with ideas about other books, the past, the need for human stories and the mutual needs of humans and books. . . With this well-developed voice, Ozeki plays humorously with ideas about what a novel is — about the development of a story, how it gets told, who tells it, who hears it and how books affect people . . . Ozeki, who is a Zen Buddhist priest and filmmaker, takes up big ideas about this moment on our planet, but also offers close descriptions of memorable images that make the prose absorbing . . . These images reverberate long after the reading, speaking to Ozeki’s broad and benign vision of connected beings.” — Seattle Times
“With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way.” — The Millions
“[A] poignant and funny story.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“If what you need right now is to sink into a big, warm, literary bath, this is the book for you. It’s not that Ozeki’s latest novel isn’t challenging, it’s just that it manages to be so while also being pure pleasure, especially if you’re the kind of person who once had mostly books for friends . . . It’s a big book in more ways than one, complex and ambitious and wide-ranging, but honestly also just so charming I found it hard to walk away from, even when I was done.” — Emily Temple, Lit Hub
“Ozeki’s illuminating postmodern latest […] explores themes of mourning, madness, and the powers of the imagination . . . Ozeki playfully and successfully breaks the fourth wall […] and she cultivates a striking blend of young adult fiction tropes with complex references to Walter Benjamin, Zen Buddhism, and Marxist philosophy. This is the rare work that will entertain teenagers, literary fiction readers, and academics alike.” — Publishers Weekly
“[Ozeki] writes with bountiful insight, exuberant imagination, and levitating grace about psychic diversity, our complicated attitude toward our possessions, street protests, climate change, and such wonders as crows, the moon, and snow globes. Most inventively, Ozeki celebrates the profound relationship between reader and writer. This enthralling, poignant, funny, and mysterious saga, thrumming with grief and tenderness, beauty and compassion, offers much wisdom.” — Booklist (starred)
“A great premise, one that perfectly captures how it feels to be a child falling into a lifelong love of reading. It’s a book for book people, exploring how books can offer meaning and – in this case, literally – speak to us.” — BookPage
“A meditative tribute to books, libraries, and Zen wisdom.” — Kirkus
“This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ light your way home.” — David Mitchell, Booker Prize-finalist author of “Cloud Atlas” and “Utopia Avenue”
“Heart-breaking and heart-healing—a book to not only keep us absorbed but also to help us think and love and live and listen. No one writes quite like Ruth Ozeki and ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ is a triumph.” — Matt Haig, New York Times bestselling author of “The Midnight Library”
“This is both an extremely vivid picture of a small family enduring unimaginable loss, and a very powerful meditation on the way books can contain the chaos of the world and give it meaning and order. Annabelle and Benny Oh try to stay afloat in a sea of things, news, substances, technological soullessness, and psychiatric quagmires, and the way they learn to live and breathe and even swim through it all feels like the struggle we all face. ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ builds on the themes of ‘A Tale for the Time Being,’ and ratifies Ozeki as one of our era’s most compassionate and original minds.” — Dave Eggers, author of “The Circle” and “The Parade*
“Once again, Ozeki has created a masterpiece. Her generous heart, remarkable imagination, and brilliant mind light up every page.” — Karen Joy Fowler, author of “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”
“Ozeki has done it again. This time she crosses into new dimensions, breathing life into pages, enticing us into an intimate world. Richly imagined, gorgeously executed, ‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ is a remarkable book.” — David Eagleman, acclaimed neuroscientist and author of “Livewired”