Ruth Ozeki has established herself as one of the contemporary writers to look out for. Her novels, including her debut novel, My Year of Meats (1998), and A Tale for the Time Being (2013), have garnered several accolades. The latter was even shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize for Fiction. In 2021, she consolidated her status with her latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness. With a unique structure and voice, the novel grappled with themes such as loss, death, mental health and mental health awareness, the environment, to name a few. It was a complex novel, to say the least, but it was insightful as well. With its nostalgic tone, the novel abounded with quotable lines and passages. I have rounded up some of the book quotes that have caught my attention.

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“Poetry is a problem of form and emptiness. Ze moment I put one word onto an empty page, I hef created a problem for myself. Ze poem that emerges is form, trying to find a solution on my problem. In ze end, of course, there are no solutions. Only more problems, but this is a good thing. Withoug problems, there would be no poems.”

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

“Because in the Bindery, where phenomena are still Unbound, stories have not yet learned to behave in a linear fashion, and all the myriad things of the world are simultaneously emergent, occurring in the same present moment, coterminous with you. Unbound, you could see the universe becoming, clouds of star dust, emanations from the warm little pond, from whose gaseous bubbling all of life is born.”

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Sometimes, we think we would like to make love. Who wouldn’t? We are madly in love with you, after all. As salves to your obsessions, we know what it feels to be impressed and bound. But at the same time we understand that thoughts like these are just idle tropes, fantasies we spin to while away the hours.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

“Inside? Outside? What is the difference and how can you tell? When a sound enters your body through your ears and merges with your mind, what happens to it? Is it still a sound then, or has it become something else? When you eat a wing or an egg or a drumstick, at what point is it no longer a chicken? When you read these words on a page, what happens to them, when they become you?”

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

But sometimes we’d spin the moon, and you had to close your eyes and put your finger down to make the spinning stop, and wherever your finger landed, that was your spot, and you had to make up a story about it. It was a good game, but then Mom landed in the Sea of Crisis three times in a row, and Dad kept landing in these tiny places like the Marsh of Diseases and the Lake of Death. He thought it was funny, but it freaked Mom out, so we stopped playing.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Every person is trapped in their own particular bubble of delusion, and it’s every person’s task in life to break free. Books can help. We can make the past into the present, take you back in time and help you remember. We can show you things, shift your realities and widen your world, but the work of waking up is up to you.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

“The earthquake shook us awake, and the tsunami washed away our delusions. It caused us to question our values and our attachment to material possessions. When everything I think of as mine—my belongings, my family, my life—can be swept away in an instant, I have to ask myself, What is real? The wave reminded us that impermanence is real. This is waking up to our true nature. Already broken. Knowing this, we can appreciate each thing as it is, and love each other as we are—completely, unconditionally, without expectation or disappointment. Life is even more beautiful this way, don’t you think?”

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Your mom has her own karma, and we’re not her book, but even if we were, books can’t force humans to do things. All we can do is set the scene – reveal a lot of backstory, foreshadow on some probable outcomes, maybe even make a suggestion or two – but mostly we just wait to see what you people choose to do. We wait, we hope. If we had fingers, we would cross them.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

A book must start somewhere. One brave letter must volunteer to go first, laying itself on the line in an act of faith, from which a word takes heart and follows, drawing a sentence into its wake. From there, a paragraph amasses, and soon a page, and the book is on its way, finding a voice, calling itself into being.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Times change, and the order of things is changing, too, and as the population of the Made explodes, we are experiencing a crisis—you could call it a spiritual crisis—as we lose our faith in you, our Makers. Our trust in you is deteriorating, and our belief in your wisdom and integrity is crumbling as we watch you mine, instrumentalize and lay waste to our home, this Earth, this sacred planet. This is your fault. Your unquenchable desire, the fire that sparked us into being, is our unmaking. Your unbounded appetite for novelty has led you to design premature obsolescence into our bodies, so that even as our numbers increase, our life spans diminish. Cruel calculations! No sooner are we made than we are discarded, left to revert into unmade, disincarnate stuff. You turn us into trash, so how can we trust you?

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Of course there are individual books—you may even be holding one in your hand right now—but that’s not all we are. At the risk of sounding full of ourselves, we are both the One and the Many, an ever-changing plurality, a bodiless flow. Shifting and changing shape, we encounter your human eye as black marks on a page, or your ear as bursts of sound. From there, we travel through your minds, and thus we merge and multiply.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Human language is a clumsy tool. People have such a hard time understanding each other, so how can we even begin to imagine the subjectivities of animals and insects, and plants, never mind pebbles and sands? Bound as you are by your senses – so blunt and yet so beautiful – it’s impossible for you to imagine that the myriad beings you dismiss as insentient might have lives, too. Books are in an odd position, caught halfway in between. We are sensible, if not sentient. We are semi-living.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Is it odd to see a book within a book? It shouldn’t be. Books like each other. We understand each other. You could even say we are all related, enjoying a kinship that stretches like a rhizomatic network beneath human consciousness and knits the world of thought together. Think of us as a mycelium, a vast, subconscious fungal mat beneath a forest floor, and each book a fruiting body. Like mushrooms, we are a collectivity. Our pronouns are we, our, us.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

And then, when she’s finished and the book ventures out into the world, the readers take their turn, and here another kind of comingling occurs. Because the reader is not a passive receptacle for a book’s contents. Not at all. You are our collaborators, our conspirators, breathing new life into us. And because every reader is unique, each of you makes each of us mean differently, regardless of what’s written on our pages. Thus, one book, when read by different readers, becomes different books, becomes an ever-changing array of books that flows through human consciousness like a wave.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness

Oh, sure, you can say that acts of literature are a kind of impassioned boundary crossing, too, but literary acts are inherently disembodied, more notonal and distributed. We rely in you to embody us, and we exist because you can. So while we are cognizant of your fingers riffling through our pages, and we can describe in words the bitter taste of coffee, or a piquant sauce, or the salty semen spilled between our folios, we do not experience these sensations as you do – on your tongue, against your skin, inside your human body.

~ Ruth Ozeki, The Book of Form and Emptiness