sturgeonslawyer (sturgeonslawyer) wrote,

Read: Words Are My Matter, by Ursula K. Le Guin (2016-57)

I have never met a book by Le Guin that I didn't enjoy - no, not even the seemingly-much-disliked _Malafrena_ - and this isn't one either. Le Guin's nonfiction has been special to me since the essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," which was read aloud to raucous laughter at a Mythopoeic meeting, and pre-destroyed that month's fated, or rather _doomed_, book.

This particular collection of nonfiction, almost all from the actual if not the nominal 21st Century, is divided into three almost-thirds and a final bit.

The first almost-third consists of "Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces," on topics ranging from a (most gracious) response to essays on one of her books to her young life in a house designed by Bernard Maybeck, from the disappearing of women writers to animals in fiction, and culminating quite satisfactorily with the now-somewhat-famous short speech Le Guin gave in accepting the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, itself a huge contribution to American letters. These pieces simply sparkle with Le Guin's wit and humanity.

The second almost-third consists of "Book Introductions and Notes on Writers." Not surprisingly, Le Guin appears to have been asked on more than a few occasions to books. It also isn't surprising that most of the books sh'e asked to introduce are sf/f in nature. Here she writes generously of Dick and MacDonald, Wells and the Strugatsky brothers, and several others, including Boris Pasternak and Western writer H.L. Davis. For the books I'd read - most of them - they provided me with new insights; most of the others I now _want_ to read.

The last almost-third consists of "Book Reviews." This was the part of the book I anticipated most and enjoyed least, probably because most of them are very short, three to four pages, and just tease my attention before they're over. This was true of _some_ of the pieces in the earlier sections; but there it was varied with longer and even shorter pieces; here it creates a kind of repetitive rhythm that becomes, for me, a bit tiresome. But again I come away with several additions to my To-Read list, so that's all good.

Finally the "and a final bit" is the exception to the "almost all." In 1994, Le Guin spent a week at the Hedgebrook writer's colony, a place that gives women writers a quiet and peaceful environment in which to escape the quotidian and concentrate on their work. Here, she wrote (it says here) one of the novellas that form the story suite _Four Ways to Forgiveness_, and also a journal. The final bit is the journal. It is very rooted, says almost nothing about her process as a writer, and ties the book together into a whole in a way that I cannot explain, for I do not understand it, but it does.

If you love Le Guin's writing, you will love this book. If not, probably not. But you should at least read the prize speech ("Freedom"). It's very short and you can read it standing in the aisle at the library or bookstore, should you be so lucky as to still live near a bookstore. Or you can watch her deliver it here.
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