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Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writers Week Hardcover – October 18, 2016
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Zoe Carpenter, The Nation
"In fact, it was the mainstream that ended up transformed. By breaking down the walls of genre, Le Guin handed new tools to twenty-first-century writers working in what Chabon calls the borderlands,” the place where the fantastic enters literature."
Julie Phillips, The New Yorker
Spills over with insight, outrage and humor. In 'Making Up Stories,' Le Guin implores her audience not to ask where she gets her ideas: 'I have managed to keep the address of the company where I buy my ideas a secret all these years, and I’m not about to let people in on it now.' Of Dr. Zhivago, Le Guin confesses that 'I now realize how much I learned about how to write a novel from [Boris] Pasternak: how you can leap across miles and years so long as you land in the right place; how accuracy of detail embodies emotion; how by leaving more out you can get more in.’"
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
[W]hat she says of poetryIts primary job is simply to find the words that give it its right, true shape”might well be said of all the shapely pieces in this generous, edifying, and invaluable collection." Michael Cart, Booklist (starred review)
"Le Guin (The Real and the Unreal), an honored and prodigious fiction writer, will delight her many fans with these 67 selections of her recent nonfiction. The wide-ranging collection includes essays, lectures, introductions, and reviews, all informed by Le Guin’s erudition, offered without academic mystification, and written (or spoken) with an inviting grace. Herself a genre-defying writer most associated with science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin frequently challenges the restrictiveness of genre-based value judgments that relegate science fiction to a literary ghetto.” Le Guin’s book speaks both to readers, in the succinct and lucid reviews and introductions, and to writers, as in Making Up Stories,” in which she urges writers to be readers, and The Hope of Rabbits,” her journal of a week at a writers’ retreat. Le Guin’s nominal topic is often a book, but her subjects are more complex, reaching deeply into the nexus of politics and language, women’s issues, the effects of technology, and books as commerce. In a resonating essay, What Women Know,” Le Guin discusses the differences between stories told by men and women, remarking, I think it’s worth thinking about.” That’s this collection in a nutshell: everywhere something to think about." Publishers Weekly
Collected nonfiction by the prolific, multiaward-winning writer.The author of novels (21), short stories (11 volumes), essays (four collections), children’s books (12), poetry (six volumes), and translations (four volumes), Le Guin (Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, 2015, etc.) also writes book reviews and occasional essays, delivers talks, and contributes introductions to other writers’ works. These short pieces comprise a volume that, like many such miscellaneous collections, is uneven, but the few minor pieces are outweighed by several gems. Among the latter is an evocative memoir of the elegant, somewhat eccentric house in which the author grew up in California and where her family lived for 54 years, designed by the renowned architect Bernard Maybeck. The house was remarkably beautiful, delightfully comfortable, and almost entirely practical.” Not completely, however, since it lacked stairs to the basement, and those to the upper floors ended in steps so narrow, furniture movers met their doom.” Le Guin remembers the mellow, silken redwood of the interior, which imparted a special, pleasant fragrance. In another moving piece, the author recalls what it was like to be twenty and pregnant in 1950,” before Roe vs. Wade, risking being expelled from college and choosing to have an abortion rather than bring a child into a bleak future. Many pieces reflect her commitment to craft, her belief in the endurance of the book as physical object, and her objections to the false categorical value judgment” that elevates literature” above genrewhich would include much of Le Guin’s output of science fiction and children’s books. Literature is the extant body of written art,” she writes. All novels belong to it.” One excellent piece, not previously published, rails against the masculine orientation of discussion of books and authors in the press.” In a review of Kent Haruf’s Benediction, Le Guin remarks on a character’s humor so dry it’s almost ether.” That praise applies to Le Guin as well in a collection notable for its wit, unvarnished opinions, and passion." Kirkus Reviews
Reviews for the new edition of Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story
"A must-read for intermediate and advanced writers of fiction and memoir." Library Journal, STARRED
"A succinct, clear, and encouraging companion for aspiring writers." Kirkus Reviews
"It would be churlish to deny the benefits of this thoughtful, concise volume...In essence, Le Guin reveals the art of craft and the craft of art...this book is a star by which to set one's course." Publishers Weekly, STARRED
There is no better spirit in all of American letters than that of Ursula Le Guin.” Slate
Le Guin is a writer of enormous intelligence and wit, a master storyteller with the humor and force of a Twain. She creates stories for everyone from New Yorker literati to the hardest audience, children. She remakes every genre she uses.” Boston Globe
About the Author
In recent years she has received lifetime achievement awards from World Fantasy Awards, Los Angeles Times, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and Willamette Writers, as well as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award and the Library of Congress Living Legends award. Le Guin was the recipient of the Association for Library Service to Children’s May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award and the Margaret Edwards Award.
Her recent publications include three survey collections: The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas; The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories; and The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena, Stories and Songs (Library of America) as well as a new collection of poetry, Late in the Day. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and her website is ursulakleguin.com.
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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 on YouTube.