Silver Press, 2023; edited by So Mayer and Sarah Shin
I don’t quite know why the Le Guin estate consented to this volume which – though lovely and a great thing to exist – contains only previously published Le Guin material and seems to have been edited and collated in some kind of fantasy long 19th century in which it’s presumed that it’s impossible for a person in England to [not only be aware of but also to] buy and read and enjoy books that have only been published in the United States [of America].
I’ve read a lot of Le Guin over the past five or six years (after finding a battered paperback copy of A Wizard of Earthsea on a South London wall when I perhaps needed it most) after, many years before that, ignorantly and childishly writing off her output back when I naively (and I’m sorry this happened) believed that only explicitly realist fiction (or experimental modernist forms) seeking to evoke a depiction of lifelike consciousness in an explicitly real world and contemporary setting was worth a damn.
How wrong I was.
Scum scum scum.
(((Don’t worry, though, if you’re offended and think I deserve to be punished, I have been – I can barely go fifteen seconds without distraction without starting to cry. I cry last thing at night and first thing in the morning. I cry whenever I’m alone in a room and I cry on the train and the tube and when I’m walking to the station and when I’m cooking and when I’m on the toilet and when I’m in a lift and when I’m walking down a corridor and when I’m talking and when I’m sleeping (probably) and when I’m doing anything. The naiveté has affected me, long term, and I remain punished with a directionless and deeply, deeply, fundamentally unsatisfying life in a city and country I despise with never a moment of joy except except except those I wring out by mistake and by forgetting forgetting forgetting where I am. (The Carnivorous Plant did a bit of damage to me, psychologically. I shouldn’t have read it.))))
Presuming you love the writing of Ursula K Le Guin but don’t know how to order books online or in-person in a bookshop where the proprietor has a computer with internet access and any semblance of 21st century customer service ethos, there’s something new to read here, and even if that isn’t you (it isn’t me!) it is – of course – pleasant (pleasant!) to have all of these Le Guin texts (linked only by an explicit discussion of gender, feminism and the intersections of these discussions with literature, higher education and the publishing industry) in the same volume.
The texts within are ordered chronologically and go from the 1970s (with earlier pieces often directly reflecting on fiction Le Guin had written/published in previous years and how the texts no longer reflect her wiser understanding of her own politics) through until 2019, closing with a piece of fiction and one of the last few pieces of writing Le Guin finished before she journeyed on into the destination of death (died).
What this book’s wide sweep of Le Guin’s career affords, then, is the ability to see a cross section and to see – in what is a rare and lucky experience most of us don’t get – how she was able to be not just sharp and perceptive and articulate when waaaaay past the age most people have lost the ability to reflect and grow (which is around 50 maybe (40? even younger?), and b) how she remained engaged with popular culture and with shifting political realities, how she never descended into reactionary stultified “back in my day” kinda bullshit never in her life.
Le Guin was a “good ‘un” (good one (good person)) right to the end: evolving, improving, working on herself and her self expression. Wow. Impressive. Yes.
Le Guin is funny, Le Guin is moving, Le Guin is perceptive and articulate and able to question herself and her experiences and previous opinions and she offers reasons and explanations when she changes her mind and she doesn’t try to pretend that she is or was perfect or faultless. Even though, kinda, she was.
There’s poetry in here, introductions to other people’s books, there are pieces written for performance and lectures and pieces of fiction, too. There’s a variety and a cacophony of texts that speaks to Le Guin’s dextrousness as well as her creativity.
Is it an essential collection? No. Are there pieces by Le Guin that would be relevant to the themes of the collection that don’t appear here? Yes, lots. If the fiction had been absent and the book had been 2/3 the size, would it have been tighter as well as shorter? If excerpts from novels and more short stories (i.e. fiction, which the majority of Le Guin’s output was) had been added in to bump up the page count from its slim 230ish pages to a bigger number (any number?) would it be as beautiful and perfect a physical object as it has turned out? I don’t know.
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I’m sad and I’m scared and I don’t know what’s going on and the last few times I read Ursula Le Guin (bar Earthsea) it was in those massive Library of America volumes that go on and on and beautifully on.
I think every volume of Ursula Le Guin should be 1,000 pages long.
This one wasn’t. But it was brilliant all the same. And you’ve always gotta support the indie presses.
Order direct from Silver Press via this link
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