Ursula Le Guin wrote extraordinary stories about extraordinary topics. She is pigeon-holed as a science fiction or fantasy writer, and that she was. But she could also have been correctly labeled a social-commentary novelist.
Whatever she was, she had a special talent for keeping readers in her grip, for making them see what they had never seen before, and for making them think about what she had written long after they had finished reading.
Her death last week created a hole in American letters that will not be filled easily.
Since her death, there have been a significant number of reviews and reconsiderations of her work.
One of those comes from Maria Popova (BrainPickings.org), who takes a look at Le Guin’s reflections on creativity in her book No Spare Time.
A fierce thinker and largehearted, beautiful writer who considered writing an act of falling in love, Le Guin left behind a vast, varied body of work and wisdom, stretching from her illuminations of the artist’s taskand storytelling as an instrument of freedom to her advocacy for public libraries to her feminist translation of the Tao Te Ching and her classic unsexing of gender.
In her final years, Le Guin examined what makes life worth living in a splendid piece full of her wakeful, winkful wisdom, titled “In Your Spare Time” and included as the opening essay in No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (public library) — the final nonfiction collection published in her lifetime, which also gave us Le Guin on the uses and misuses of anger.
Popova quotes from Le Guin’s book:
Kids used to have a whole lot of spare time, middle-class kids anyhow. Outside of school and if they weren’t into a sport, most of their time was spare, and they figured out more or less successfully what to do with it. I had whole spare summers when I was a teenager. Three spare months. No stated occupation whatsoever. Much of after-school was spare time too. I read, I wrote, I hung out with Jean and Shirley and Joyce, I moseyed around having thoughts and feelings, oh lord, deep thoughts, deep feelings… I hope some kids still have time like that. The ones I know seem to be on a treadmill of programming, rushing on without pause to the next event on their schedule, the soccer practice the playdate the whatever. I hope they find interstices and wriggle into them. Sometimes I notice that a teenager in the family group is present in body — smiling, polite, apparently attentive — but absent. I think, I hope she has found an interstice, made herself some spare time, wriggled into it, and is alone there, deep down there, thinking, feeling.
OntheMedia.org has a broader review of LeGuin’s life and work, and those interested in her work should listen in: https://www.wnyc.org/story/le-guin-legacy/
Le Guin wrote groundbreaking, mind-bending speculative fiction like The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness that cut to the heart of gender, politics, morality, and what it means to live and to die, all in exquisite prose. She believed that the most fertile ground for radical ideas was science fiction, and defended it against literary snobs.
The piece includes an interview with her biographer Julie Phillips, who talks about Le Guin’s use of science fiction.
Check out Phillips’ 2016 New Yorker article about Le Guin.
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