"From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, and with an introduction by Karen Joy Fowler, a collection of thoughts--always adroit, often acerbic--on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation. Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she's in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice -- sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical -- shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula's blog, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her wonder at it. On the absurdity of denying your age, she says, "If I'm ninety and believe I'm forty-five, I'm headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub." On cultural perceptions of fantasy: "The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is 'escapism' an accusation of? " On her new cat: "He still won't sit on a lap" -- "From acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin, a collection of thoughts--always adroit, often acerbic--on aging, belief, the state of literature, and the state of the nation"--
I was struck
"None of this is spare time. I can't spare it. What is Harvard thinking of? I am going to be eight-one next week. I have no time to spare."
I so related to this insight! I hate polls where I have the choice of checking 'retired' or 'housewife.' I am 'retired' because I collect Social Security, and I am a housewife because I do most, but not all of the cleaning and cooking and bill paying. But I have no spare time. I read, I write book reviews, I design and make quilts, I do research on genealogy. I am not paid for any of it, unless you call free e-books, ARCs, galleys and giveaway books 'payment.'
I was like, "You go, girl!"
The first essay I read was "Would You Please F******* Stop?" I had received the book in the mail the day of my family Christmas gathering, the Thursday before Christmas Day. I opened the book to this chapter and read it out loud. Perhaps not the best choice, but my brother laughed. Le Guin attacks the abysmal decay of American English that peppers the f-word throughout every sentence uttered. Le Guin writes that the word has taken on overtones of "dominance, of abuse, of contempt, of hatred." She ends with, "God is dead, at least as a swear word, but hate and feces keep going strong."
My favorite essay It Doesn't Have to Be the Way it Is, which concerns imaginative literature and the nature of fantasy, and why fundamentalists find it objectionable.
The later essays did not all resonate with me, perhaps showing the generation gap between Le Guin and myself. I have no WWII idealization of service uniforms, even if my Uncle Dave's Navy whites are a fond memory. She talks about the economy, politics, the feminist movement, but many times I felt dissatisfied and even bristled, while still a little unsure of what she meant. I was not comfortable with references to slapping children or her striking the cat.
In Lying it All Away Le Guin attacks political lying. In one paragraph she mentions Hitler, Nixon, Reagen, and Obama. The essay is dated October 2012, written shortly after the Obama-Romney debate. Le Guin remarks, "What was appalling to me about Obama's false figures and false promises in the first debate was they were unnecessary." I went to the Pulitzer Prize winning PoliticFact to see their fact checking of the debate claims by both Obama and Romney. Romney and Obama both made false statements and told half-truths, which tallied up come out about even. There is a bias in Le Guin's essay in that she only mentions one candidate.
That bothers me.
Le Guin is influential, a literary light and icon. But readers, I remind you to always consider that every artist and every work of art is personal, reflecting their own experience and perceptions. We must use critical thinking every time we open a book or watch a movie or listen to a song and not assume our icon's version of the world without thought.
I will say that Le Guin never shys away from saying her piece, even when she also remarks on her incompetence in an area.
The essays were entertaining, humorous, and thought provoking.
I received a free book from the publisher through a giveaway.
It was, and so much more. Her wisdom and inner grace shines in her writing, as does her acerbic wit.
There are some that deal with her personal life, mainly her one year old cat named Pard. These are absolutely delightful and insightful. She has intelligent opinions about many things, from our government, and the corporation owned Congress, to feminism and it's results through the years.
Love this quote, which is only one of many witty comments within. She writes about the absurdity of denying your age, "If I'm ninety and believe I'm forty five, I'm headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub." Common sense for sure and she has plenty of it, shown again and again in her writing. She writes exceedingly well, and I think I will stretch myself this coming year, and actually try one of her shorter works. If nothing else I am sure I will enjoy her writing, will see about the plot.
The author of more than a score of novels, mostly science fiction, and several
Her book's title comes from the last line of its first essay, one called "In Your Spare Time." This was triggered by a questionnaire she received from Harvard for her 60th class reunion. (She actually graduated from Radcliffe in 1951, but Radcliffe was affiliated with Harvard.) One question asked what she did in her spare time.
Le Guin reflects on how the meaning of the phrase "spare time" changes as one ages. For younger people it means "leisure time," whatever time is left after work and after household chores and parenting and other responsibilities are taken care of. At some point, after retirement, virtually all time becomes leisure time, meaning people can use their time however they wish. At least this seems true in theory, however untrue it may be in practice. Yet because time grows short as we age, there really is none to spare.
From there Le Guin goes on to tackle a variety of subjects, some relating to aging, others to literature, nature, her cat and, in one of her most entertaining pieces, putting our soldiers in camouflage. "I find it not only degrading but disturbing that we dress our soldiers in clothes suitable to jail or the loony bin, setting them apart not by looking good, looking sharp, but by looking like clowns from a broken-down circus."
As for her cat, she writes about Pard more than any other topic: how she got him, how he misbehaves only when he has an audience, how he catches mice but doesn't know what to do with them, and so on. Another essay focuses on a much bigger cat, a captive lynx that captivates her.
As a fantasy fan, I couldn't help but have heard of Le Guin though this is my first introduction to her works. I've most often seen her quoted in defending genre fiction (particularly science fiction and fantasy) as not being secondary to more literary fiction beloved by critics, so I knew I liked her. In this collection, though I often didn't agree with her political statements, I found much food for thought and enjoyed her way of expressing herself whether she was definite about something ("Old age is for anybody who gets there.") or grappling with questions ("What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?"). The descriptions of her cat were especially delightful to me, and interspersed in some of the heavier topics were a respite and made it easier for me to keep reading "one more essay..." before putting the book down.
Whether you are already an avid reader of Le Guin or if you are not a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, this collection is thogh-provoking, full of heart and joy, and a joy to read.
The essays were written as blog posts for
She says very little directly about politics, but the basic outline of her views is clear, as are her views on eating an egg, or finding her way in places where the streets are twisty and untrustworthy. She talks about the somewhat uncomfortable experience of having to hire a secretary, when her career had reached the point where she unavoidably needed help managing her correspondence.
She doesn't talk much about her writing, here, but this is a fascinating look inside the mind of a wonderful writer. Throughout these essays, she's thoughtful, insightful, funny and kind.
Very much recommended.
I bought this audiobook.
LeGuin is in her eighties now, and has seen a lot of changes in the world. Always the feminist and anti-authoritarian, she has said a lot about those subjects in her novels and continues to have lots to say about them. Her essays are written in simple but elegant prose and are a delight to read. Five stars.
LeGuin does not narrate the audio, but the woman that performs, captures her tone perfectly.
Le Guin's blog posts are gathered in this new book that is refreshing and packed with wisdom. With a gently acerbic voice, she confronts the silliness of denying one's age, discusses the time she refused a Nebula nomination, and muses about the many
Overall, a good read.
The line, p.65, 'I was socially unaware as only a middle-class white kid in a middle-class white city can be' at first struck me hard. I didn't live in a 'white' city but grew up in mostly white low-to-middle-class neighborhoods. I knew little of history in general, and especially didn't know of or understand the deprivations that too many minorities experienced in housing, education, employment, business and culture. Now that I do know more of the deplorable truth of racism and hate I regret and resent that I wasn't taught about these realities. Not an excuse but as a partial explanation, I believe that as Jews, my circle of family, friends, and teachers concentrated on our own minority status and issues. And were keenly trying to process our own hugely unfathomable victimhood and loss during The Holocaust during WWII.
I also feel that every group of people, immigrants and American-born firmly maintained their own identity, language, clothing style, and culture and weren’t comfortable mixing with or trying to understand or befriend others. Ethnocentrically, and ridiculously each group felt they were smarter, better than other groups, and therefore more worthy of better education, jobs, neighborhoods, etc. Unfortunately, we accepted and promoted stereotypes to further what we thought was our own specialness!
Glad this attitude changed over the years as we learned more about each other's cultures, and how we have much in common. But for every step in the right direction, there are always isolated incidents which unleash hate pushing us back to the status quo using fear, hyperbole, old tropes and lies. One key solution to this, I believe, is to undertake massive educational reform so children grow up knowing the unvarnished truth about this country, the good and the bad. This includes tossing out most current text books and writing ones with a balanced and global viewpoint. Hiring only the most open-minded, positive, creative, knowledgeable teachers with the highest levels of integrity, kindness and patience. Teaching financial literacy, civics, politics, increasing outdoor learning about the environment, climate, animals, survival, increasing guest teachers/speakers’ visits to schools, and add more of anything and everything to open minds and hearts.
‘A Band of Brothers, A Stream of Sisters’ is also compelling. Describes how men form homogeneous groups, keeping out ‘others.’ Wealthy brotherhoods don’t want underprivileged men; educated groups team up men with college degrees. This extends to all parts of life. In business, owners and managers prefer to hire people like themselves. This ‘brotherhood’ concept is ingrained in all areas of life: government, corporations, church, neighborhoods, education, recreation, etc. Women, on the other hand are more open-minded, and form more humanistic groups and relationships. But when women reach high-level corporate positions, they believe that to succeed their behavior needs to align with men’s expectations.
‘Laying it all away’ surprised me as to how many Americans are unwilling to make sacrifices to benefit other countries. Le Guin believes the US has lost its moral compass. Is that the world we truly want to live in?
In ‘About Anger’ Le Guin indicates that anger is just one step in the fight for justice. Follow-up steps are required to get people to agree on plans and actions to address injustice, and create new laws that stop injustice.
Personal anger, on the other hand, can originate from fear or jealousy, and if not controlled can lead to dangerous levels of hate and to violence.
One of my favorite essays is ‘The Horsies’ about how adults communicate the difference between fact and fiction without destroying the magic of the creative and imaginative spirit. Le Guin doesn’t believe adults should lie to children. Children are very vulnerable, and need to learn about the world around them from those they love and can trust. If adults lie, we are not helping them see the world accurately. With lies we risk losing their trust, and making the world more confusing and frightening.
A good, intelligent read.
Like the best writers of wisdom, Le Guin is able to link small moments to big ideas. I enjoyed almost every essay in some way, and I can see myself returning to this book to savor individual pieces of it in the future. Not just the world of science fiction, but the whole world is the poorer for having lost her.