- ISBN-13: 9781618731340
- ISBN-10: 1618731343
- Publisher: Small Beer Press
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 352
- Dimensions: 9 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
Well Read: Le Guin's still got it
When writers and artists reach a certain age, we begin to call them national treasures, and Ursula K. Le Guin, at 87, is certainly one. Though much of her work has been classified as science fiction and fantasy, which has perhaps placed some limits on the reach of her readership, she has also written many volumes’ worth of realistic fiction, poetry, children’s books and nonfiction. Le Guin herself has bridled for years about the unfair relegation of “genre” fiction to the dust heap of literature, and certainly her own work, which transcends such classification, deserves its place in the contemporary pantheon.
Words Are My Matter collects essays and occasional pieces written between 2000 and 2016 and offers a penetrating tour of the still-sharp mind of this intelligent, generous-of-spirit writer. In these pieces, Le Guin tackles many of her signature concerns, including the aforementioned defense of genre writing, themes of language and myth that have permeated her work, and her development as a woman writer in an industry once completely dominated, and still heavily weighted in favor of, men. Not afraid to bite the hand that feeds her, as it were, she writes passionately against the corporatization of publishing and the fact that books have become viewed as commodities by many of the companies that produce them. Le Guin does not lapse into angry diatribes, though. She is too gifted and thoughtful to reduce the world to terms of black and white.
Some of the most captivating writing here is highly personal, and ever imaginative, even within the confines of nonfiction. In “Living in a Work of Art,” for instance, Le Guin recalls growing up in a quirky, Bernard Maybeck-designed house in the Napa Valley, and contemplates whether such a childhood home played any role in the development of her imagination. Indeed, the use of the imagination, a propellant of much of Le Guin’s work, is often at the forefront of these essays. “Imagination is not a means of making money,” she writes in “The Operating Instructions.” “It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.”
Le Guin—both here and in her fiction—is not an alarmist. She is a pragmatist, an optimist and ever open to ideas. She ends this book with a journal of a writer’s week, spent at a women writer’s retreat, which offers an illuminating portrait of the artist. “If I had not found a story to write, I wonder how it would have been?” she asks. “I worked, I worked, the joy of my life.”
We can be grateful that we never need to know what the world would be like had Le Guin not found her stories to write. In a more equitable literary world, she would have long ago been awarded the Nobel Prize for her global and visionary body of work. Instead, she will need to content herself with the many awards she’s received—from multiple Hugos and Nebulas to the National Book Award, the PEN-Malamud and the Library of Congress Living Legends award.