Author(s): Ursula K. Le Guin
Words Are My Matter gathers talks, essays, introductions to beloved books, and book reviews by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of our foremost public literary intellectuals. A must-listen collection, Words Are My Matter is a manual for investigating the depth and breadth of contemporary fiction-and, through the lens of deep considerations of contemporary writing, a way of exploring the world we are all living in."We need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship." *Le Guin is one of those authors, and this is another of her moments. She has published more than sixty books ranging from fiction to nonfiction, children's books to poetry, and has received many lifetime achievement awards, including the Library of Congress Living Legends award.* From "Freedom," a speech in acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
"The collection articulates Le Guin's belief in the social and political value of storytelling, as well as her fear that corporatization has made the publishing landscape increasingly inhospitable to risk-takers, to those who insist on other ways. This is a real problem, particularly if we can't count on fresh water from the well of Le Guin's imagination. In a year stalked by the long shadows of authoritarianism, ecological collapse, and perpetual war, her writing feels more urgent than ever." -- 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 poetry--"Its 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 genre--which 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
Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received the Hugo, Nebula, Endeavor, Locus, Tiptree, Sturgeon, PEN-Malamud, and National Book Award and the Pushcart and Janet Heidinger Kafka prizes, among others. 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.
Table of Contents Foreword Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces The Operating Instructions What It Was Like Genre: A Word Only a Frenchman Could Love "Things Not Actually Present" A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti The Beast in the Book Inventing Languages How to Read a Poem: "Gray Goose and Gander" On David Hensel's Submission to the Royal Academy of Art On Serious Literature Teasing Myself Out of Thought Living in a Work of Art Staying Awake Great Nature's Second Course What Women Know Disappearing Grandmothers Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf The Death of the Book Le Guin's Hypothesis Making Up Stories Freedom Book Introductions and Notes on Writers A Very Good American Novel: H. L. Davis's Honey in the Horn Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle Huxley's Bad Trip Stanislaw Lem: Solaris George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin The Wild Winds of Possibility: Vonda McIntyre's Dreamsnake Getting It Right: Charles L. McNichols's Crazy Weather On Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago Examples of Dignity: Thoughts on the Work of Jose' Saramago Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic Jack Vance: The Languages of Pao H. G. Wells: The First Men in the Moon H. G. Wells: The Time Machine Wells's Worlds Book Reviews Margaret Atwood: Moral Disorder Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood Margaret Atwood: Stone Mattress J. G. Ballard: Kingdom Come Roberto Bolan~o: Monsieur Pain T. C. Boyle: When the Killing's Done Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book Italo Calvino: The Complete Cosmicomics Margaret Drabble: The Sea Lady Carol Emshwiller: Ledoyt Alan Garner: Boneland Kent Haruf: Benediction Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver Barbara Kingsolver: Flight Behavior Chang-Rae Lee: On Such a Full Sea Doris Lessing: The Cleft Donna Leon: Suffer the Little Children Yann Martel: The High Mountains of Portugal China Mie'ville: Embassytown China Mie'ville: Three Moments of an Explosion David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks Jan Morris: Hav Julie Otsuka: The Buddha in the Attic Salman Rushdie: The Enchantress of Florence Salman Rushdie: Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights Jose' Saramago: Raised from the Ground Jose' Saramago: Skylight Sylvia Townsend Warner: Dorset Stories Jo Walton: Among Others Jeanette Winterson: The Stone Gods Stefan Zweig: The Post Office Girl The Hope of Rabbits: A Journal of a Writer's Week