Hugo reading 2017: Words are my Matter, by Ursula Le Guin

I’m probably going to do these one at a time and between everything else, because most of them are long collections of essays, and there are only so many essays I can read in one sitting without going around the bend.  Which, contrary to appearances, is not the actual goal of my Hugo reading.

So, the book I’ve been reading over the past few days has been Ursula Le Guin’s essay collection, Words Are My Matter: Writings about Life and Books 2000-2016.  It contains speeches, essays, introductions, blog posts and book reviews, and one or two funny little poems.

I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t read absolutely every piece in the book – as I said, I don’t love essays that much – but I would start a piece, and if it grabbed me, I would read it.  If it didn’t, I’d page through quickly, and if something caught my eye, I’d stop and go back and read it.  I’d say that I read around 2/3 of this collection in total.

I’ve actually read very little of Ursula Le Guin’s actual fiction, and that not for years – I think I read the Earthsea Trilogy before it was a quartet, when I was in late primary school or early high school.  This collection makes me want to go back and give her another go – I liked her somewhat acerbic wit, her feminism, and her ability to write both in a very personal register and a very professional, polished, critical one.  I think my favourite section was the Talks, Essays and Occasional Pieces, which I read in full – book introductions and book reviews are less interesting when one doesn’t know the books in question, though Le Guin certainly convinced me that I need to read Vonda McIntyre’s Dreamsnake, and George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin, and perhaps also Alan Garner’s Boneland and Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver. And I need to re-read Among Others, of course.

Getting back to the essays, I enjoyed their thoughtfulness, and was particularly delighted by her piece on Inventing Languages, and how to make these consistent.  I liked her various articles articles on genre and publishing (and was particularly pleased that she did not throw Romance under the bus, though I get the impression that she hasn’t read much, if any of it), and adored her horror parody, On Serious Literature, in which the author is stalked by the dessicated zombie corpse of genre fiction.  I loved and was depressed by her essay on the ways women’s writing gets disregarded and disappeared, Disappearing Grandmothers, and will definitely be retaining her term ‘prick-lit’ for the equivalent of ‘chick-lit’.

A good, solid read, with moments of absolute delight.  I have no idea what the competition on this ballot will be like, but I’m definitely glad I had the opportunity to read this one.

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