Hugo reading 2018: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula Le Guin

Well, this is definitely the last of the related works, anyway!

No Time to Spare, by Ursula Le Guin is, I believe, a collection of her blog posts, and it’s pretty delightful.  I read her Earthsea books when I was a child, and they didn’t particularly make an impression on me, so I don’t think I ever read anything else of hers.  (My general impression as a child of the 80s was that Science Fiction and Fantasy was all either post-apocalyptic or too scary or weird and unpleasant, or all of the above [Looking at you, Z for Zachariah].  I think Earthsea came into the Too Scary category.)  And now I’m thinking I really should, because I like her writing and the way she thinks.

The book is divided into four sections, Going Over Eighty, The Lit Biz, Trying to make sense of it and Rewards.  In between each of these sections, we will have The Annals of Pard, which are stories about Le Guin’s cat, and are absolutely charming.  Clearly, Le Guin understands cats very well.

I’m not sure how to usefully review a book of short essays of this nature, so I might try to say a little about each section and just assert overall that this was really an enjoyable read – I like blogs which are well-written and eclectic, sometimes thoughtful, other times facetious and humorous, and this is all of these things.

Going Over Eighty is a series of reflections on ageing, but even more so a reflection on the way ageing gets viewed by individuals and culture generally.  The ‘No Time to Spare’ quote comes from this, as Le Guin is bemused and irritated by a questionnaire from her alma mater to graduates from 60 years ago asking what they do in their spare time.  Most of them will be retired; and everything Le Guin has done with her life is in the ‘things you do in your spare time’ category anyway.  It was a thought-provoking collection.

The Lit Biz was probably my favourite section, other than the Pard stories.  There were so many fun and interesting essays here – the ones about letters from readers (especially children) were hilarious, especially the letter from the poor child old to write to Le Guin by his teacher whose best shot was ‘I have read the cover. it is prety good.’, leaving both author and child with no possible place to go.  There was a fascinating post about Homer, which reflects on how he and others write about war, and how this interacts with and critiques the idea that might makes right.  She is very taken with the idea of the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal, and talks about prizes, politics, integrity, and the prize that she chose to refuse, and what became of it.  And she reflects on the idea of the Great American Novel.

In Trying to Make Sense of It, we get a more random selection of Le Guins thoughts on politics, gender, religion, belief, military uniforms, science and many other things.  I liked some of these and was less interested in others.  The Rewards section was similarly random, but more delightful.  I loved her comparison of a food bank to a cathedral – Our Lady of Hunger, and her reflection on a breakfast in Vienna and the proper way to eat a soft boiled egg, which almost convinced me that I should have a soft boiled egg for breakfast every day (and maybe I will tomorrow, at that).

All in all, I really enjoyed this collection.  I think I still want to put Crash Override first, because while I hate that it needs to exist, I am glad that, given the need, it does; but this will certainly be second on my ballot.  I’ll put Sleeping with Monsters third, Luminescent Threads fourth, the Ian Banks book fifth, and the Harlan Ellison book last in this category.

And so ends another category!

At this point, I’m hoping to finish the Best Dramatic Presentation – short form today, after which I have only YA, Best Series, Best Semi Prozine and the various best Editors to go.  I won’t be reviewing the Best Dramatic Presentation long form ones, because I don’t enjoy watching films enough to watch six in the next month.  And I’ll probably not write about the Best Editor Long Form here, since that’s mostly going to be me looking at the list of books they’ve edited and voting on that basis.

(I must admit, while I’m enjoying the Hugo reading much more this year than in previous ones, I’m rather looking forward to some nice, lazy re-reading of favourite romance novels once this is done…)

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.