Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with A Journal of a Writer's Week

Ursula K. Le Guin

Book cover

I read much, but not all, of this book: all of the “Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces,” the “Journal of a Writer’s Week,” and selected book introductions/book reviews–those for books that I have read, am interested in reading, or just caught my eye after the first couple of paragraphs. One or two of the essays were things I had already read (perhaps in slightly different form) on Le Guin’s blog.

I thought the quality of these pieces was mixed, but there were a number that I did especially like. Certainly “Disappearing Grandmothers” (2011) is the one that stayed most clearly with me. It’s an essay about the ways in which women’s writing is marginalized and excluded from “the canon.” It’s a good essay overall, but the main reason it stayed with me was her description of how Wallace Stegner stole, without attribution, the content of Mary Foote’s autobiography “A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West” for his novel “Angle of Repose” (including the novel’s title itself!). The only quasi-acknowledgement given by Stegner is even more of an insult, in that he thanks Foote’s descendants “for the loan of their grandmother” (without further explanation). This bummed me out because I like “Angle of Repose” pretty well, but have now totally revised my view of it and Stegner for the worse.

The essay “What It Was Like” (2004) was also a stand-out–it’s a speech Le Guin gave to NARAL about her own experience of getting an abortion well before Roe v. Wade, which I didn’t realize had happened. She makes an eloquent argument about how it was that abortion that made possible the lives of her (multiple) subsequent children, which she feels sure she would not have had if she had been forced to bear the first child.

Among the book introductions/reviews I read, the ones where Le Guin made me want to read the book (or increased my desire to do so) were: “Solaris” (Stanislaw Lem), “Roadside Picnic” (Arkady and Boris Strugatsky), and “Dreamsnake” (Vonda McIntyre).

My Goodreads rating: 3 stars