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.