Words Are My Matter

Ursula K. Le Guin  - published October 2016

October 18, 2016 · trade cloth · 352 pages · $24 · 9781618731340 | ebook · 9781618731210 December 2016: 2nd printing December 2017: 3rd printing Now available in paperback and ebook from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and audiobook from Tantor. Hugo Award winner British Fantasy and Locus award finalist Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016 with a Journal of a Writer’s Week is a bright and wide-ranging collection of essays, reviews, talks, and more from one of our best and most thoughtful writers.

“Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality. . . .”

Words Are My Matter collects talks, essays, introductions to beloved books, and book reviews by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of our foremost public literary intellectuals. Words Are My Matter is essential reading. It 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 maximise 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. This year her 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). * From “Freedom” A speech in acceptance of the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Reviews, Profiles, and Interviews Margaret Atwood, favorite books of the year in the Walrus: “It was a pleasure to encounter renowned SF and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin’s book of essays, Words Are My Matter, and to hear her wise, informed, elegant, and occasionally testy voice….” The Guardian: “Rounding out the quartet is Words Are My Matter, a collection of the writer’s recent nonfiction. Le Guin may not have written a novel since 2008’s Lavinia, but the always sharp, frequently funny, and unfailingly confident compilation of essays, lectures and book reviews show she hasn’t stopped working.” The New Yorker: Julie Phillips, The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin “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.” The Nation: Zoe Carpenter, Ursula K. Le Guin has Stopped Writing Fiction But We Need Her More Than Ever “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.” Washington Post: Michael Dirda, At 86 Ursula K. Le Guin Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves — Almost “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.’” BookPage: Robert Weibezahl, Le Guin’s Still Got It “We can be grateful that we never need to know what the world would be like had Le Guin not found her stories to write. In a more equitable literary world, she would have long ago been awarded the Nobel Prize for her global and visionary body of work. Instead, she will need to content herself with the many awards she’s received—from multiple Hugos and Nebulas to the National Book Award, the PEN-Malamud and the Library of Congress Living Legends award.” NPR: “Playful and crisp.” “This heterogenous volume holds a plentitude of insights and wonders: keen observations on many individual books, a memoir of growing up in a very special house, a journal from a writer’s retreat, and other joys and hard-won wisdoms.” — Paul Di Filippo, B&N Review 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 José 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 Bolaño: 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 Miéville: Embassytown China Miéville: 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 José Saramago: Raised from the Ground José 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 Reviews “Impassioned, authoritative, curious and perceptive.” — Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle “[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) “This collection of writing about writing by multi-award-winning author Le Guin (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore, among others) includes talks, essays, introductions, and book reviews. The reviews alone—covering such authors as Doris Lessing, Yann Martel, David Mitchell, Salman Rushdie, and Jeanette Winterson—make this a volume worth savoring, but the novelist’s essays concerning the future of literature are of special note. Le Guin’s dismissal of neo-luddite handwringing over the shift from page to screen, tempered against her dispassionate dissection of that same technology’s limitations and vulnerabilities, provide rational appraisal of the current state of publishing in general and suggest a meaningful path forward for all concerned. Le Guin’s literary prestige and popular appeal mean that this title will find a large audience; its relatively narrow focus (three separate survey collections of the author’s other short works have been or will be published this year) makes it a fast read. VERDICT Recommended for all libraries as well as fans of the author and literature about literature. [See “Editors’ Fall Picks,” LJ 9/1/16, p. 27.].—Jenny Brewer, Helen Hall Lib., League City, TX — Library Journal “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 Nora Jemisin recommended the book in the New York Times Book Review. There was an Ursula K. Le Guin symposium at the University of Oregon. Find Words Are My Matter in the PNBA Holiday Catalog. 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 Praise for Ursula K. Le Guin: “I read her nonstop growing up and read her still. What makes her so extraordinary for me is that her commitment to the consequences of our actions, of our all too human frailties, is unflinching and almost without precedent for a writer of such human optimism.”—Junot Diaz “A lot of her work is about telling stories, and what it means to tell stories, and what stories look like. She’s been extremely influential on me in that area of what I, as a beginning writer, thought a story must look like, and the much more expansive view I have now of what a story can be and can do.”—Karen Joy Fowler “She was and remains a central figure for me.”—Michael Chabon Cancelled: Reading: Thursday, October 13, 7:30 p.m. Powell’s City of Books 1005 W. Burnside St. Portland, OR 97209 About the Author Ursula K. Le Guin 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 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 received lifetime achievement awards from Los Angeles Times, World Fantasy Awards, 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 collection of poetry, Late in the Day, and a nonfiction collection, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters. Her website is ursulakleguin.com.