Ursula K. Le Guin On Books and Writing
Ursula Le Guin died on Monday in Portland Oregon. She was 88.
In addition to more than 20 novels, perhaps most famously The Left Hand Of Darkness, she was the author of a dozen books of poetry, more than 100 short stories (collected in multiple volumes), seven collections of essays, 13 books for children and five volumes of translation, including the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu and selected poems by the Chilean Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral. She also wrote a guide for writers. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Several have been in print for almost 50 years.
She was a prolific writer and a veritable quote machine - on life, death, love, and being human. But as part of a writing community, her thoughts on books and writing have a particular resonance. Here are a few:
"Writing is my craft. I honor it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honored by it."
“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story."
"The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book."
"The idea that you need an ivory tower to write in, that if you have babies you can’t have books, that artists are somehow exempt from the dirty work of life — rubbish."
"While we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices… Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed."
"We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become."
“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”
“Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren’t real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books.”
“When we're done with it, we may find—if it's a good novel—that we're a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having meet a new face, crossed a street we've never crossed before.”
“As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul.”
“The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.”
RIP Ursula Le Guin, and thank you.