Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929 - 2018
A good friend told me a few days ago that the writer, Ursula K. Le Guin, had died. I was saddened, of course, but immediately started thinking about how hard it must be for her husband and children. She had a mind and a life-force that only the exceptionally gifted have: full of energy and passion. It's hard to imagine the huge hole that must be left in the future lives of her friends and family. I wish them well and can only say that Ursula would have probably wanted them to accept and move on (as hard as that may be).
Ursula was not just a great author to me, she was one of several of my book parents. Growing up as I did with a family who was more interested in drinking and violence, I never got guidance in how to live. Through her books, Ursula taught me that you could deal with a problem by thinking rather than fighting. She taught me that gender differences don't make one gender superior to the other. And she also helped me understand that we all have shadow parts of ourselves that we fear, but the way to cope with the shadow is to accept it with courage.
These were profound lessons for a young man who was afraid of the world. Ursula K. Le Guin made a difference in my life by giving me the courage to be myself. In A Wizard of Earthsea, I am Ged as he makes terrible mistakes but becomes his true self because of them. I am Genly Ai in Left Hand of Darkness, coming to terms with sex and gender through love and being vulnerable. Ursula, through her writings, helped me understand that perhaps religion is larger and more varied than just the Southern Baptist tradition I was brought up in.
More than anything, I feel that I have come to know Ursula through her mind. She often spoke of her works as being "thought experiments" where she tried to work out ideas she had. She chose science fiction and fantasy as her subjects because the genres "can be put to any use the craftsman has in mind – satire, extrapolation, prediction, absurdity, exactitude, exaggeration, warning, message-carrying, tale-telling, whatever you like". She referred to science fiction as a "left handed monkey wrench". She used science fiction and fantasy to tell stories that often featured women and people of color. This was a huge difference from the white hero blasting his way to fame which featured in most of the other science fiction I was reading as a young man. She literally opened my eyes to the world around me.
From her website:
Q: Do you have a writing philosophy?
A: I guess it is: Write. Revise. If possible, publish. 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.
Above all, Ursula K. Le Guin was a teller of tales, a master storyteller. Someone who wrote so clearly and with such profundity, she will no doubt be read by many generations in the future. In an age of hype and instant fame, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote brilliantly, but not didactically. Her ideas were always subservient to her characters and stories. In the many re-reads of Wizard of Earthsea, I found new insights and relationships that often caused me to put the book down and simply ponder her wisdom.
Farewell, Mrs. Le Guin, and thank you for making my life so much better. I am who I am because of you. Your books will always be close to me.
The first place to to find out more about Ursula K. Le Guin is her website. It's so full of interesting info on her that it would take a week to read it all. Try the bibliography and the list of tributes (I like the one by Nicola Griffith in the Seattle Times)
And if you want to start reading Ursual K. Le Guin, I'd suggest starting with Left Hand of Darkness (if science fiction is your favorite genre) and/or the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy (if Fantasy is your favorite). If you're interested in a first edition, we have a beautiful copy here.
Ursula was also a prolific writer of short stories, many of which are classics. Try The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin.
And, finally, if you are a writer, Ursula has many excellent non-fiction books on writing. Try Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story to start with.
Above all read Ursula K. Le Guin. She is one of the great writers of our generation and will be read for hundreds of years in the future.
(We've been inundated with requests for Le Guin since her passing, so we don't have much in stock right now but we recommend calling back.)