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“I have decided that the trouble with print is, it never changes its mind,” writes Ursula Le Guin in her introduction to Dancing at the Edge of the World. But she has, and here is the record of that change in the decade since the publication of her last nonfiction collection, The Language of the Night. And what a mind — strong, supple, disciplined, playful, ranging over th “I have decided that the trouble with print is, it never changes its mind,” writes Ursula Le Guin in her introduction to Dancing at the Edge of the World. But she has, and here is the record of that change in the decade since the publication of her last nonfiction collection, The Language of the Night. And what a mind — strong, supple, disciplined, playful, ranging over the whole field of its concerns, from modern literature to menopause, from utopian thought to rodeos, with an eloquence, wit, and precision that makes for exhilarating reading.


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“I have decided that the trouble with print is, it never changes its mind,” writes Ursula Le Guin in her introduction to Dancing at the Edge of the World. But she has, and here is the record of that change in the decade since the publication of her last nonfiction collection, The Language of the Night. And what a mind — strong, supple, disciplined, playful, ranging over th “I have decided that the trouble with print is, it never changes its mind,” writes Ursula Le Guin in her introduction to Dancing at the Edge of the World. But she has, and here is the record of that change in the decade since the publication of her last nonfiction collection, The Language of the Night. And what a mind — strong, supple, disciplined, playful, ranging over the whole field of its concerns, from modern literature to menopause, from utopian thought to rodeos, with an eloquence, wit, and precision that makes for exhilarating reading.

30 review for Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Ursula Le Guin begins this collection by speaking of crones, and then proceeds to show us what the word means, by sharing the wisdom of her then sixty years. The subtitle is exactly right, and she weaves these three categories together beautifully. Did you know that she could write biting book and movie reviews? That she wrote unique travel pieces that reflect her fascination with discovery? And she shared my love of train travel: “Only unimportant people take trains. People to whom time isn’t mo Ursula Le Guin begins this collection by speaking of crones, and then proceeds to show us what the word means, by sharing the wisdom of her then sixty years. The subtitle is exactly right, and she weaves these three categories together beautifully. Did you know that she could write biting book and movie reviews? That she wrote unique travel pieces that reflect her fascination with discovery? And she shared my love of train travel: “Only unimportant people take trains. People to whom time isn’t money, but life, their life lived and to be lived.” One of my favorite essays was “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” She muses about how our species might have gone from foraging for food to hunting, for the purpose of telling a more dramatic story. “It’s hard to tell a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another … No, it does not compare, it cannot compete with how I thrust my spear deep into the titanic hairy flank … shot my unerring arrow straight through eye to brain.” Then, drawing on ideas from Virginia Woolf and others, she discusses how a carrier bag of some kind was probably the first cultural device, and how a story can be seen as such a carrier bag—something that holds something else. “We’ve heard it all about the sticks and spears and swords, the things to bash and poke and hit with, the long, hard things, but what we have not heard about the thing to put things in, the container for the thing contained. That is a new story.” She’s making a not-so-subtle comparison here between men’s and women’s stories, and their writing. Then she relates from her own story: “So, when I came to write science-fiction novels, I came lugging this great heavy sack of stuff, my carrier bag full of wimps and klutzes, and tiny grains of things smaller than a mustard seed, and intricately woven nets which when laboriously unknotted are seen to contain one blue pebble … full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations, and far more tricks than conflicts, far fewer triumphs than snares and delusions; full of space ships that get stuck, missions that fail, and people who don’t understand. I said it was hard to make a gripping tale of how we wrested the wild oats from their husks. I didn’t say it was impossible. Who ever said writing a novel was easy?” I found this collection amazing and inspiring. I couldn’t help but leave it feeling that she would have been such a wonderful person to know—so much fun, so wise—and how grateful I am that we will always have her books. I will be reading this one over many times.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

    Responding to my brother’s plea for Goodreads friends who have read Ursula Le Guin, I picked up this collection at the library. Mind-expanding. There’s an essay in here called “The Space Crone” where she offers a brilliant and amusing explanation of why the elderly woman is humanity’s best representative. The collection is presented chronologically so that I could see some of her ideas developing over the years. In 1983 she gave “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” in which she wrote (said): "[I] Responding to my brother’s plea for Goodreads friends who have read Ursula Le Guin, I picked up this collection at the library. Mind-expanding. There’s an essay in here called “The Space Crone” where she offers a brilliant and amusing explanation of why the elderly woman is humanity’s best representative. The collection is presented chronologically so that I could see some of her ideas developing over the years. In 1983 she gave “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” in which she wrote (said): "[I]nstead of talking power, what if I talked like a woman right here in public? It won’t sound right. It’s going to sound terrible. What if I said what I hope for you is first, if—only if—you want kids, I hope you have them…I hope you and they have enough to eat, and a place to be warm and clean in, and friends, and work you like doing. Well, is that what you went to college for? Is that all? What about success?" Three years later she gave another commencement address at Bryn Mawr College which was the most compelling assembly of ideas to me in the whole collection. It has incisive wit (“When either the political or the scientific discourse announces itself as the voice of reason, it is playing God, and should be spanked and stood in the corner”) is full of practical wisdom which has–I hope—permanently altered the way I hear what a woman says. "At home, to women and children talking mother tongue, [men] respond with a grunt and turn on the ball game. They have let themselves be silenced, and dimly they know it, and so resent speakers of the mother tongue; women babble, gabble all the time…Can’t listen to that stuff. Our schools and colleges, institutions of the patriarchy, generally teach us to listen to people in power, men or women speaking the father tongue; and so they teach us not to listen to the mother tongue, to what the powerless say, poor men, women and children: not to hear that as valid discourse." I’m guilty as charged. Guilty of having let myself be silenced in the presence of what she calls the mother tongue, which, in the language of the father tongue, is "inaccurate, unclear, coarse, limited, trivial, banal…repetitive, the same over and over, like the work called women’s work; earthbound, housebound. It’s vulgar, the vulgar tongue, common, common speech, colloquial, low, ordinary, plebian, like the work ordinary people do, the lives common people live." Le Guin explains the mother tongue in its own terms when she writes: "The mother tongue is language not as mere communication but as relation, relationship. It connects. It goes two ways, many ways, an exchange, a network. Its power is not in dividing but in binding, not in distancing but in uniting…It is the language spoken by all children and most women, and so I call it the mother tongue, for we learn it from our mothers and speak it to our kids." I’m guilty of having let my wife go on explaining the ordinariness of the spent day without listening to the words, and certainly without receiving the opportunity to connect she is offering to me. I have not felt the binding power because I’ve only heard the trivial repetitiveness. There’s hope for me. Le Guin declares: "This is what I don’t want: I don’t want what men have. I’m glad to let them do their work and talk their talk. But I do not want and will not have them saying or thinking or telling us that theirs is the only fit work or speech for human beings. Let them not take our work, or words from us. If they can, if they will, let them work with us and talk with us. We can all talk mother tongue, we can all talk father tongue, and together we can try to hear and speak that language which may be our truest way of being in the world, we who speak for a world that has no other words but ours." There is so much just in this one speech. Great imagery, like “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” That image is as good as any to describe my new mental terrain. I opened this book with unapprehended prejudices and biases and she introduced me to them and showed me how to begin unlearning them. “I am trying to unlearn these lessons,” she says herself, “along with other lessons I was taught by my society, particularly lessons concerning the minds, work, works, and being of women. I am a slow unlearner. But I love my unteachers.” She has become that for me. A more exacting exposure of one of society’s wrong lessons comes in her essay “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter,” in which she weaves together the lessons from female writers past (those known and those “swept under the rug” of literary history), her mother’s example, and her own personal experience, in order to champion the worth of women writers who are also mothers. It makes a beautiful tapestry, full of the warm texture you might expect from a wonderful mother, who is also an artist.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

    I have always felt that Mrs. Le Guin was amazingly intelligent and this collection of essays and speeches demonstrated her brilliance in numerous ways. However, sometimes her academic approach to everything becomes inaccessible and loses the reader. Her feminist essays were wonderful and her commencement speeches uplifting. Unfortunately I found her literary essays daunting and at times disjointed. Overall, this was not an easy read but offered a worthwhile academic journey through Mrs. Le Guin’ I have always felt that Mrs. Le Guin was amazingly intelligent and this collection of essays and speeches demonstrated her brilliance in numerous ways. However, sometimes her academic approach to everything becomes inaccessible and loses the reader. Her feminist essays were wonderful and her commencement speeches uplifting. Unfortunately I found her literary essays daunting and at times disjointed. Overall, this was not an easy read but offered a worthwhile academic journey through Mrs. Le Guin’s life in the 1980s.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Yet another entry in the list of “this book changed my life.” Every book does, to be sure; if only cumulatively. But Ursula Le Guin, once again, changes it in a big way.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauredhel

    This is the passage I hit that sent my reading of this book screeching to a halt: "You see, she [Irene Claremont de Castillejo] is trying to show how a woman's desire to have children, and to love and care for them, can be twisted all out of shape by ethical coercion, until it becomes a bondage , a hideous sentimental trap. Here she offers an example of natural, unperverted feminine morality: I have been struck with the spontaneous reaction of many women and girls to the thalidomide tragedies. So This is the passage I hit that sent my reading of this book screeching to a halt: "You see, she [Irene Claremont de Castillejo] is trying to show how a woman's desire to have children, and to love and care for them, can be twisted all out of shape by ethical coercion, until it becomes a bondage , a hideous sentimental trap. Here she offers an example of natural, unperverted feminine morality: I have been struck with the spontaneous reaction of many women and girls to the thalidomide tragedies. So often they exclaim with absolute conviction, "Of course they should be aborted! It is criminal to make a woman carry a deformed child." [And pressed further, they say,] "It is monstrous that men should decide whether a woman should or should not have her own baby." If we can get that realistic feminine morality working for us, if we can trust ourselves and so let women think and feel that an unwanted child or an oversize family is wrong -- not ethically wrong, not against the rules, but morally wrong, all wrong, wrong like a thalidomide birth, wrong like taking a wrong step that will break your neck -- if we can get feminine and human morality out from under the yoke of a dead ethic, then maybe we'll begin to get somewhere on the road that leads to survival. " In this book of essays, Le Guin has gone back and added her commentary to a previous essay, "Is Gender Necessary? Redux", to mark the parts where she no longer agreed with her past self. No annotations in this essay, though, so I guess she still believed, at the time of publication, that it is natural and right and obvious that all disabled fetuses should be aborted, and that it is blindingly obvious that it's morally wrong to birth a child with a disability. Right then.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Serendipitously reading this after Native Tongue was especially enriching. Startling to read the earlier essays and find myself completely disagreeing with Le Guin. Relieved to find more common ground in the more recent essays. Thrilled to have more reading to do, thanks to Le Guin’s recommendations.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joanie

    putting this on my list after seeing this line: '"No house worth living in has for its cornerstone the hunger of those who built it.' attributed to Ursula K. Le Guin on my twitter feed. went to look for the source, and found this. oh, I miss her dearly. putting this on my list after seeing this line: '"No house worth living in has for its cornerstone the hunger of those who built it.' attributed to Ursula K. Le Guin on my twitter feed. went to look for the source, and found this. oh, I miss her dearly.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey Dow

    Today seems to be the day I talk about books I've read more than once (yes, I'm procrastinating; I should be copy-editing a book I will soon be publishing), and Dancing at the Edge of the World is no exception. Spoiler alert: This collection of informal essays is fantastic. The late Ursula K. Le Guin, science fiction Grandmaster, noted fantasist and, yes, essayist, is a writer who's quiet, sardonic and yet passionate pieces give the lie to the idea that feminists have no sense of humour. If you h Today seems to be the day I talk about books I've read more than once (yes, I'm procrastinating; I should be copy-editing a book I will soon be publishing), and Dancing at the Edge of the World is no exception. Spoiler alert: This collection of informal essays is fantastic. The late Ursula K. Le Guin, science fiction Grandmaster, noted fantasist and, yes, essayist, is a writer who's quiet, sardonic and yet passionate pieces give the lie to the idea that feminists have no sense of humour. If you have in your circle someone still labouring under that delusion, give him (or even, possibly, her) a copy of this book. Dancing at the Edge of the World written between 1976 and 1988 and (with the exception of the book reviews) are arranged chronically, providing, as the author puts it in her introduction, "a sort of mental biography, a record of responses to ethical and political climates, of the transforming effect of certain literary ideas, and of the changes of a mind." Le Guin had a remarkably broad range of interests and passions, and wrote eloquently, incisively, and wisely upon them. (She also had very correct opinions about the worth of J.R.R. Tolkien.) She is a writer whose fiction I respect and have enjoyed; but it is as an essayist that I adore her.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Susan Lampe

    To read Dancing at the Edge of the World is to enter the sweeping, vast thoughts in the mind of author Ursula Le Guin. She leads her reader from menopause to giving birth and reveals her own experience with abortion. She bemoans the fate of women caught in a male dominated world and explores the difficulties of women who write. Le Guin wraps the book in thoughts about poetry, prose and narration. She shares thoughts about her own science fiction characters and her experiences as a writer in that To read Dancing at the Edge of the World is to enter the sweeping, vast thoughts in the mind of author Ursula Le Guin. She leads her reader from menopause to giving birth and reveals her own experience with abortion. She bemoans the fate of women caught in a male dominated world and explores the difficulties of women who write. Le Guin wraps the book in thoughts about poetry, prose and narration. She shares thoughts about her own science fiction characters and her experiences as a writer in that genre as it evolved around her. She touches on the lives of many writers including a comparison of Jo March in "Little Women" to the true story of the author Louisa Mae Alcott. There are several tales about her travels cross country and one about a West Coast adventure on Amtrak. The book is filled with inspirational morsels.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    I think Ursula Le Guin's collections of essays were the first non-fictional works that I really learned to appreciate. I was very much not a non-fiction person at the time, but Le Guin's writing is always so full of clarity, so well considered, that it draws me in when it's non-fiction as surely as when it's prose. Obviously some of these essays are somewhat dated now, written and edited in the 70s and 80s, but there's still a lot of interest there. Le Guin's thoughts on the gender issues in The I think Ursula Le Guin's collections of essays were the first non-fictional works that I really learned to appreciate. I was very much not a non-fiction person at the time, but Le Guin's writing is always so full of clarity, so well considered, that it draws me in when it's non-fiction as surely as when it's prose. Obviously some of these essays are somewhat dated now, written and edited in the 70s and 80s, but there's still a lot of interest there. Le Guin's thoughts on the gender issues in The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, years after it was published, years after she originally wrote about it, for example. Or her reflections on her mother's life, or on Jo March as one of the few female writers in fiction to be a writer and have a family at the same time... A personal gem for me was coming across, in the section containing book reviews, a review of C.S. Lewis that almost inevitably also reflected on J.R.R. Tolkien: J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis's close friend and colleague, certainly shared many of Lewis's views and was also a devout Christian. But it all comes out very differently in his fiction. Take his handling of evil: his villains are orcs and Black Riders (goblins and zombies: mythic figures) and Sauron, the Dark Lord, who is never seen and has no suggestion of humanity about him. These are not evil men but embodiments of the evil in men, universal symbols of the hateful. The men who do wrong are not complete figures but complements: Saruman is Gandalf's dark-self, Boromir Aragorn's; Wormtongue is, almost literally, the weakness of King Theoden. There remains the wonderfully repulsive and degraded Gollum. But nobody who reads the trilogy hates, or is asked to hate, Gollum. Gollum is Frodo's shadow; and it is the shadow, not the hero, who achieves the quest. Though Tolkien seems to project evil into "the others", they are not truly others but ourselves; he is utterly clear about this. His ethic, like that of dream, is compensatory. The final "answer" remains unknown. But because responsibility has been accepted, charity survives. And with it, triumphantly, the Golden Rule. The fact is, if you like the book, you love Gollum. In Lewis, responsibility appears only in the form of the Christian hero fighting and defeating the enemy: a triumph, not of love, but of hatred. The enemy is not oneself but the Wholly Other, demoniac. I'm not sure I agree with all of that -- the Southrons are most definitely Othered, and I'm not sure they're meant to be universal symbols of the hateful. Or rather, if they are, and perhaps they are, we need to examine why Tolkien made that decision. But I do think that this is an informative way of looking at the two authors, which reflects a lot on Le Guin herself as well.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shara

    I’ve actually recommended this book many times to people of all reading backgrounds. If you’re a woman, especially with any kind of feminist bent, you should read this book. If you’re a writer, you should read this book. If you’re both, what the hell are you waiting for? Le Guin is a must, especially for those of us struggling to define ourselves in male-dominated genres. And as mentioned behind the cut, Le Guin is passionate about diversity, so if you’re a writer who’s passionate about that, do I’ve actually recommended this book many times to people of all reading backgrounds. If you’re a woman, especially with any kind of feminist bent, you should read this book. If you’re a writer, you should read this book. If you’re both, what the hell are you waiting for? Le Guin is a must, especially for those of us struggling to define ourselves in male-dominated genres. And as mentioned behind the cut, Le Guin is passionate about diversity, so if you’re a writer who’s passionate about that, don’t discount her simply because she’s a white female. Le Guin has been noted to be one of the first writers to appeal to readers of all colors. Thank her anthropologist parents for that.[return][return]But I don’t want to limit my recommendation to just writers. Nor do I want to limit my recommendation to only readers of the science fiction/fantasy genres. Le Guin is well-educated, and it shows. She talks Woolf; she talks Stein. Her observations of the world around her will make any one paying any attention sit up and take notice. Le Guin writes with a gentle cadence and humor, and her sarcasm is as subtle as it is sharp. It takes a moment for it to sink in, and it makes you go back and think. [return][return]I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it over and over again: Le Guin makes you think. Even if you don’t agree with her, she’ll make you think.[return][return]For a full review, please click here: http://calico-reaction.livejournal.co...

  12. 4 out of 5

    kell_xavi

    Le Guin is a very intelligent, open-minded woman with worthwhile things to say about science fiction and its place in reality, abortion / pro-choice, women and gender, narrative and writing and fiction and poetry!, and politics. Occasionally she oversteps her bounds and uses examples that aren't credited or explained in ways that makes her use of them okay (some odd stuff with Coyote in particular); and often, her conclusions from texts and her general arguments don't follow a logic that shares Le Guin is a very intelligent, open-minded woman with worthwhile things to say about science fiction and its place in reality, abortion / pro-choice, women and gender, narrative and writing and fiction and poetry!, and politics. Occasionally she oversteps her bounds and uses examples that aren't credited or explained in ways that makes her use of them okay (some odd stuff with Coyote in particular); and often, her conclusions from texts and her general arguments don't follow a logic that shares much similarity with my own, meaning I gained nothing from certain paragraphs or pieces, until she'd loop back to something that I felt did add up. Despite this, I enjoyed reading quite a few of the works contained in the book (I didn't, and don't intend to, read through the review section), and found a lot of knowledge in it that expands on ideas of my own and those from other sources. Le Guin's novels follow an essay-like structure in some portion, and turning to her non-fiction work helped somewhat to see her meanings in a concise form of her own witty, weird, kind voice, not filtered through narrative and character.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Wondracek

    In her collection of essays, speeches, reviews, and journal entries, Le Guin presents a chronicle guide to her reflections of writing and literature, her own work, women's issues, and travel. Most of these works were written in the 80s, but they don't lose their relavance 20 years later. Although she is both an eloquent writer and speaker, all these topics together can feel very random when strung together. The works will appeal mostly to fans of Le Guin, fans of fantasy, writers, or those inter In her collection of essays, speeches, reviews, and journal entries, Le Guin presents a chronicle guide to her reflections of writing and literature, her own work, women's issues, and travel. Most of these works were written in the 80s, but they don't lose their relavance 20 years later. Although she is both an eloquent writer and speaker, all these topics together can feel very random when strung together. The works will appeal mostly to fans of Le Guin, fans of fantasy, writers, or those interested in travel. Outside of these arenas, they probably aren't relatable. One thing I admired about a couple of her essays is the way she was able to honestly rethink them years later. It's such an accurate reflection of the way we pour out our opinions, put them out there for the public, and then totally disagree with ourselves and feel the need to modify. As a writer, my favorite piece was her essay on the complexity of where a writer’s ideas come from-- a combination of places which she categorizes and explains.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandeep Tammu

    As the title tells you, this book is a collection of thoughts of Ursula on Women, places and words. This is my third book of Ursula this year, and I am a huge fan of her work. I felt like I’m probably not the intended audience for this book, but I still found some of the essays fascinating to read. Ursula’s talent really lies in representing people that are under represented, consistently great character arcs and an inward journey through great dialogue, imagery and plot. This book is stripped o As the title tells you, this book is a collection of thoughts of Ursula on Women, places and words. This is my third book of Ursula this year, and I am a huge fan of her work. I felt like I’m probably not the intended audience for this book, but I still found some of the essays fascinating to read. Ursula’s talent really lies in representing people that are under represented, consistently great character arcs and an inward journey through great dialogue, imagery and plot. This book is stripped of all those things, and left me a bit disappointed. Please pick this book if you are interested in writing or to get a deep sense of her thoughts on feminism. Otherwise, you are better off reading her fictional work!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    My interest in these essays varied. I could not finish "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire" which is full of insight jokes and references to a symposium she gave a talk to. Others really made we think like "Conflict" about whether conflict is a defining feature of stories. Some seem dated others are still fresh. My interest in these essays varied. I could not finish "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire" which is full of insight jokes and references to a symposium she gave a talk to. Others really made we think like "Conflict" about whether conflict is a defining feature of stories. Some seem dated others are still fresh.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I found this to be so compelling at times and at other times a slog. There were speeches or talks she gave that I found repetitive; I felt sure they were wrapping up only to see that there were several more pages to it. I found it all a bit battering. Maybe just too much density shoved into one tome. As usual, her clarity of mind and her parsing of our times, our words, and culture are spot on.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Her essays on feminism in particular are striking and moving, reading this as I do in the age of DJT, when women's choices and voices are at risk, and indeed we have a president who views us as his sexual toys no brags about it. Her essays on feminism in particular are striking and moving, reading this as I do in the age of DJT, when women's choices and voices are at risk, and indeed we have a president who views us as his sexual toys no brags about it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Timons Esaias

    This collection is loaded with five-star material, but I initially gave it four, because there are some badly dated sections, and some just cranky bits. In the process of writing this brief review, though, I changed my mind and upgraded my rating to five stars after all. There were just too many exclamation marks in the TOC to ignore, and too many underlined passages. Let me list myself among those who idolizes Le Guin. She wrote at least four immortal short stories that would belong in any antho This collection is loaded with five-star material, but I initially gave it four, because there are some badly dated sections, and some just cranky bits. In the process of writing this brief review, though, I changed my mind and upgraded my rating to five stars after all. There were just too many exclamation marks in the TOC to ignore, and too many underlined passages. Let me list myself among those who idolizes Le Guin. She wrote at least four immortal short stories that would belong in any anthology of great short fiction ("The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" "The Direction of the Road" "The Day before the Revolution" "Sur") and that's an excellent career for anyone. And then there's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN and THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS for long works. (You may also number me among those who admired the intent, but not the product, of ALWAYS COMING HOME. She let the preaching take over in that one.) She and Bradbury have been major lodestars for me in this writing business. I loved the charm of the following passage from "Working on 'The Lathe'": PORTLAND "Hello," said this voice, "I'm David Loxton of the TV Lab at WNET, and I want to come talk to you about making a TV film of one of your novels." "No, you don't," I said, terrified. "Well, actually I do," said the voice in a mild, astonished tone. I could not say that the only thing I dread more than phone calls from strangers is visits from strangers, because that's not the sort of thing you can say to strangers. "I'm sorry I have this English sort of accent," said the voice. "It's because I'm English, but I live in New York. Would it be all right if I came on Wednesday?" He said it "Weddnsdy"; there was no doubt he was English. "You can't come all the way to Oregon," I said desperately, but it was no use. He came. and I much admired the bravery of "The Princess" and the challenging analysis of Utopias that takes place in "A Non-Euclidian View of California as a Cold Place to Be." While I don't agree with every single assertion in it, "The Reciprocity of Prose and Poetry" criticizes false doctrines about poetry (and prose) which needed puncturing then, and still do. I underlined her characterization of the Gertrude Stein doctrines, "Poetry was defined not only as independent of metrical verse but as exclusive of and superior to it---which is historically nonsense; poetry was further defined as exclusive of narration, exposition, discussion and drama---which is demented." And I also note, "When a thing is said right it is said right, whether in prose or poetry..." The greatest number of exclams in my copy are lined up next to the title "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" which is her Mills College address of 1983. I liked the wickedness of her various book reviews (including her slicing and dicing of her own work for VENOM), and she helped gear me up to take on CANOPUS IN ARGOS which has been sitting on my shelf, massively, for quite some time. I had real problems with THE MAKING OF A REPRESENTATIVE FOR PLANET 8, when I read it separately, and I was pleased that she both loved and hated the first three books. I now see the task as interesting. I have two related grumps about this work. She makes remarks about "man-hating feminism" asserting that it is misguided, which it is, but she engages in it herself regularly in these pages. I can understand where the anger comes from, oh yes, but sexism is horseshit; and we will never approach any kind of gender justice if we pretend that only one gender made the decisions that made our culture what it is; and if we ignore the price males have to pay for the role that culture tried so hard to assign them. So when she tries to sneak an only-the-female-world-is-real past the reader, well... The second grump is in some remarks about writing, where she complains about the commonly-made assertion that Story is about Conflict. I teach this assertion, and I do so because it's pretty much entirely true. She is clearly trying to put the word "conflict" into some restricted definition that the rest of us aren't using, and she specifically claims it as a male thing. I'd go along with her if she meant that all stories don't have to be about war or fighting or dominance; but that isn't what she seems to be talking about. I point specifically to the absurd paragraph on page 299 when she tells us that the work in question is without conflict (and takes a swipe at the critics who call it necessary), and is about "discovery" instead; but then when she elaborates on what the book is about and how it works, she exclusively uses the metaphors of war and battle. My office bullmeter pegged on that one. My favorite moment in the collection is the fable she wrote instead of a paper for a New School conference on "The Presence of Myth in Contemporary Life" which is a tactic (writing a fiction piece instead of a non-fiction presentation) I've used, and is one of two or three of those in this collection. Her way of bringing up some authorities to refer to (Claude Levi-Strauss, Mircea Eliade), telling the story in third person, is priceless: Over there in Illo Tempore her Ancestors said, "Listen, that one's in trouble again," and they decided to send some people across to help her. Lots to think about in this collection. Recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A collection of speeches and short pieces on writing. As may be expected with a diverse range, some of these were excellent and some underwhelming. Still, a unique opportunity to see inside the mind of a true master.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “Narrative is a stratagem of mortality. It is a means, a way of living. It does not seek immortality; it does not seek to triumph over or escape from time (as lyric poetry does). It asserts, affirms, participates in directional time, time experienced, time as meaningful. If the human mind had a temporal spectrum, the nirvana of the physicist or the mystic would be way over in the ultraviolet, and at the opposite end, the infrared, would be Wuthering Heights.” — “Some Thoughts on Narrative” Ursula “Narrative is a stratagem of mortality. It is a means, a way of living. It does not seek immortality; it does not seek to triumph over or escape from time (as lyric poetry does). It asserts, affirms, participates in directional time, time experienced, time as meaningful. If the human mind had a temporal spectrum, the nirvana of the physicist or the mystic would be way over in the ultraviolet, and at the opposite end, the infrared, would be Wuthering Heights.” — “Some Thoughts on Narrative” Ursula K. Le Guin ponders storytelling and women writing in this quick, readable collection, mixed with a few commencement addresses, defenses of her novels, and cultural criticisms. Some essays are certainly stronger than others — I did not find it to be uniformly impressive — but it was an enjoyable introduction to her work and thinking.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jai R.

    I never finished this so keep that in mind. My main problem with this is that the author is so damn self righteous and emotional and has very little to back her points. I can’t say I don’t respect her because she has done a lot of helpful things for women in the literary world. I kind of feel like she’s the Freud in this though. I haven’t read her fantasy stories yet though so I might come back and fix some of this. At the moment I feel like she should have thought more, researched a lot more and I never finished this so keep that in mind. My main problem with this is that the author is so damn self righteous and emotional and has very little to back her points. I can’t say I don’t respect her because she has done a lot of helpful things for women in the literary world. I kind of feel like she’s the Freud in this though. I haven’t read her fantasy stories yet though so I might come back and fix some of this. At the moment I feel like she should have thought more, researched a lot more and talked to people more before writing essays and publishing them as truth because she played out a scenario in her head for a good while.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rhiannon

    It feels kind of weird to rate this one with stars, so I’ll just do a quick review! A collection of interesting and thought provoking stories by one of my most admired authors. Admittedly, I did skip quite a few, or put them on speed read — this one includes a lot of travel essays, which I wasn’t particularly interested in. I read this one as an audiobook read, and the narrator did a fantastic job! That being said, I do think his was probably more suited to print. I went with the audiobook due t It feels kind of weird to rate this one with stars, so I’ll just do a quick review! A collection of interesting and thought provoking stories by one of my most admired authors. Admittedly, I did skip quite a few, or put them on speed read — this one includes a lot of travel essays, which I wasn’t particularly interested in. I read this one as an audiobook read, and the narrator did a fantastic job! That being said, I do think his was probably more suited to print. I went with the audiobook due to the price at the time, and while I don’t regret it, I do think that it would have been easier for me to keep track of and arrange my thoughts if I had read it in print.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kati

    What a smart, thoughtful, engaging book. There were a couple of essays that missed me, but by and large I enjoyed the whole work. Le Guin has a unique mind that shines with confidence, insight and love.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Janet Marugg

    This woman is awesome. I know, she passed away last year, but this proves Ursula is with us still.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gemma Williams

    A really excellent collection, wise, witty and thought provoking.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dominika

    This is a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, so some are just ok and some are downright amazing. I have to agree with the people who love her concepts and her nonfiction moreso than her fiction. While I plan on reading a few more of her books, these essays are fiery and concentrated while her fiction can be a bit dry (and in all fairness, so are some of her male peers like Asimov). She has a key in the beginning for the topics of her essays and I feel like that's a really nice touch. I p This is a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, so some are just ok and some are downright amazing. I have to agree with the people who love her concepts and her nonfiction moreso than her fiction. While I plan on reading a few more of her books, these essays are fiery and concentrated while her fiction can be a bit dry (and in all fairness, so are some of her male peers like Asimov). She has a key in the beginning for the topics of her essays and I feel like that's a really nice touch. I particularly enjoyed her essays on feminism, science fiction, and writing in general, but didn't care for her travel essays as much. Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my queens, and there are a few essays in here than I plan on revisiting.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I always find it more difficult to review anthologies and books I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, Dancing at the Edge of the World falls into both categories, making it nearly impossible for me to sum up. I greatly enjoyed reading the majority of this anthology and seeing how LeGuin's views changed over the decade plus time-span covered in Dancing at the Edge of the World. Some of her speeches were clunky in written form and her travelogues would probably have been more enjoyable if I had ever vi I always find it more difficult to review anthologies and books I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, Dancing at the Edge of the World falls into both categories, making it nearly impossible for me to sum up. I greatly enjoyed reading the majority of this anthology and seeing how LeGuin's views changed over the decade plus time-span covered in Dancing at the Edge of the World. Some of her speeches were clunky in written form and her travelogues would probably have been more enjoyable if I had ever visited the places she wrote about, but her incisive essays on women, writing, and the creative process in general were delightful and thought-provoking. Even when I disagreed with her views (as in "Is Gender Necessary? Redux"), she explained her point of view fairly and in good faith, which makes for compelling reading. The essays I enjoyed the most were "The Space Crone," "A Left-Handed Commencement Address" (which I liked enough to photocopy), "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction" (a fantastic way to look at storytelling), and "The Fisherwoman's Daughter" (which inspired me in my literary ambitions). The book reviews at the end were intriguing, although most of them were most interesting as time capsules, since I had never heard of the majority of the books LeGuin reviewed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Faith Justice

    Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read nearly everything she's written--science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, non-fiction. She is a brilliant writer and this collection of essays does not disappoint. I did an extensive interview with Ms. Le Guin a few years ago. The entire transcript is available at my website and an excerpt is at my blog. From the back: "From modern literature to menopause, from utopian thought to rodeos--in this classic collection of essays, Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read nearly everything she's written--science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, non-fiction. She is a brilliant writer and this collection of essays does not disappoint. I did an extensive interview with Ms. Le Guin a few years ago. The entire transcript is available at my website and an excerpt is at my blog. From the back: "From modern literature to menopause, from utopian thought to rodeos--in this classic collection of essays, Ursula K. Le Guin roves with her customary audacity over the intersecting arenas of literature, feminism, and social responsibility, exploding any received notions she comes across and revealing visionary possibilities in their stead. Le Guin is an authentic wise woman, remembering, performing and passing on the ancient ceremony of celebration, dancing "the dance of renewal, the dance that made the world"--and in this collection, she does so with a wit and eloquence that make for exhilarating reading."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    As the subtitle suggests, there are multiple subjects at play in these essays, and while I found Leguin's thinking and writing about feminism to be extraordinary, her discussions of narrative intelligent and thought provoking (especially her questioning of conflict as the central motivating force in narrative), I was mostly unimpressed with the writings focusing on place. Therefore, four stars for a book full of five star essays. As the subtitle suggests, there are multiple subjects at play in these essays, and while I found Leguin's thinking and writing about feminism to be extraordinary, her discussions of narrative intelligent and thought provoking (especially her questioning of conflict as the central motivating force in narrative), I was mostly unimpressed with the writings focusing on place. Therefore, four stars for a book full of five star essays.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Leah Horlick

    Ursula K. does some of her best writing on reading aloud, and some of the most powerful pieces in this collection are the speeches she wrote for graduations and conferences. Highly recommend "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" to anyone who has read, enjoyed, and struggled with The Left Hand of Darkness. Ursula K. does some of her best writing on reading aloud, and some of the most powerful pieces in this collection are the speeches she wrote for graduations and conferences. Highly recommend "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" to anyone who has read, enjoyed, and struggled with The Left Hand of Darkness.

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