Ursula K. Le Guin won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. This collection was originally gathered and published in 2016. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books consists of essays, book introductions, and book reviews written throughout Le Guin’s lifetime. The book is split into the three categories and only minor editing was done to the original pieces.
My favorite section was the essays and talks. I enjoyed the book introductions and was happy to discover a few writers I had previously never heard of who I have added to my TBR list. I love finding new authors via authors I already enjoy. I think I like Le Guin’s essays as much, if not more, than her fiction, but I need to read more of her fiction before I make a definitive decision. Her essays are often a call to action while also being an observation of a trend she has noticed throughout her career. I agree with much of what she says and have come to realize that some of her concerns as far back as the late 1960’s are still very much something to be concerned about today. The issues have not been addressed or have continued behind the curtain. However, I am hoping the recent widespread notice of some issues in publishing and among writers will bring about the long-overdue changes. Only time will tell.
As far as essays go, there are several great ones here, but I think another collection, The Language of the Night (which consists of only essays), provides stronger arguments. Please check out that collection if you want more of the aforementioned calls to action. This collection contains her ever interesting article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” which was the reason I had first borrowed it from my library. I am recommending Words Are My Matter though because I believe it is a collection that is more likely to appeal to a wider range of readers. The subtitle Writings of Life and Books of course is the perfect description of this collection.
My favorite essays from this collection were “The Death of the Book” and “On Serious Literature”. I also enjoyed “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love”. The author I mentioned I discovered earlier is Jose Saramago and I will likely try his book Blindness first. There were of course other authors I had not yet discovered, but their books didn’t catch my interest despite Le Guin’s review. Granted, a couple of the reviews actually killed any interest I might have had. I actually never read reviews about books unless they are included in collections like this as I tend to give myself the opportunity to form my own opinion instead of relying on others. It’s also fun to see a review about a book that has had decades to prove itself.
I respect Le Guin’s opinions despite not agreeing with every one she expresses. The reviews were my least favorite, but you can skip around in collections like this if you choose to as they are all standalone pieces. The book ends with a “week in the life of” which seems like a little bonus part to the book. This is a diary format description detailing Le Guin’s stay at a women-only writing retreat called Hedgebrook. The week she describes could be considered uneventful (as is most of life) but for some reason it transported me to the idyllic landscape Le Guin explored when not working on her story. It was the perfect ending and left me feeling as if I had just finished a week out in nature away from everyday obligations. Refreshed, relaxed, and able to enjoy the moment. I would recommend this book for this description alone, but again, there is a lot to enjoy and there is likely something for any reader.
Perhaps you may pick this up one day and read one or two little essays or reviews. This is definitely a collection that is easy to pick up and put down at any interval. Perhaps you will discover something new or be inspired to do something new. I hope so.