Monday, April 26, 2010

Ursula LeGuin: Landmarks of Imagination

I'm going to be spending time in airports in the next few days--and this is the finest guide to airports ever written.

As a reader, Ursula K. Le Guin has transformed my world time and time again. I'm not referring only to the time spent in the worlds within her books;  it is the way those books extended out and helped me see my own world more clearly.

Oddly, my reading relationship with her began before I ever read one of her books. It began when I read a book written by her mother, Theodora Kroeber. The book, Ishi in Two Worlds, came to me while I was obsessed with human history. Reading it marked a shift in my study, which had been devoted until that time to the memorization of facts about fossils and flint points and failures.*  Reading Ishi made me feel, for once, a part of humanity. Why reading about a person who had lost all living connection to his people made me feel human is moot. I was 12 and I became an insider anthropologist.

At about that time, I started reading science fiction--I still do. One reason I love it is that it reveals the human condition to me. This is especially true of the books of Ursula K. Le Guin. The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, taught me about gender. It might also have taught me about politics and power...

And then there is that most important thing she taught me about reading: "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."

However lost I may get on the physical plane, I have landmarks in my imagination that I can count on, thanks to Ursula K. LeGuin.

* Funny how all of that stuff I learned before I was 12 seems to have dribbled out my ears. I used to imagine that being able to recite the names of Anglo-Saxon kings might be useful, I guess. Turned out not to be...
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