Mallory's Reviews > The Wave in the Mind: Talks & Essays on the Writer, the Reader & the Imagination

The Wave in the Mind by Ursula K. Le Guin
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's review
Mar 21, 2012

really liked it
Read from March 18 to 20, 2012

Review to come.

The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Have you ever been reading a novel, fiction, and gotten excited when a character started talking about a book you like? You get a snippet of awesome, in which the character mentions that book, and makes a comment on it (maybe a long one), and that’s it. And though it was just the character’s opinion, you just know the author is behind that statement, she’s read the book, she has an opinion, but she has to reference it behind the distortion-y shade of the character.

Maybe not, maybe I’m crazy. But if you have any idea what I mean, you’ll know what drew me to this book. Le Guin talks about Leo Tolstoy (so, maybe I haven’t read him, but I’ve read all about him), Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, and J.R.R. Tolkien, among many others. Can you feel it yet, you’re dying to know what she said about them! Or not. But it’s very interesting, I assure you.

But I’m going to go in order, very organized, thanks, I know.

I. Personal Matters

Le Guin starts this section, and the book, with a funny, lighthearted observation that only in hindsight is annoying, because it foreshadows a massive amount of often-unnecessary-and-annoying feminist comments. I can’t imagine anyone not being annoyed by this eventually, but I suppose that person must exist somewhere. Well, after that joke, she impresses with her humor and intelligence and captivating-ness (yeah, too lazy to think of a real word) and may just steal your heart, in that first essay. The rest of the essays in this section follow suit, except sometimes talk about things I don’t really care about (remember the title? I want essays on books, not random real things that are not book-related). If it doesn’t bother you to skip around, you might want to skip some of these essays in the Personal Matters section. They aren’t bad, just not all interesting if you’re like me.

II. Readings

This section is the reason I read the book, which I mentioned before. I could go on and on and on about this section but I won’t. I want everyone to experience this mostly unspoiled, it’s so good. Essentially, this section is Le Guin talking about: books you’ve heard of and want to read immediately after reading her insights on them, books you’ve read and want to reread immediately after reading her insights on them, and books you’ve never heard of but suddenly, now need. You probably won’t read the same after reading these essays!

III: Discussions and Opinions

This is where most of her feminist commentary barges in and bugs out your reading experience. She makes some interesting points on nonfiction versus fiction, about the prejudice and pressures of (book-) award-giving juries, and rhythms. Less interesting comments are made on Chinese foot binding (yep feminism definitely here), beauty (waste-of-time essay for me, sorry Le Guin!), a rant about a random scientific paragraph, communication, and other things.

IV: On Writing

This section made me really think there is no good advice to give on writing, because it’s so person-specific. Le Guin’s points seemed like, okay, that’s great for you, but other authors seem to do it just as well or better the opposite way! Like, she emphasized waiting, where others emphasized just writing and it will come together when you do. Le Guin’s first essay in here was on finding the right balance between being conscious of your readers and true to yourself. You don’t want to be super self-conscious and only writing to please every critic, but you also want to be conscious of who you’re writing for. This essay was good, but not mind-blowing. Maybe because I’m not a writer, I don’t know. The next essay was about the separation between character and writer, when the character is one the author identifies closely with, and almost is. Unquestioned assumptions was an AWESOME ESSAY if only because it was so enlightening to me, who thought I’d been...non...assuming. Then an essay on writing workshops, a huge essay on where author’s ideas come from, one about age, and a poem. I’d like to quote a little bit of the poem, which had awesome parts in it, and here it is (a tiny bit feminist, again, it seems, but oh well):

“Man does, they say, and Woman is.
Doing and being. Do and be. O.K., I be writing, Man.
I be telling.”

This review would have been much longer if I had gone into any detail on my favorite section, Readings, but I can almost guarantee anyone who reads that section will love it, or at least like most of it. I recommend my version of this book, which is quite abridged but has all of section two, except it is not yet available in stores and in fact will never be available anywhere and will never exist so for now just read this book as you’ll find it, or parts of it as you see fit.

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