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Always Coming Home

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  3,099 ratings  ·  304 reviews
Ursula K. Le Guin's Always Coming Home is a major work of the imagination from one of America's most respected writers. More than five years in creation, it is a novel unlike any other.

A rich and complex interweaving of story and fable, poem, artwork, and music, it totally immerses the reader in the culture of the Kesh, a peaceful people of the far future who inhabit a pl
Paperback, 525 pages
Published February 27th 2001 by University of California Press (first published September 1st 1985)
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Jennifer Yes, very! It's only got a few actual narratives, though. A lot of it reads like an anthropology study. Poems, folks tales, plays, traditions.…moreYes, very! It's only got a few actual narratives, though. A lot of it reads like an anthropology study. Poems, folks tales, plays, traditions.(less)

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This is only book from Ursula Le Guin I didn't enjoy. Second read and my opinion remains unchanged so my original reviews will remain unchanged as well.

This is ethnology book, the fact that it's ethnology of made up civilization in post-apocalyptic world doesn't make it less so.
Because of that I find it hard to rate this book. On one hand there is evident effort to create culture of one entire civilization with it's unique culture poetry, folktales, myths, plays and songs and all that in world
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
The Millions discusses Always Coming Home ::

"The Utopias of Ursula K. Le Guin"
by Kelly Lynn Thomas

Again, me saying things I'm not authorized to say :: If you've not read Always Coming Home you've not really read LeGuin's vision.

Okay and then so for a few scrambled thoughts and reflections and impressions and way=off course remarks.

This is, true, only the second Le Guin I've read. It may be the last.

Most possibly so because I suspect that this m
May 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
It is unfortunate but my “book-reading biorhythms” rarely coincide with the books being read by the various groups I belong to here on GR so I missed out on the reading of Always Coming Home that took place in the Always Coming Home group a few months ago. I originally read the book nearly 20 years ago, probably in my first year or two of graduate school, and it didn’t lodge itself overly much in my conscious but what a difference twenty years makes. My latest nonfiction reading has focused on t ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
A Pitch for Greatness

This novel seems to be Ursula LeGuin’s pitch for credibility and/or greatness, not just as a science fiction writer, but as a fully-fledged novelist (i.e., not confined to any one genre).

You have to wonder whether the exhaustive (and exhausting) effort was worth it, at least partly because I’d argue that she had already achieved her goal in 1969 with “The Left Hand of Darkness”.

My reservations largely relate to the dressings of Post-Modernism that crept into the executio
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
There are few books I have read, none of them being fiction until now, that have required such a concerted effort of study on my part to even read through the book.

If it wasn't Ursula... I doubt I would have bothered. But it was, and I did, and of course it was well worth the effort.

The woman has created an entire culture. I don't know when I will have enough time to create an entire culture in my own head and then write a novel about it, but the fact that another woman had the time and did it
Kara Babcock
Why is it Ursula K. Le Guin always makes my life as a reader and reviewer difficult? Her books can’t be nice, straightforward stories—no, she has to create lyric, moving pieces of experimental literature that transcend our ordinary definitions of form and genre. I have a problem with Always Coming Home, but that problem is entirely independent of the book itself. It is, rather, a result of me and my particular biases and hang-ups.

I can’t help it: I love novels.

I know that, as far as literature g
Callum McAllister
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably overlooked as an example of one of those Great, Long, Terribly Important Novels. But it actually is one, and not in the sense that people can simply claim it from its length and subject matter, but because it really is. I haven't read anything recently that so thoroughly challenged my notions of what a novel does, what a novel should do and what it is for, let alone what are appropriate choices in terms of style, genre and form.

Also it was just enjoyable. Not all of it. A lot of was di
Oct 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Sort of an exercise in building a low-tech society set after our industrial modern age. The people of the Valley live a largely peaceful, non-hierarchical communal life that prioritizes listening and understanding, and considers being generous synonymous with wealth. The poor are those who do not give; giving makes one rich. It's fascinating, and I loved the ways the world building was woven into Stone Telling's story, and how the world building sections (hundreds of pages of an anthropologist's ...more
Though the introduction describes this as 'an archaeology of the future', it's no such matter. It's an ETHNOLOGY of (part of) the future, after the style of the Bureau of American Ethnology Reports, to which LeGuin has no doubt had access for most of her life. Most people who read LeGuin's works apparently are unaware that she is the daughter of the famous anthropologist AL Kroeber, and of the writer Theodora Kroeber, both of whom specialized in Northern Alta California. AL Kroeber was a friend ...more
I expected to take a long time over Always Coming Home. In a way, I wish I had: there's a lot in it, and a lot to reward a slower, careful reading -- this time I went plunging through it for the narrative, such as it was, enjoying the layers of understanding that came to me, imagining and figuring out what I didn't know. I didn't read the "Back of the Book" section, this time: another time, I think I will. I just wanted to fly through it, this time, total immersion in a culture that does not exi ...more
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-shelf, 2020-anima

We are the Condor, that seems clear. And our self-destruction is inevitable, that seems even more clear. But maybe instead of total annihilation, what we face is a new, better way of life, brought to us by people we now fear, sometime after we implode. Maybe the singularity will not be the moment our machines decide to destroy us, but the moment they decide they are better off without us, and so recede from society. They may check in once in awhile. Today I heard that we are currently spendin
3* A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle #1)
4* The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4)
4* Earthsea
3* The Diary of the Rose
4* The Dispossessed
4* Always Coming Home
TR Lavinia
TR Late in the Day: Poems 2010–2014
TR The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
TR Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with A Journal of a Writer's Week
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
It's a great mistake to try to read this book as a "novel", since it isn't one. It's purported to be more like an anthropologist's notebook of field work: a collection of cultural facts, legends, poetry and song, writings--and obliquely, the story of one woman raised among the Kesh people who rebels against their close-knit Valley community and seeks something "outside the world." The "coming home" referenced in the title is her journey of discovery from adolescent rebellion to mature choice-mak ...more
Easton Smith
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've found in the past decade or so that my hope for a better future gets further and further away. Not the hope itself, that is, but the date in which I think something more beautiful will really emerge. After reading a book about the 5 Great Extinctions I found that my hope took root in some time after the next one, when the cockroaches have morphed into butterflies and the humans who've survived remember nothing of capitalism and patriarchy. And this is about the spot where Always Coming Home ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing

Totally original.

LeGuin has been a major influence in my own writing and I have read most everything she has written, including her many short fiction collections and volumes on the craft of writing. Perhaps the only material of hers I've stayed away from is her YA stuff (A Wizard of Earthsea is NOT YA), although a couple months ago I read Very Far Away From Anywhere Else which is an exceptionally thoughtful mainstream coming of age novella.

Everyone will discuss The Dispossessed, The Left H
Jun 07, 2019 is currently reading it
a long, long time from now, in the valleys of what will no longer be called northern California, might be going to have lived a people called kesh. this is their stories, poems, songs..
Jan 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Always Coming Home is a study of a fictional society situated in northern California, dubbed the Valley, sometime in the (presumably) far future. Within the book are collections of poems, tales, cultural practices, linguistic notes, and a central narrative of a woman called Stone Telling, told in three parts. It is a complex work, and the amount of world building is impressive, and the resulting society feels genuine, but ultimately the end result is just not enjoyable to read.

The poems, tales,
Mar 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Cass by: Ceridwen Robot Smash
This book is officially being abandoned by me. I can see someone would try to read this. I mean if this was a book by David Gemmell or Anne McCaffrey (authors that I love) I might see myself pushing on, almost as if I owed the author.

I feel like the author is having a fleet of fancy, writing a book that noone can read in a bizarre 'not really a book' kind of way. I get the idea, it is a textbook written about the future, it is a compilation of anthropological notes and stories. The book has a co
Nov 26, 2011 rated it liked it
I have to admit -- I didn't finish it. I did enjoy what I read. It felt like getting to look through a viewfinder at a future tribalistic society. The trouble is, I always hated seeing Native American museum dioramas and glass cases full of spears and pottery. In some ways, this book gave me that same sense of ennui. Why? Because it takes a mostly anthropological approach to the fictional world she's created. While I believe LeGuin aims to celebrate this culture, she ends up creating something r ...more
Sep 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is a work of genius. I think Le Guin may have here beaten Tolkien for large-scale, complex, and detailed world-building - and considering that Tolkien recorded some 3,000 years of fictional history and created a handful of fictional languages, that's saying a lot.

It should be noted that this, like Tolkien's denser stuff, is not an easy read. There isn't really much of a plot, and I was often about to put the book down because I was so bored. Even if you like Tolkien's History of Middle
Ian Ridewood
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An unbelievable achievement: conducting an ethnology of a (fictional, far-future) society through their literature, language, song, and story is one of those big-brain genius moves that only Le Guin could do well.
Jan 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Murmurs at the limits of what constitutes a science/toward a science of care kinda thing
Maureen E
Originally published here:

I’ve had a previously undeclared quest over the past few years to read as much Ursula K Le Guin as I can. Her more well known and recent works–like Earthsea and Annals of the Western Shore–are old friends, but she wrote a lot more. A number of those earlier and more forgotten works are now being reissued, which helps except that it also fills me with rage that these seminal books from a giant figure in SFF are just now being repu
Gökçe Leblebici
the steps of human, then a himpie, cat, dog, any animals, following human again at the last pages of the books.

at the first pages of the book, mother warned up her daughter not to feed himpies with her (daughter's) meal. Then we read the grandma's amazing response; let it, she feed her soul.

Jacob Wren
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A few passages from Always Coming Home:


The difficulty of translation from a language that doesn’t yet exist is considerable, but there is no need to exaggerate it. The past, after all, can be quite as obscure as the future.


As a kitten does what all other kittens do, so a child wants to do what other children do, with a wanting that is as powerful as it is mindless. Since we human beings have to learn what we do, we have to start out that way, but human mindfulness begins where that wish to be
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Read for my Ecofem lit class. I don't have a Bible, but if I did, it would be this book. In it, Le Guin explores an "archaeology of the future" through her character/alter ego Pandora, who studies the Kesh people of California. The book, therefore, contains life stories, information on Kesh culture, practices, medicine, etc., recipes, poems, Kesh literature, plays, a glossary, pictures, music (the first edition came with a cassette tape and you can buy the CD from the website), etc.

I read this i
Valentina Salvatierra
A sprawling, experimental work that uses various types of narrative and non-narrative materials (maps, a glossary, poems, and even recipes) to represent the society of the Kesh, a small population living in California after some catastrophic world-wide event obliterated most of civilisation as we know it. It is hard to get into the book at first, as it submerges you into a world of strange terms and over-abundant descriptions of natural landscapes without really explaining what story it is that ...more
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Napa Valley would be one of the most beautiful places on Earth were it not for its people. Those leave a bitter taste, akin, I'm sure, to the sense of a sideways glance at a designer bag you no longer desire. Ursula K. Le Guin fixes this problem with golden descriptive powers and by removing the ugliest part of the place - its current residents. It's hard to express how much a revelation this is to me, as a current resident and outsider in this place of status and palate and terroir and superflu ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a phenomenal work that I feel like I will love even more on rereads. It is a tough but rewarding work. There is a narrative in there but it is not straight-forward as much of it is instead told in the form of an anthropology of a future society.
At the same time Le Guin hides really biting social commentary in with the utopian descriptions. In less skilled hands it would feel appropriative but she manages to develop it all so masterfully that it is very much a unique society handled with
Kate Savage
Nov 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The first book I read of Le Guin, and it sticks with me.

An ethnography of the deep future. A celebration of the "no-account" people who build whole and healthy and beautiful cultures. It's a book to read slowly and with patience, like watching a Natalia Almada film.
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William T Vollman...: Always Coming Home 5 40 Dec 19, 2017 05:38PM  
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Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more

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“When I take you to the Valley, you’ll see the blue hills on the left and the blue hills on the right, the rainbow and the vineyards under the rainbow late in the rainy season, and maybe you’ll say, “There it is, that’s it!” But I’ll say. “A little farther.” We’ll go on, I hope, and you’ll see the roofs of the little towns and the hillsides yellow with wild oats, a buzzard soaring and a woman singing by the shadows of a creek in the dry season, and maybe you’ll say, “Let’s stop here, this is it!” But I’ll say, “A little farther yet.” We’ll go on, and you’ll hear the quail calling on the mountain by the springs of the river, and looking back you’ll see the river running downward through the wild hills behind, below, and you’ll say, “Isn’t that the Valley?” And all I will be able to say is “Drink this water of the spring, rest here awhile, we have a long way yet to go and I can’t go without you.” 106 likes
“When mind uses itself without the hands it runs the circle and may go too fast.... The hand that shapes the mind into clay or written word slows thought to the gait of things and lets it be subject to accident and time. Purity is on the edge of evil, they say.” 9 likes
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