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Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with A Journal of a Writer's Week

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  859 ratings  ·  172 reviews
Praise for Ursula K. Le Guin:

"I read her nonstop growing up and read her still. What makes her so extraordinary for me is that her commitment to the consequences of our actions, of our all too human frailties, is unflinching and almost without precedent for a writer of such human optimism."—Junot Diaz

"A lot of her work is about telling stories, and what it means to tell st
Hardcover, 316 pages
Published October 18th 2016 by Small Beer Press (first published September 26th 2016)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  859 ratings  ·  172 reviews

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Start your review of Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with A Journal of a Writer's Week
Jun 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Nonfiction nom for the 2017 Hugos, this collection of essays and book reviews are good for what they are, being honest and rooted very firmly in Le Guin's mindset and fierce defense of Science Fiction in general.

Hell, I was rooting for the same points the entire time! Mainstream Lit-fiction stealing old and traditional SF ideas and then having the nerve to say it's not SF and has nothing to do with it, all the while thumbing its nose at a long tradition is NOT COOL, yo. Give credit where credit
Diane Barnes
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bedtime-books
It's always so nice to read essays from Le Guin. She is so intelligent, and expresses her opinions with such logic and clarity that it amazes me. If I knew her in person, I'm sure I'd be tongue-tied around her because I'm in such awe of her abilities. This is my third book of essays by her. Now to get over my prejudiced mindset of science fiction and read one of her novels.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-reads, skimmed
I respect Le Guin as an imaginative writer, feminist rule-bender, and wise crone, but I ended up skimming and skipping through many of these essays and book reviews once their sameness became apparent. I don't feel guilty about that, and she'd probably not care about my "skim and gobble" reading (as she calls it), particularly if her own disclaimers and ambivalence about writing nonfiction are truthful.

Le Guin is the great defender of the science fiction genre, of course, and that is a recurrin
Rachel (Kalanadi)
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5 stars

I do absolutely love reading Le Guin's critical work. I had no idea she wrote book reviews, so that entire section in this collection was wonderful. She makes me want to read H.G. Wells and Jose Saramago, which I never thought I'd say!
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I don't love Ursula Le Guin's non-fiction as much as her fiction, but at least it's always a pleasure to read. This book has a rather charming diary of a writer's week when she attended a writing retreat, including some very nice observations of rabbits which chime well with what I know of my domestic buns. There's also various essays on genre, and her other usual preoccupations. And then there's her book reviews -- I could wish there weren't as many of Atwood's work, who I don't have much inter ...more
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: b-grade, nonfiction
Full review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

The collection is organized into sections: “Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces,” “Book Introductions and Notes on Writers,” “Book Reviews,” and “The Hope of Rabbits: A Journal of a Writer’s Week.” The last section, the journal of a week, is about a week she spent at a retreat for women who are artists.

While I enjoyed everything in the book, the most electric section is “Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces.” When Le Guin speaks, she imparts warmth and
“Listening is an act of community, which requires space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.”

I wanted to like this book because I respect Le Guin as an author and a person, but two stars was a gift. This drivel seems tossed together to justify the selling price. It won awards perhaps because it says all the right things. Or it was her turn. (Good heavens, this was nominated for a 2017 Hugo. That being a popularity contest, folks will vote for it without reading it.)

“There seems t
Nick Imrie
While not being in any way autobiographical, this book gives surprising insight into Ursula K. Le Guin as a person. I like her very much. I especially liked the tentative modesty of her introduction to this rag-tag collection of essays, speeches, introductions, book reviews, and diary excerpts. She's keen to assert that she's no non-fiction writer, and doubts both her skill and her subject matter. I find her non-fiction to be skillful in just the way that her fiction is: surgically precise and u ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
4 stars instead of 5 because although some sections were amazing, other sections didn't grab my interest.

UKLG is the QUEEN of all things. The two stars of this compilation of essays, reviews, etc. are What Women Know and Disappearing Grandmothers. Both are *PERFECT*.

-----------WHAT WOMEN KNOW-----------

What do we learn from women? How to be human: what to fear, what to love, social skills, culture. Basically, "the whole amazing, complicated business of staying alive and being a member of societ
Debbie Notkin
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This lovely book is about one-third general essays, one-third essays on specific books and writers, and one-third book reviews, plus a little coda journal from Le Guin's week at a women's writing retreat in the Pacific Northwest.

I found it delightful from start to finish. I've always been a fan of Le Guin essays, and these from the last 15 years of her life held up beautifully. There's some repetition of themes, especially her resentment that science fiction isn't (or didn't used to be) consider
Clara Biesel
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a pleasure. This book is repetitive at times, as it is a collection of her nonfiction works, most of which are speeches and so have some overlap with each other. She champions the imagination, and its work and growth, and opposes stifling genre snobbiness. She thinks that nonfiction gets too much respect and that fiction of all sorts is underrated, but especially fiction which is especially imaginative: fantasy or science fiction. One of the reasons for this she insists begins with schoolin ...more
Lisa Kentgen
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a difficult book to review because it is not what I was hoping it would be. It provided a few gems of insight and I am grateful for them. I am delighted to have finally picked up a book by Ursula Le Guin and, frankly, it was an unusual first book to use as an introduction to her work. I started reading it a few days before she died and intend to read something else by her.

There are two primary sections to this book. The first I'll put into the category of discussions of genre and the pu
Mafalda Fernandes
Lidos os seguintes Ensaios e Outros

The Mind Is Still
The Operating Instructions
What It Was Like
Genre: A Word Only a Frenchman Could Love
“Things Not Actually Present”: On Fantasy, with a Tribute to Jorge Luis Borges
A Response, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti
The Beast in the Book
Inventing Languages
On David Hensel’s Submission to the Royal Academy of Art
On Serious Literature
Teasing Myself Out of Thought
Living in a Work of Art
Staying Awake
Great Nature’s Second Course
What Women Know
Disappearing Gra
Cheryl Kennedy
Jul 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Samples of Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces:
Teasing Myself Out of Thought
Living in a Work of Art
Learning to Write Science Fiction from Virginia Woolf
Le Guin's Hypothesis

Samples of Book Reviews:
Margaret Atwood: The Year of the Flood
Roberto Bolano: Monsieur Pain
Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night
David Mitchell: The Bone Clocks
Stefan Zweig: The Post Office Girl
Susanna Sturgis
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ursula Le Guin is fluent in fiction (short, long, and children's), poetry, drama, and nonfiction, but she notes in the foreword to this, her 2016 nonfiction collection: "Writing fiction or poetry is natural to me. I do it, want to do it, am fulfilled in doing it, the way a dancer dances or a tree grows. . . . Writing talks or essays, however, is always more like doing schoolwork. It's going to be assessed for style and content, and rightly so. Nobody knows better than I do what my stories are ab ...more
Peter Tillman
Pretty much required reading for UKL fans, although you can count on being annoyed from time to time, which is probably her intention. Best read a bit at a time, or that's how I did. Now it's due back, and I didn't quite finish. That's OK -- I'll get it out again, later.

The essay that's pretty much worth the price of the book is "A Report, by Ansible, from Tau Ceti": her reactions to critical reactions to her work, especially academic crits: For anyone who's been driven "slightly lunatic" by for
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've never read a Le Guin book, but I really enjoyed her essays and book reviews. I mean, there was some repetitive content and some that just didn't interest me at all, but I really enjoyed her voice and felt invigorated and angry at the same time--especially when she talks about the hidden female writers, the discrimination on literary genre (she hates Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowlings, apparently). I am not a sci-fi reader, but so many of her essays made me think that perhaps I am being narrowm ...more
Review of The Bone Clocks worth the price of admission.
Glen Engel-Cox
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
This is a collection of nonfiction by Le Guin, a combination of essays (mostly texts from speeches and presentations) and book forewords and reviews, with a diary excerpt finale, all written between 2000 and 2016. I found everything but the diary interesting.

There’s two main themes I found running through this book, both of them aimed directly at those who would guard the gates of literature. Unlike some others who began their career writing imaginative literature, Le Guin never apologized for i
Morgan Dhu
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a joy it is to read anything by Ursula Le Guin. In this instance, the "anything" is a collection of non-fiction writing - occasional pieces, book reviews, forewords to other people's books, essays on writing and writers and life. Given the somewhat lengthy title and subtitle of Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016 with A Journal of a Writer’s Week, this collection is a smorgasbord of delights from one of the finest writers and clearest thinkers of our time.

The essay
Charles Dee Mitchell
I seldom have as much pleasure in reading nonfiction as I do in a poem or a story. I can admire a well-made essay, but I’d rather follow a narrative than a thought.

With that somewhat odd opening sentence Ursula LeGuin introduces this new collection of her essays, reviews, public talks, and other occasional pieces. A few pages later she is even more to the point.

When it comes to sustained abstract thought, my attention span is slightly above that of a spaniel.

She says she struggles with her nonfi
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ursula K. Le Guin has moved from the fringes of sci fi to the mainstream of literary fiction, finally garnering the respect that she deserves. This collection of essays and reviews, while in places repetitive, gives the reader some of the nuts-and-bolts of Le Guin's thinking, and is beautifully written and often breathtakingly insightful. It isn't the same as reading her regular stories and novels, or any other kind of novel, as it is all nonfiction essays, with very little that could be called ...more
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Le Guin herself says in the first pages of this collection that she greatly prefers fiction to nonfiction and I often tend to agree, which means I was already primed not to enjoy this collection as much as her recent fiction collections. She's such a wonderful writer though that even though for me this never caught my interest as strongly as her fiction it was still nothing but a joy to read.

The book is divided into four general sections: the first a collection of talks and essays covering a var
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a varied and interesting collection of short pieces, most of which caught and kept my attention quite well. The author certainly is able to shape with words, and has an excellent feel for which ones to call upon in a given commentary. One of my favorites was the piece on Sylvia Townsend Warner, which, despite its brevity, brought her to life for me. The piece "What It Was Like" was moving in a way I didn't expect, and brought home the point most effectively. While I tend to ag ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
In particular I enjoyed the wit and wisdom in the "Talks, Essays, and Occasional Pieces" portion of this book. I decided, after reading just a few of each, that I would not continue with her "Book Introductions and Notes on Writers" or the "Book Reviews." Her later book "No Time to Spare" (which I read first) spoke to me more directly than this book. I fear that for the most part the sections of this book, the Book Introductions and Reviews were more erudite, and in some cases beyond my capacity ...more
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Le Guin continues to prove herself one of the most insightful writers in the field, being just as sharp and fascinating in the 21st Century as she was in the 20th Century.
I do feel some of the book reviews are a little to heavy on authorial history and not enough about the actual content but that is more a reflection of personal taste.
Recommended for anyone who wants witty and thoughtful insight into the state of fantastic fiction and indeed the world today
Nicholas Whyte
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I found this collection of essays full of wisdom and wit, often making fun of people who deserve it. It made me feel like I was in conversation with a vastly intelligent and immensely compassionate old friend.
Jul 30, 2017 rated it liked it
It's great to know that you can both agree and disagree with one of your favorite authors. This collection, I think, made me understand LeGuin better, and then be able to go on and do my own thing with my fiction. What does it say of me if I feel a little like exorcising a ghost?
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love Ursula K. Le Guin's fiction. This is actually the first time that I've read her non-fiction. Her voice, wit, and insights on a variety of subjects is immensely valuable. While her views might not be everyone's cup of tea, her non-fiction are just as much of a must-read as her fiction.
Pedro L. Fragoso
Jul 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As luminous as ever.

The book includes essay after essay defending genre as literature, including “Genre: A Word Only a Frenchman Could Love”, which I've quoted too many times (so, I'm not repeating it here).

Ursula Le Guin liked Philip K. Dick (“Much later in our lives, he and I corresponded for a couple of years, always about writing; he knew how much I admired his work. We talked on the phone two or three times, but never met.”)! I didn't expect that. And she reviewed Jo Walton (I imagine Jo W
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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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“Fiction offers the best means of understanding people different from oneself, short of experience. Actually, fiction can be lots better than experience, because it's a manageable size, it's comprehensible, while experience just steamrollers over you and you understand what happened decades later, if ever.” 11 likes
“Realism is for lazy-minded, semi-educated people whose atrophied imagination allows them to appreciate only the most limited and convention subject matter. Re-Fi is a repetitive genre written by unimaginative hacks who rely on mere mimesis. If they had any self-respect they'd be writing memoir, but they're too lazy to fact-check. Of course I never read Re-Fi. But the kids keep bringing home these garish realistic novels and talking about them, so I know that it's an incredibly narrow genre, completely centered on one species, full of worn-out cliches and predictable situations--the quest for the father, mother-bashing, obsessive male lust, dysfunctional suburban families, etc., etc. All it's good for is being made into mass-market movies. Given its old-fashioned means and limited subject matter, realism is quite incapable of describing the complexity of contemporary experience.” 9 likes
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