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Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places

(About Writing)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  813 ratings  ·  85 reviews
“Ursula Le Guin at her best . . . This is an important collection of eloquent, elegant pieces by one of our most acclaimed contemporary writers.” —Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post Book World
“I have decided that the trouble with print is, it never changes its mind,” writes Ursula K. Le Guin in her introduction to Dancing at the Edge of the World. But she has, and here i
Kindle Edition, 452 pages
Published July 18th 2017 by Grove Press (first published February 1st 1989)
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Ursula Le Guin begins this collection by speaking of crones, and then proceeds to show us what the word means, by sharing the wisdom of her then sixty years. The subtitle is exactly right, and she weaves these three categories together beautifully.

Did you know that she could write biting book and movie reviews? That she wrote unique travel pieces that reflect her fascination with discovery? And she shared my love of train travel: “Only unimportant people take trains. People to whom t
Dec 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Responding to my brother’s plea for Goodreads friends who have read Ursula Le Guin, I picked up this collection at the library. Mind-expanding. There’s an essay in here called “The Space Crone” where she offers a brilliant and amusing explanation of why the elderly woman is humanity’s best representative.

The collection is presented chronologically so that I could see some of her ideas developing over the years. In 1983 she gave “A Left-Handed Commencement Address” in which she wrote
This is the passage I hit that sent my reading of this book screeching to a halt:

"You see, she [Irene Claremont de Castillejo] is trying to show how a woman's desire to have children, and to love and care for them, can be twisted all out of shape by ethical coercion, until it becomes a bondage , a hideous sentimental trap. Here she offers an example of natural, unperverted feminine morality:

I have been struck with the spontaneous reaction of many women and girls to the thalidom/>
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic
Serendipitously reading this after Native Tongue was especially enriching. Startling to read the earlier essays and find myself completely disagreeing with Le Guin. Relieved to find more common ground in the more recent essays. Thrilled to have more reading to do, thanks to Le Guin’s recommendations.
May 25, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
putting this on my list after seeing this line:

'"No house worth living in has for its cornerstone the hunger of those who built it.'

attributed to Ursula K. Le Guin on my twitter feed. went to look for the source, and found this. oh, I miss her dearly.
Geoffrey Dow
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Today seems to be the day I talk about books I've read more than once (yes, I'm procrastinating; I should be copy-editing a book I will soon be publishing), and Dancing at the Edge of the World is no exception.

Spoiler alert: This collection of informal essays is fantastic. The late Ursula K. Le Guin, science fiction Grandmaster, noted fantasist and, yes, essayist, is a writer who's quiet, sardonic and yet passionate pieces give the lie to the idea that feminists have no sense of humour. If you
I think Ursula Le Guin's collections of essays were the first non-fictional works that I really learned to appreciate. I was very much not a non-fiction person at the time, but Le Guin's writing is always so full of clarity, so well considered, that it draws me in when it's non-fiction as surely as when it's prose.

Obviously some of these essays are somewhat dated now, written and edited in the 70s and 80s, but there's still a lot of interest there. Le Guin's thoughts on the gender issue
Dec 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’ve actually recommended this book many times to people of all reading backgrounds. If you’re a woman, especially with any kind of feminist bent, you should read this book. If you’re a writer, you should read this book. If you’re both, what the hell are you waiting for? Le Guin is a must, especially for those of us struggling to define ourselves in male-dominated genres. And as mentioned behind the cut, Le Guin is passionate about diversity, so if you’re a writer who’s passionate about that, do ...more
Timons Esaias
Feb 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This collection is loaded with five-star material, but I initially gave it four, because there are some badly dated sections, and some just cranky bits. In the process of writing this brief review, though, I changed my mind and upgraded my rating to five stars after all. There were just too many exclamation marks in the TOC to ignore, and too many underlined passages.

Let me list myself among those who idolizes Le Guin. She wrote at least four immortal short stories that would belong
May 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Narrative is a stratagem of mortality. It is a means, a way of living. It does not seek immortality; it does not seek to triumph over or escape from time (as lyric poetry does). It asserts, affirms, participates in directional time, time experienced, time as meaningful. If the human mind had a temporal spectrum, the nirvana of the physicist or the mystic would be way over in the ultraviolet, and at the opposite end, the infrared, would be Wuthering Heights.” — “Some Thoughts on Narrative”

Sandeep Tammu
As the title tells you, this book is a collection of thoughts of Ursula on Women, places and words. This is my third book of Ursula this year, and I am a huge fan of her work. I felt like I’m probably not the intended audience for this book, but I still found some of the essays fascinating to read.

Ursula’s talent really lies in representing people that are under represented, consistently great character arcs and an inward journey through great dialogue, imagery and plot. This book is stripped o
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a smart, thoughtful, engaging book. There were a couple of essays that missed me, but by and large I enjoyed the whole work. Le Guin has a unique mind that shines with confidence, insight and love.
Janet Marugg
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This woman is awesome. I know, she passed away last year, but this proves Ursula is with us still.
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin, so some are just ok and some are downright amazing.

I have to agree with the people who love her concepts and her nonfiction moreso than her fiction. While I plan on reading a few more of her books, these essays are fiery and concentrated while her fiction can be a bit dry (and in all fairness, so are some of her male peers like Asimov).

She has a key in the beginning for the topics of her essays and I feel like that's a really nice touch. I p
May 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Her essays on feminism in particular are striking and moving, reading this as I do in the age of DJT, when women's choices and voices are at risk, and indeed we have a president who views us as his sexual toys no brags about it.
I always find it more difficult to review anthologies and books I really enjoyed. Unfortunately, Dancing at the Edge of the World falls into both categories, making it nearly impossible for me to sum up. I greatly enjoyed reading the majority of this anthology and seeing how LeGuin's views changed over the decade plus time-span covered in Dancing at the Edge of the World. Some of her speeches were clunky in written form and her travelogues would probably have been more enjoyable if I had ever visited the p ...more
Kelly Wondracek
In her collection of essays, speeches, reviews, and journal entries, Le Guin presents a chronicle guide to her reflections of writing and literature, her own work, women's issues, and travel. Most of these works were written in the 80s, but they don't lose their relavance 20 years later. Although she is both an eloquent writer and speaker, all these topics together can feel very random when strung together. The works will appeal mostly to fans of Le Guin, fans of fantasy, writers, or those inter ...more
Faith Justice
Sep 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: given-away
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my all-time favorite authors. I've read nearly everything she's written--science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, non-fiction. She is a brilliant writer and this collection of essays does not disappoint. I did an extensive interview with Ms. Le Guin a few years ago. The entire transcript is available at my website and an excerpt is at my blog.

From the back:

"From modern literature to menopause, from utopian thought to rodeos--in this classic collection of
Jul 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the subtitle suggests, there are multiple subjects at play in these essays, and while I found Leguin's thinking and writing about feminism to be extraordinary, her discussions of narrative intelligent and thought provoking (especially her questioning of conflict as the central motivating force in narrative), I was mostly unimpressed with the writings focusing on place. Therefore, four stars for a book full of five star essays.
Leah Horlick
Ursula K. does some of her best writing on reading aloud, and some of the most powerful pieces in this collection are the speeches she wrote for graduations and conferences. Highly recommend "Is Gender Necessary? Redux" to anyone who has read, enjoyed, and struggled with The Left Hand of Darkness.
I hope that I never stop reading this book.
Jess Miller
May 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I read this already, but I'm not sure...

Twila Newey
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just need to read everything she's ever written. I'm working on a collection of essays on Motherhood and Writing. There were two or three in this collection which were hugely informative and helpful. They made me cry. They made me wish I would have had LeGuin as a teacher in my twenties. Her practical, no-more-bull-shit, sort of approach to all the nonsense surrounding our definitions of good mother and good writer. And that those worlds are not compatible. Every woman writer should read her. ...more
Aliya Whiteley
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A collection of Le Guin's papers, speeches and reviews. I hadn't come across many of them before, and some will stay with me for a long time, I think. In particular 'The Fisherwoman's Daughter', which I wish I'd read back when I first had my daughter - although, saying that, any time would be a great time to read it (for any writer, not just the parenting ones!). The 'struggle' to write, compared to the 'demands' placed upon those who wish to find time/space/money to write is examined with such ...more
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My interest in these essays varied. I could not finish "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night; Or Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire" which is full of insight jokes and references to a symposium she gave a talk to. Others really made we think like "Conflict" about whether conflict is a defining feature of stories. Some seem dated others are still fresh.
I found this to be so compelling at times and at other times a slog. There were speeches or talks she gave that I found repetitive; I felt sure they were wrapping up only to see that there were several more pages to it. I found it all a bit battering. Maybe just too much density shoved into one tome. As usual, her clarity of mind and her parsing of our times, our words, and culture are spot on.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ursula Le Guin's Dancing At The Edge Of The World is a collection of her essays and reviews over the years. Interesting and incisive, as the cover says – and also humorous, warmhearted, deeply self-aware and impossibly clever. What a woman. I can't recommend 'Is Gender Necessary? Redux' and her Bryn Mawr Commencement Address enough.
Warwick Stubbs
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Traversing through feminist essays, lectures, book reviews, and travelogues, of all 'The Fisherwomen's Daughter' is a MUST READ! Perfectly placed after a series of essays about literature and feminism, it sums the entire lot of with perfectly realised arguments and imagery. I never felt her thoughts were outdated, and were always coherent, if sometimes uninteresting.
Mary Braden
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love LeGuin's voice, its confidence and wit that carries a barb. In these pieces, she teases out not only what it means to be a woman, and a woman reader and a woman writer, but why it matters to see the world through womanly eyes, and how badly the world needs that vision. I didn't read the last chapter, which I regret. But it was enormously satisfying nonetheless.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
Inspirational and life-changing: Dancing at the Edge of the World is a must read for women balancing writing with their other roles in life. I'm so glad my book club picked this text. Le Guin's style, wit, and wisdom were delightful to read.
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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, Oregon.

She w

Other books in the series

About Writing (4 books)
  • Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew
  • The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
  • Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin (Literary Conversations)
“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.” 200 likes
“If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it's useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then the next day you probably do much the same again—if to do that is human, if that's what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time....

[T]he proper, fitting shape of the novel might be that of a sack, a bag. A book holds words. Words hold things. They bear meanings. A novel is a medicine bundle, holding things in a particular, powerful relation to one another and to us."

—"The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”
More quotes…