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

(About Writing)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  939 ratings  ·  103 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
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 time isn’t mo
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 (said):

I have always felt that Mrs. Le Guin was amazingly intelligent and this collection of essays and speeches demonstrated her brilliance in numerous ways. However, sometimes her academic approach to everything becomes inaccessible and loses the reader. Her feminist essays were wonderful and her commencement speeches uplifting. Unfortunately I found her literary essays daunting and at times disjointed. Overall, this was not an easy read but offered a worthwhile academic journey through Mrs. Le Guin’ ...more
Yet another entry in the list of “this book changed my life.” Every book does, to be sure; if only cumulatively. But Ursula Le Guin, once again, changes it in a big way.
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 thalidomide tragedies. So
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 h
Susan Lampe
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To read Dancing at the Edge of the World is to enter the sweeping, vast thoughts in the mind of author Ursula Le Guin. She leads her reader from menopause to giving birth and reveals her own experience with abortion. She bemoans the fate of women caught in a male dominated world and explores the difficulties of women who write. Le Guin wraps the book in thoughts about poetry, prose and narration. She shares thoughts about her own science fiction characters and her experiences as a writer in that ...more
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 issues in The
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
Le Guin is a very intelligent, open-minded woman with worthwhile things to say about science fiction and its place in reality, abortion / pro-choice, women and gender, narrative and writing and fiction and poetry!, and politics. Occasionally she oversteps her bounds and uses examples that aren't credited or explained in ways that makes her use of them okay (some odd stuff with Coyote in particular); and often, her conclusions from texts and her general arguments don't follow a logic that shares ...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
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
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.
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.
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 in any antho
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
A collection of speeches and short pieces on writing. As may be expected with a diverse range, some of these were excellent and some underwhelming. Still, a unique opportunity to see inside the mind of a true master.
“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”

Jai R.
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I never finished this so keep that in mind.
My main problem with this is that the author is so damn self righteous and emotional and has very little to back her points. I can’t say I don’t respect her because she has done a lot of helpful things for women in the literary world. I kind of feel like she’s the Freud in this though.
I haven’t read her fantasy stories yet though so I might come back and fix some of this. At the moment I feel like she should have thought more, researched a lot more and
It feels kind of weird to rate this one with stars, so I’ll just do a quick review! A collection of interesting and thought provoking stories by one of my most admired authors. Admittedly, I did skip quite a few, or put them on speed read — this one includes a lot of travel essays, which I wasn’t particularly interested in.

I read this one as an audiobook read, and the narrator did a fantastic job! That being said, I do think his was probably more suited to print. I went with the audiobook due t
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
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 vi ...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 essays,
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.
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...

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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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