Thursday 18 February 2016

Inspirational People: Ursula K. Le Guin

My triumvirate of favourite authors, I have mentioned before, consists of Sir Terry Pratchett, Patrick Rothfuss, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Of these, Ursula Le Guin rules queen. (Most of the time, anyway. I can be fickle.)

Photo © 2014 Jack Liu

I grew up in a house of books, and it was wonderful. I remember learning to read with my Mum, but I don't remember not being able to read at least a little any more than I can remember not being able to talk at least a little. I am grateful to my parents and my genetics for that - it's taken much longer for my very dyslexic younger sister to read with the pleasure I take for granted.

But despite her dyslexia, when my Dad was preparing his will and asked my younger siblings and I if there were any books we particularly wanted, we each immediately requested the Le Guins. He trawls charity shops for her older books (older books have a particular feel as well as that biblichor smell that makes them more desirable), and gives any he already has to whichever child arrives first and doesn't own that one.

Before anything else by Le Guin, I read the first volume of her short story collection, The Wind's Twelve Quarters. Many of the stories affected me - Darkness Box and The Word of Unbinding stand out particularly because each spoke to my fear of death, but it was Semly's Necklace that cut me the deepest, because as well as my fear of death it sang to the gaping loss of my mother half a life before.

Rocannon's World was the first of her novels I read. It's my memory that I read The Wind's Twelve Quarters because my Dad wanted me to read Semly's Necklace in preparation for Rocannon's World, but having recently re-read the novel I realise Semly's Necklace - or a version of it - makes the first chapter so perhaps I'm wrong. I enjoyed A Wizard of Earthsea, which I read later, but not as much as her science fiction and not as much as my Dad hoped I would, but I want to re-read it now because I think my adult mind will find more in it than my child's mind, seeking adventure, did.

My favourite title of any book ever is The Word for World is Forest (I also love Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, and Le Guin comments on how beautiful his language is in that book), but my favourite of all her books - the one that had the biggest impact on shaping the way I think - is The Left Hand of Darkness. I will try not to say much so as not to give spoilers, but I was a young teen when I read it, and gender was a very fixed and binary thing to me, and I'm thankful to have read this book then so it could have such an impact on me and open my eyes to the world as it is, instead of as society pretends it is.

I am currently reading Dancing at the Edge of the World. It makes me smirk and want to cry and above all it makes me think. There have been many highlights, but something I particularly enjoyed was the way she shared a piece she'd written a decade earlier that she no longer fully agreed with. Instead of presenting it in a changed form with no explanation, she has presented it in it's original, with additional italic annotations explaining what she no longer agrees with and why, and how she would re-word aspects if she were to write it now (or at least, the now of when this was published). It is all the more powerful for it: to be able to admit that our opinions can change is a vital step in communication, in community building

I have tagged this 'inspirational people' because her fiction has had a huge impact on me; the worlds she has created have affected the way I view this world; her poetry in prose is something I strive towards (although, it is my own style, my own poetry, I am seeking). She is part of why I can't help but write, why story holds me so closely, but she is also part of why I am comfortable calling myself feminist, and why at least trying to be inclusive, intersectional in my feminism matters to me.

Reading Dancing at the Edge of the World, I am realising that her voice is so gentle and so strong, it compels me to seek mine. I could not (should not) write her stories, but she is a pilot star as I seek my own.   

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