Book Review: No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin was one of my instructors at Clarion West 1973. It’s a shame I don’t remember very much about my Clarion experience; but after all, that was about 45 years ago and I had just turned twenty. I was very naive, and the only thing I knew about writing was that I wanted to do it. No, I had to do it. Clarion West back then benefited me more by the fellowship of other writers than for the specific instruction on how to put together a story. It would be over twenty-five years before I managed to sell any of my fiction.

Back then I read a lot of fiction of what was termed the New Wave: stories that pushed the borders of what was generally accepted during the pulp era. Le Guin was a major voice in the science fiction field. I recall reading her novel The Dispossessed, her novella “The World for World is Forest,” which appeared in the groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions, and numerous short stories. Sometimes I didn’t always completely understand her fiction; it was too sophisticated and I wasn’t ready for it. Recently I’ve read several of her novelettes and short stories and have been quite impressed.

Le Guin died recently, which makes No Time to Spare her last book, unless more are released posthumously. It’s a very entertaining collection of essays, originally blog posts, gentle in tone and varying greatly in subject matter. I think the section that I enjoyed the most is the first, in which she talks about what it’s like to grow old. She was in her eighties when she wrote it, and I’m just about to turn 65, but I could identify with her words because in some ways, especially physically, I am beginning to feel my age. I am much more tired than when I was younger, and infirmities take longer to heal. My biggest problem, though, is the feeling that I haven’t really accomplished what I want to with my writing. I’ve done some good work, and editors are starting to buy my short stories more regularly, but though I have published over twenty books, I have few readers. In that, Le Guin and I differ, and I was acutely aware of the difference as I read her essays. She writes from the perspective of great success, multiple awards, and financial ease, while I am still struggling to break out and barely scrape up enough for the rent and bills at the end of each month. I bring all this up because it was going through my mind as I read this book.

The other section of No Time to Spare that was particularly relevant to me was the one on the literary business. In the other parts of the book Le Guin writes about odds and ends of her family and professional life and her relationship with her current cat. In all of it I felt a profoundly informal atmosphere, as if I were sitting with her and chatting about these various subjects over a cup of tea. I don’t know why a cup of tea comes to mind; I usually prefer coffee, but tea seems to fit the ambiance better. That’s the thing about writers: they age and die physically just like anyone else, but we have the ongoing legacy of their words, and when we read them, we can once again awaken the mind and spirit that was stilled. I enjoyed reading this book. It was relaxing, comforting, informative, pleasant, and satisfying.

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