collects talks, essays, introductions to beloved books, and book reviews by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of our foremost public literary intellectuals. It is a manual for investigating the depth and breadth of contemporary fiction — and, through the lens of deep considerations of contemporary writing, a way of exploring the world we are all living in.
... [a] collection of (for the most part) previously published talks, essays, book introductions, and reviews. Together, they put the lie to her assertion that 'I seldom have as much pleasure in reading nonfiction as I do in a poem or a story.' For these examples of her own nonfiction are, for her readers, an undivided pleasure. Part of that pleasure derives from the investment of energy they demand from the reader ... Finally, what she says of poetry—'Its primary job is simply to find the words that give it its right, true shape'—might well be said of all the shapely pieces in this generous, edifying, and invaluable collection.
... [Le Guin's] new collection...is like opening a big pile of letters from someone I admire and love so I can imagine drinking tea with them while we plot revolution and the overthrow of the patriarchy ... 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 humor while also conveying an unwavering devotion to fighting injustice. She is not malicious but neither does she mince words. Everyone, regardless of their feelings about abortion, should read her short piece 'What It Was Like.' a transcript of a speech she made to the Oregon chapter of NARAL in 2004, about the times before abortion was legal. This speech, when read in its entirety, is so powerful that I had to take a break after reading it; it made me woozy ... This book is, for the most part, for fans on the obsessive-but-not-in-a-bad-way end of the spectrum. Le Guin’s books brought me comfort when I was enduring something terrible and they’ve gone on to nurture my soul and challenge my mind. So for me, this collection is solid gold. The only reason I’m giving it a B and not an A is that it’s not cohesive work (intentionally). It’s like a collection of special features on a DVD.
These short pieces comprise a volume that, like many such miscellaneous collections, is uneven, but the few minor pieces are outweighed by several gems ... Many pieces reflect her commitment to craft, her belief in the endurance of the book as physical object, and her objections to the 'false categorical value judgment' that elevates 'literature' above genre—which would include much of Le Guin’s output of science fiction and children’s books ... a collection notable for its wit, unvarnished opinions, and passion.