Ursula K. Le Guin’s lasting appeal


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I’ve always found it interesting — and sometimes humiliating — to go back to the books I loved as a kid. This was one reason I wanted to profile Ursula K. Le Guin for this Sunday’s Arts & Books. I loved Le Guin’s Earthsea books when I was 11 or 12, and, a few years later, “The Left Hand of Darkness” and “The Dispossessed” blew me away.

I traveled to Portland, Ore., to interview Le Guin, reread those old favorites as well as some of her more recent work and spoke to critics and writers about her half-century career. I was quite pleased to see how strong her books remained, even if I heard their music, as a 40-year-old, in a different key.


Of course, I’m not alone in thinking that Le Guin stands up:

“I’ve always felt, as I know so many writers do,’ says Pico Iyer, ‘that Le Guin is one of the great overlooked treasures of American literature, in part because she dares to imagine how things might be as well as looking with undeluded clarity at how things are. She brings the wisdom of East and West into the kind of narratives that even children can follow.

“I think Le Guin is vastly underrated by the critical establishment, which continues to stereotype her as a genre writer,” adds former NEA chief Dana Gioia. “She’s become a deeply serious writer without losing the vitality and the excitement of popular literature.”

And Annalee Newitz, editor of the science fiction blog io9, compares Le Guin’s recent work (“The Telling,” “Four Ways to Forgiveness,” and the stories in “The Birthday of the World”) to late Philip Roth. “She’s managed to take the simple, poetic style she’s known for and use it to address contemporary issues.”

-- Scott Timberg