Book Notes: No Time to Spare

No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin
Read Aug 29, 2020 - Sep 7, 2020

This book is a selection of Le Guin’s blog posts. She started blogging in 2010, at age 81(!), inspired by the example of José Saramago. The blog archives are still up, at, although the posts that went into this book are temporarily not available in the archive (thanks, capitalism).

The themes are very varied, ranging from stories about Le Guin’s cat, to thoughts about capitalism, to a vignette about her former secretary. They are all lovely, although some went much deeper than others.

Book Highlights

What a marvelous example of capitalist thinking, or nonthinking: to consider growth and stability as the same thing!

Encouragement by denial, however well-meaning, backfires. Fear is seldom wise and never kind. Who is it you’re cheering up, anyhow? Is it really the geezer? To tell me my old age doesn’t exist is to tell me I don’t exist. Erase my age, you erase my life—me.

In our increasingly unstable, future-oriented, technology-driven society, the young are often the ones who show the way, who teach their elders what to do. So who respects whom for what? The geezers are damned if they’re going to kowtow to the twerps—and vice versa.

Americans, even when they pay pious lip service to Judeo-Christian rules of moral behavior, tend to regard moral behavior as a personal decision, above rules, and often above laws. This is morally problematic when personal decision is confused with personal opinion.

Opinion all too often leaves no room for anything but itself.

amazondotcom, the famous philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting publishers, encouraging writers, and greasing the skids of the American Dream.

Fuck is an aggressive word, a domineering word. When the guy in the Porsche shouts Fuck you, asshole! he isn’t inviting you to an evening at his flat. When people say Oh shit, we’re fucked! they don’t mean they’re having a consensual good time. The word has huge overtones of dominance, of abuse, of contempt, of hatred. So God is dead, at least as a swearword, but hate and feces keep going strong. Le roi est mort, vive le fucking roi.

Large, general questions about meaning, etc., can only be answered with generalities, which make me uncomfortable, because it is so hard to be honest when you generalize. If you skip over all the details, how can you tell if you’re being honest or not?

Words are my matter—my stuff. Words are my skein of yarn, my lump of wet clay, my block of uncarved wood. Words are my magic, antiproverbial cake. I eat it, and I still have it.

As a way to honor a writer, an award has genuine value, but the use of prizes as a marketing ploy by corporate capitalism, and sometimes as a political gimmick by the awarders, has compromised their value.

But mostly because I didn’t and don’t think we have much idea of what’s enduringly excellent until it’s endured. Been around quite a long time. Five or six decades, to start with.

A book that makes me cry the way music can or tragedy can—deep tears, the tears that come of accepting as my own the grief there is in the world—must have something of greatness about it.

Greatness, in the sense of outstanding or unique accomplishment, is a cryptogendered word.

Upholders and defenders of a status quo, political, social, economic, religious, or literary, may denigrate or diabolize or dismiss imaginative literature, because it is—more than any other kind of writing—subversive by nature. It has proved, over many centuries, a useful instrument of resistance to oppression.

Yang, the dominator, always seeks to deny its dependence on yin.

Can women operate as women in a male institution without becoming imitation men?

I wish the ideals of respecting truth and sharing the goods hadn’t become so foreign to my country that my country begins to seem foreign to me.

Cruelty implies consciousness of another’s pain and the intent to cause it. Cruelty is a human specialty, which human beings continue to practice, and perfect, and institutionalize, though we seldom boast about it. We prefer to disown it, calling it “inhumanity,” ascribing it to animals. We don’t want to admit the innocence of the animals, which reveals our guilt.

People and dogs have been shaping each other’s character and behavior for thirty thousand years. People and cats have been working at transforming each other for only a tenth that long. We’re still in the early stages. Maybe that’s why it’s so interesting.

The grave is without egg.

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