Of late I’ve been rereading Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin, in preparation for Potlatch 18. It’s my second time through the novel, and I have to say that it’s as good upon reread as it was the first time–maybe better.
LeGuin is my favorite author. That’s putting it badly, though, because I don’t just enjoy reading her books: her writing embodies everything that I would want to accomplish as a writer. Ursula LeGuin is who I want to be when I grow up. And Always Coming Home is my favorite of the books of hers that I’ve read (which is most, but not all, of everything she’s ever published). It is the perfect combination of those traits that make her admirable: a piercingly beautiful description of a place that doesn’t exist, painted with such realism that one can hardly believe she didn’t actually go there; a fierce and overwhelming critique of modern civilization, not at its margins but at its core; a story of a place so unlike this world that it seems impossible to achieve, but nonetheless not a utopia or a city of angels, but a place inhabited by people with dirty feet. The first time I read the book it changed the way that I looked at the world. The second time has changed me again.
LeGuin is often polemical but not political, didactic but not condescending–but her politics and her teaching conflict with mine in many places. This makes it a hard book to read. It cuts me to the quick. It bites against things I believe deeply to be true. It speaks honestly, and forces me to be honest. I come away from reading it exhausted, spent and sweaty and in love. Rereading it was exhilarating but tiring, and leaving me with the need to process and consider what I saw. Hopefully, over the next several days I’ll be able to post a few articles discussing this book and my reactions to it. If I’m not too lazy, and if my thoughts settle into a pattern that fits into words.