grieving the last page | 2018.10.23

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

Le Guin, Ursula K_No Time to Spare

Publication: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

Genre: Essays, Selections

Pages: 215 | Audio Length: 6 hours, 33 minutes

Formats: Paperback, Hardcover

Source: MCL

There are some books that I find do not lend themselves to binge reading. Instead, they demand a more carefully plotted pace, with long rests in between so that a reader might catch her breath and reflect.

I purchased Le Guin’s No Time to Spare on Audible some time this spring and just finished it last Tuesday. The irony of the title versus my drawn-out consumption of its contents is now giving me pause. My finishing was not without a regretful sigh, as if the last syllables of the text were punctuating a farewell from a dear friend. Sure, this feeling was probably heightened by Le Guin’s passing this year, but I find this experience of loss at the turning of the last pages of a book has more to do with a particularly perfect coupling of the essence of what was said in the text itself and the reader’s state of mind when she approached that specific piece of writing.

For myself and this book, I think it was the cats. My cat gave up on this world in May this year, and my trips to the vet with her on the number 20 bus up into the West Hills above Portland during a very long, dreary weekend were accompanied by Le Guin’s essays about her many feline companions, the sorrows of losing them, and the curious joys of getting to know the next. While I tried to sooth my cat in the final days of her nearly twenty-something years, Le Guin whispered distractions of insights about what it must mean to write “the great American novel” and how The Grapes of Wrath will always be her favourite in that category. Her comments about answering fan letters from children, as well as how she never liked the grammatically nonsensical phrase about not being able to have your cake and eat it too, were a welcome reprieve from my perch on the curb outside the vet’s office while I waited for the tests that I knew would show Nadia had already reached a state of incurability.

After that difficult month, I got sidetracked by other books and projects. My partner and I filled our weekends with camping to stay away from an apartment now devoid of its most (between the three of us, anyways) pleasant presence. Then a couple months ago, I realized I had been stealing snatches of time between all these other activities to tune into Le Guin’s No Time to Spare, but usually only in moments of distress. I realized this book had become like some sacred text that steadied my nerves and calmed my whirling thoughts to a more predictable rhythm each time I picked it up. And, again, I think it’s both because of the state of my mind in this phase of my life along with the poignance of her essay topics.

As my curiously reverent attitude towards the book dawned on me, I found my favorite pieces were her essays about anger in the relation to feminism and politics, along with the one in which she explains how belief really has absolutely no place in the argument between science and religion. In taking one’s time with a piece of literature such as this (the irony of the title against this recommendation for a slower reading aside), I think the reader gains a greater ability to connect with the writing, its author, and the thoughts behind them both. Some books are for sipping rather than gulping, it seems, but they are usually the ones that will stay with a reader the longest.

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