Friday, January 01, 2021

Further thoughts on 2020 reading -- Ursula K. Le Guin & the 33 1/3 series

 On Discovering Ursula K. Le Guin

Despite the vast amount of science fiction and fantasy that I read as a kid, and as an adult, until this past year I had never read a book by Ursula K. Le Guin. (For that matter, I never read Philip K. Dick, either, but let’s leave that for later.) 

I am at a loss to describe this lapse in my reading.  All the criteria is there for a successful author-reader rapport:

  • Le Guin wrote (and I read) both science fiction and fantasy.
  • Several of her books, notably A Wizard of Earthsea and The Left Hand of Darkness enjoyed critical and commercial success, and are now rightfully considered classics.  (The Left Hand of Darkness won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel. Le Guin was the first woman to earn that achievement.)
  • She influenced many writers that I have, and do, read, including Neil Gaiman, Iain Banks and David Mitchell. 
  • In 2003 she became the second woman named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

The great covid pandemic of 2020 brought us together.  I quickly plowed through the stack of books I planned to read this past year, and, limited in my ability to purchase new books, I raided the shelves of my personal library. There I found nine books by Le Guin. 

Yes, nine.  Waiting patiently to be discovered.

There was nothing for it, but to read these books: The Left Hand of Darkness, The Telling, Orsinian Tales, Rocannon’s World, The Dispossessed, Tehanu, The Beginning Place, Gifts and The Other Wind.  

I loved them. I absolutely fell in love with this writer.  Le Guin is a powerful and luminous writer who explores sexuality, feminism, social and political systems, race, gender and coming of age themes set among alien worlds or fantastic worlds filled with magic, dragons and fantastic quests.

I especially liked Tehanu and The Other Wind  — fantasy of the first order. (Note: these books are closely connected. Tehanu should be read first.)

There are a number of books by Le Guin I have yet to read.  I will continue to address that oversight in 2021. 

The 33 1/3 Series

I like music, lots of styles from blues to rock to country, and I like reading about music, so it is no surprise that I both enjoy and recommend the 33 1/3 series from Bloomsbury Academic.

These are small books (rarely more than 150 pages in length) about popular music, focusing on individual albums by artists.  I’ve read 11 books in the series, ranging from Murder Ballads, the album from Nick Cave and Bad Seeds, to Dusty In Memphis, featuring Dusty Springfield, to Workingman's Dead, my favorite album by the Grateful Dead. Other books I've read feature John Cash, AC/DC, Jethro Tull and Neil Young.

I like to listen to the album, read about a particular track, and then listen again.  

It’s an ideal series for music lovers.  Currently, there are 151 books in the series. 

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