The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination

by Ursula K. Le Guin, Ursula K. Guin
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Having read and enjoyed LeGuin¿s previous non-fiction works (particularly DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT, and her writing book, STEERING THE CRAFT), I expected an interesting and entertaining volume of essays. What I got far exceeded my expectations. I was enchanted from the first words, and I could hardly wait to read as many of these pieces as I could gulp down each night. When I finished, I was unhappy it was all consumed. I wanted more. The book is a cornucopia of variety. There are serious essays, playful performance pieces, literary commentary, a long and wonderful poem entitled ¿The Writer on, and at, Her Work,¿ and even some sketches LeGuin has done. The volume is separated into four sections: Personal Matters, Readings, Discussions & Opinions, and On Writing. The first section gives the reader a glimpse of who Ursula LeGuin is. She talks a bit of her family, of her parents¿ occupations (anthropologist father and biographer mother), and of her love of libraries and islands¿imaginary and real. The next two sections cover all sorts of topics. Whether she was discussing awards and gender or the submerged humor of Mark Twain¿s ¿Diaries of Adam and Eve¿ or literacy or rhythm in the works of JRR Tolkien, I felt I was in sure hands. I must admit that I expected the essay, ¿Stress-Rhythm in Poetry and Prose¿ to be deadly dull. Instead, I was surprised beyond my wildest imagination to find that for the first time in my entire life, someone had actually explained meter and rhythm so that it made complete sense to me. I had one of those ¿Aha!¿ moments, suddenly understanding it in a way that I had never quite managed. (So _that_ is how iambic pentameter works so effectively!) I¿ve been raving ever since about rhythm to all who will listen. I like the fact that LeGuin does not hesitate to address sexism, homophobia, and unfairness. Her piece entitled ¿Unquestioned Assumptions¿ is masterful. She talks about the four common varieties of unquestioned assumption (We¿re all men, white, straight, and Christian), and then adds a fifth which she explores at length: We¿re all Young. Her analysis of these issues alone was worth the price of the book. The final section of the book is about writing and was my favorite section. LeGuin addresses many angles of craft and technique. The name of the book, THE WAVE IN THE MIND, refers to an explanation of style that Virginia Woolf once wrote in a letter. Concerning what rhythm is, Woolf had written, ¿A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind¿and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it¿ (p. xii). LeGuin obviously agrees with this. She writes that ¿every novel has its characteristic rhythm. And that if the writer hasn¿t listened for that rhythm and followed it, the sentences will be lame, the characters will be puppets, the story will be false. And that if the writer can hold to that rhythm, the book will have some beauty. What the writer has to do is listen for that beat, hear it, keep to it, not let anything interfere with it. Then the reader will hear it too, and be carried by it¿ (p. 183). This is sage advice. All of LeGuin¿s ideas and advice¿every chapter of it¿is wonderful. I loved this: ¿Trust your story; trust yourself; trust your readers¿but wisely. Trust watchfully, not blindly. Trust flexibly, not rigidly. The whole thing, writing a story, is a high-wire act¿there you are out in midair walking on a spiderweb line of words, and down in the darkness people are watching. What can you trust but your sense of balance?¿ (p. 234). The examples, stories, and allusions throughout are clear and strong and elegant. Her Voice is powerful and wise, humorous and reflective. Ursula LeGuin quite clearly displays true genius. This is a book to savor, to keep, to read again and again over the years. I cannot recommend it highly enough. ~Lori L. Lake, reviewer for Midwest Book Review and author of the ¿Gun¿ series