The Wisdom of Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin can help you live better!

By Prue Hyman


OK – enough of one of my obsessions – I am now leaving sports politics! (See February 7).

Instead, I want to draw your attention to the wonderful work of Maria Popova who has a brilliant website and weekly newsletter on literary and philosophical writers and issues.

Recently she praised the extensive writing of Ursula Le Guin, who sadly died last month after 89 years of wonderful life and writing.

Fantasy, non-fiction, poetry and children’s books

Ursula Le Guin was probably better known for her great fantasy novels than for her non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books but all her genres are equally impressive.

Her last book published last year is “No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters” and collects some of her online writing from recent years. She brings me up short, with such gems as: “How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”

And she makes us (or me, anyway!) accept that we need realism as we age: “If I’m ninety and believe I’m forty-five, I’m headed for a very bad time trying to get out of the bathtub.”

The book also contains her essay ‘About Anger’ which reflects on its uses and problems, and finishes with a question. “What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?”

Almost everything she writes makes you think and reflect about the world and your own possible roles in improving it.

27 options on free time

On retirement and free time, a questionnaire made Le Guin reflect on 27 options given for the use of spare time, including creative activities. I related strongly to her reactions.

The key words are spare time. What do they mean? To a working person — supermarket checker, lawyer, highway crewman, housewife, cellist, computer repairer, teacher, waitress — spare time is the time not spent at your job or at otherwise keeping yourself alive, cooking, keeping clean, getting the car fixed, getting the kids to school. To people in the midst of life, spare time is free time, and valued as such.

But to people in their eighties? What do retired people have but “spare” time? I am not exactly retired, because I never had a job to retire from. I still work, though not as hard as I did. I have always been and am proud to consider myself a working woman…

The question remains: When all the time you have is spare, is free, what do you make of it? And what’s the difference, really, between that and the time you used to have when you were fifty, or thirty, or fifteen?” She goes on to hope that kids still have lots of spare time rather than as she fears that most are being extensively over-programmed. Food for thought.

Of course she (and my column) are really totally political – for her literary world is entirely engaged in improving the world. Her blog at is a gem of many genres including politics.

For example on Donald Trump, she wrote in her blog last year: “I honestly believe the best thing to do is turn whatever it is OFF whenever he’s on it, in any way. He is entirely a creature of the media.

Donald the media Golem

He is a media golem. If you take the camera and mike off him, if you take your attention off him, nothing is left — mud.

Trump the media golem

I’m not sure how this would work, but it is a very attractive idea!

You can find much more about Le Guin on Maria Popova’s Brainpickings site ( which is a brilliant resource. For example she discusses Le Guin on writing as falling in love and on where ideas come from (at ).

I warn you that when you go to the brainpickings site, it is hard to leave it. It takes you from one provoking thought and person through links to many others and suddenly an hour has passed!

Le Guin is where I started this week because of her recent death referred to in the weekly newsletter, but each week sends you in many wonderful directions. Subscribe (at your own risk!)