Forty-one. That is the number of post-it markers I have sticking out of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters,” a collection of blog posts/essays written between 2010-2016. And the reason I have forty-one post-it markers is because Le Guin had me thinking quite a bit about what mattered to her. I laughed, I pondered and sometimes I just went “huh?” But those forty-one markers are a testament to how engaging I found this book.
You don’t really need to know a whole lot about Le Guin to enjoy “No Time To Spare” but it doesn’t hurt to mention that she was a prolific mulit-award winning author with twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, twelve children’s books, six volumes of poetry and four collections of essays. She received, among others, the Hugo, Nebula, and National Book Award. Her main genre was fantasy and science fiction leading The New York Times to describe her as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer” in 2016. Le Guin preferred to be known as “an American novelist.” This spar over an accolade gives you a glimpse of what you will find within the pages of “No Time To Spare.”
I turned 60 last month and this milestone birthday has me contemplating what matters in life. To help, I find myself seeking the company of people like Le Guin, dear friends who have no trouble throwing out wise and interesting bon mots seemingly on a whim. Take her thoughts on the often heard comment that retirees have nothing but spare time:
“The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time. In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.”
She goes on to describe all the things she is busily doing from being “vitally occupied with sleep, with daydreaming, with doing business and writing friends” to “with thinking, with forgetting, with embroidering, with cooking and eating a meal and cleaning up the kitchen.” This delightfully rambling paragraph ends when Le Guin says, “None of this is spare time. I can’t spare it… I am going to be eighty-one next week. I have no time to spare.”
Age plays an important part in “No Time to Spare” even when the essays are not about aging. When she does address is directly, the results are often humorous. On the adage, You’re only as old as you feel: “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.”
Or the poster declaring, Old Age is for Sissies: “I’d like a poster showing two old people with stooped backs and arthritic hands and time-worn faces sitting talking, deep, deep in conversation. And the slogan would be ‘Old Age Is Not for the Young.’”
But just when you think these funny stories portray a quirky and eccentric old lady, Le Guin throws in powerful observations on life, politics, the business of publishing and the world of literature (with an especially captivating homage to Homer). These essays are heady, deep, occasionally provocative and never boring. They are the soul of the book and the ones I spent the most time marking. I love a good philosophical discussion and imagine what a lively one I could have had with Le Guin. Then she throws in a story about her cat and I’m back to being just plain enchanted.
When Le Guin passed way this past January at 88 years old, we not only lost a fiercely intelligent and thoughtful woman, but an incredible writer as well. Saying she was a fascinating wordsmith is like saying the sunset was orange. Sometimes words fail emotion. But if you need just one example of her beautifully deliberate way with words, settle on the last paragraph and last sentence of “The Lynx.”
So when you are ready to sit down with an old friend who has lots of thought-provoking things to say, pick up “No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters.” As Le Guin says herself: “…how incredibly much we learn between our birthday and last day…How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”
As always, I appreciate your time!
Lynn Alexander is a recently published author and long-time book, food, cat and college football lover (Go Green!). Her career journey started in upstate New York, writing and recording commercials for radio. She moved to Venice, Florida to manage a restaurant which led her to Naples and Marco in 2002, where she currently books weddings and events at the Marco Beach Ocean Resort. Alexander is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum which fed her passion for history and learning. A butterfly at parties but a loner at heart, she loves nothing more than baking yummy desserts then retreating to a quiet corner to read.