No Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuinNo Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuinNo Time to Spare by Ursula K. LeGuin

I’ve said for, well, what seems like forever now, that Ursula K. LeGuin is a national treasure. And so when she comes out with a collection drawn from her blog, I’m all in, even though normally I’d run like crazy from any such compendium. In fact, I’ve used the “sounds like a blog” line as criticism (the negative sort) of other collections of essays. And yes, there are several pieces about cats in No Time to Spare (2017), seemingly a required subject for anyone posting online. But I’ll accept the occasional cat essay if it comes stringing a bunch of other LeGuin essays along behind it.

LeGuin was inspired to begin her blog by reading Jose Saramago’s own, written when he was 85/86 and published as The Notebook. She calls her own attempts “more trivially personal,” but that’s only true in part. The pieces range from the aforementioned cat ones (all about her own cat Pard) to more literary ones looking for instance at fantasy as a genre to others more focused on culture and the environment. Structurally, they’re divided up into four sections: “Going over Eighty,” “The Lit Biz,” “Trying to Make Sense of It,” and “Rewards,” each of the sections separated by the “Annals of Pard.”

The title, No Time to Spare, comes out of that first section, which deals with aging. More specifically, from the first essay about filling out a questionnaire from Harvard for the class of ‘51, one of the questions being “what do you do in your spare time?” This offers up LeGuin’s trademark wit, as when she refuses to answer yes/no to the questions of “Are you living your secret desires,” writing in “I have none, my desires are flagrant.” Her section on aging is entirely realistic and clear-eyed, with LeGuin noting she has no “time to spare,” being in her eighties, and also disparaging the old cliché that “you’re only as old as you think you are,” pointing out if she moved around pretending/thinking she was 40 she’d be putting herself at risk. More sharply, she argues “to tell me my old age doesn’t exist is to tell me I don’t exist. Erase my age, you erase my life — me.” Don’t mess with LeGuin.

The literary section offers up insights into her mind as a writer, on the overuse of the word “fuck,” being asked to explain her work (“Meaning in art isn’t the same as meaning in science … Art isn’t explanation. Art is what an artist does, not what an artist explains.”), on her perception of her craft (“I work in my mind. What I do is done in my mind … If what I do, what I make is beautiful it isn’t a physical beauty. It’s imaginary.”) “Papa H” examines fantasy through the prism of Homer, Milton, and Tolkien, wondering if Homer doesn’t offer up the “two basic fantasy stories: the War and the Journey.” It’s an insightful essay about tragedy versus comedy, what happens at home while the Hero is “taking his Thousand Faces all round the world,” but my favorite parts are when LeGuin’s personality rises to the top, as when she admits to having a favorite side when it comes to the Greeks versus the Trojans. Two pieces dealing with The Great American Novel similarly offer a nice mix of critical insight and personal touch. “It Doesn’t Have to Be the Way It is,” one of my favorites in the collection, is more overtly and substantively literary criticism, exploring in wonderfully concise and thoughtful fashion the inherent subversiveness of fantasy.

The third section is sort of a cultural miscellany, with pieces on male/female solidary and their role in institutions, military uniforms, economic growth as a cancer, belief, anger, and a few others. These are all, of course, smoothly and efficiently written and worth reading, but this was probably the section that left the least impact on me.

The final section of No Time to Spare is the most consistently and overtly personal and emotional. A piece about the joy of opera/music, a long, moving essay on the woman who helped her with her fan mail, one on that year’s Christmas tree, encounters with a rattlesnake and a lynx. This section can best be summed up by the close of the rattlesnake piece: “a teaching, a blessing may come in strange ways, ways we do not expect, or control, or welcome, or understand. We are left to think it over.” One such blessing is another book by Ursula K. LeGuin. Which is also at times a “teaching,” and leaves us thinking things over. Here’s hoping her time (not “spare” time) continues to offer us more ways to fill our own.

Published December 5, 2017. Ursula K. Le Guin on the absurdity of denying your 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.” On cultural perceptions of fantasy: “The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is ‘escapism’ an accusation of?” On breakfast: “Eating an egg from the shell takes not only practice, but resolution, even courage, possibly willingness to commit crime.” Ursula K. Le Guin has taken readers to imaginary worlds for decades. Now she’s in the last great frontier of life, old age, and exploring new literary territory: the blog, a forum where her voice—sharp, witty, as compassionate as it is critical—shines. No Time to Spare collects the best of Ursula’s online writing, presenting perfectly crystallized dispatches on what matters to her now, her concerns with this world, and her unceasing wonder at it: “How rich we are in knowledge, and in all that lies around us yet to learn. Billionaires, all of us.”


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.