A good distraction

Gifts by Ursula Le Guin

Annals of the Western Shore, Book 1

Nothing beats a good story and a long hot bath. A compelling tale to keep my mind engaged and away from everyday stresses and worries, and a hot soak to relax my body and keep me bound—to one place, one time—the antithesis of multitasking. It’s about the only way I can completely detach from the constant running commentary in my head. I’m grateful to have the luxury of hot water and the free time to read. Not being a parent is a fundamental disappointment in many ways, but I was a step-mom for enough years to realize how precious individual time is—and believe me, I relish it.

Le Guin’s Annals of the Western Shore trilogy has been a good distraction this past tough week. I’m half-way through Powers, the 3rd book. Often I come across a word that I know the general meaning of, but I don’t consciously think about its meaning when I see or say the word. Annals is one such word. According to Wikipedia, “annals (Latin Annales, from annus, a year) are a concise form of historical writing which record events chronologically, year by year.” Annals can also mean generally, “a descriptive account or record; a history.

I can see that Le Guin may have had both of these meanings in mind when using the word annals. The three books, GiftsVoices, and Powers, are stories told in chronological order, but spanning generations, and skipping significant blocks of time. The cities and cultures are distinct, sharing a region of the fantasy world but seldom overlapping in history—except through stories of heroes, gods, and unusual talents. Each book is told by a central character reflecting back and telling the tale of their adolescence, their family, their village or city, their home. In this respect, the books are much more memoir than historical document. But in the telling, the feeling is conveyed that the central characters are earnestly trying to set down the facts for historical record.

The rich world Le Guin has created in these three books addresses fundamental questions of freedom, self-worth, self-determination, fate, religion, and literacy. The books may be aimed at teens, but these are concepts that I find myself reflecting on at length. Le Guin’s books span genres and generations. Take a look—and tell me what you think. If you value these newer books, you’ll definitely want to check out her earlier classic series, one of my favorites: The Earthsea Cycle.


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