Staff Review

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

While reading this novel, I had to keep reminding myself that it was published in 1969 because of the themes that are so pervasive in today’s ongoing dialogue about gender. I haven’t read any of Le Guin’s work prior to this, but I can understand her ascendence to the heights of the sci-fi/fantasy cannon. The one caution I have for the more casual genre fiction reader is that there is a lot of words from Le Guin’s Hanish universe and that can be quite confusing at first. You don’t want to get your kemmer and your shifgrethor mixed up. If you can assimilate these terms and flip back to the glossary to remember the various words that the people of Gethen use to describe their frigid weather, you’ll be okay. Le Guin was also a poet and I think it really shows in what I like to call the thesis of The Left Hand of Darkness:

Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one, life and death, lying

together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together, 

like the end and the way. 

The humans of the Hanish universe are people that are experimental branches on the evolutionary tree. Genetically they are are all very similar except for one or a few modifications that make them distinct from the others. Genly Ai is a Terran native who has come to the planet Winter as an envoy whose task is to convince the king of Karhide or one of the several other kingdoms of Gethen to join the Ekumen, an alliance of other humanoid planets. As the name Winter would suggest, these humans are adapted to withstand remarkably low temperatures. The other (and much more interesting) fact about the inhabitants of Gethen is that they are ambisexual; in other words, they are completely androgenous for most of their reproductive cycle … until they’re not. This leads to a great deal of tension between Genly and the natives. He wants to classify them and finds the idea of a pregnant king strange while the people of Karhide and abroad call him a pervert (a Gethian term for a human that remains in a fixed gender state outside of mating). 

Part political intrigue and part treatise on gender roles and the way they shape human interactions and society, this novel is remarkable because it manages to sneak in romance element without the reader even really noticing until the very end of the book. Estraven, the prime minister and adviser to King Argaven, attempts to persuade the king into forming an alliance with the Ekumen but by pushing him continuously he only incurs Argaven’s wrath and finds himself exiled and out of a job. Genly too is affected by this shift in power and Estraven does everything in his power to help Genly out of it. The travel on sledges over great distances together to see Genly’s mission through and along the way come to an understanding of each other. Genly’s internal struggle throughout is centered around not thinking in the way he has been conditioned to by his own masculine behaviors. That in this place there is no binary. Hope and despair, light and dark, male and female, beginnings and endings all exist in a grand circle that feeds into itself. 

There’s some pretty significant Taoist influences and Le Guin takes an opportunity to explore spirituality in addition to the other themes that are threaded throughout her work. This story is not driven primarily by a plot and more by concepts except in a few places where it feels very grounded and much more easy to follow. This one is definitely a mind-stretcher, so pick it up if you’re in the mood for philosophical pondering or you’re looking for a unique experience.

-Katie

Staff Book Review


Fictitious Dishes
by Dinah Fried

I LOVE this book!!!! If you are a fanatic about classics and art then you will certainly enjoy this. Artist, RISD grad and now author Dinah Fried opens the book with her memories of reading the classics like HeidiLolita and Moby Dick. One of the more significant parts of these books though, for her, were the meals! Some of us might not think twice about that! Fried uses her talents as an artist to recreate some of the meals she read about and then photograph them. These meals are carefully curated and include a small excerpt from the story about the food along with some helpful and fun footnotes. It’s something book nerds and foodies can rejoice about! – Kristin

 

Staff Book Review

 The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
by Abbi Waxman

I picked up this book because the blurb mentioned the main character being a bookish, self-proclaimed introvert. Those are some of my favorite kind of people! Well, this book was, cute. In the literary world that is probably an insult. But I certainly don’t mean it that way! It was a quick read, but I enjoyed it! The beginning reminded me a lot of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine but the surrounding story wasn’t quite as difficult. Each chapter begins with an illustration of her daily journal which adds a little humor and quirkiness.
– Kristin

Audio Or Print…?

 

Becoming – By Michelle Obama. I’ve been on the wait list for this audiobook for a long time.  However, after listing to the first discs, and trying a random sampling of other discs, I’ve decided to go back on the wait list for the actual book.

I adore Michelle Obama, but her voice is too monotone. I prefer a livelier voice to keep me focused on the story.  – Deb

Staff Recommends…

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
I’ve reflected on this book many times since I first read it a dozen years ago. So when it was my turn to suggest a book club title, I was eager to share this with my friends.
Full of melancholy yet hopefulness with quirky but universal characters, The History of Love takes you on a journey through time and place. From pre World War II Poland to modern day New York, the story of a long lost manuscript and how it has brought people together will stay with you for a long, long time. – Nancy
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