The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I finished this a while ago, at the beginning of a recent trip and have neglected blogging about it. For some reason, I remembered The Dispossessed as a long, difficult, not particularly enjoyable read. It was not! I liked it! And there were many details I had no recollection of. With more experience and less idealism than when I first read it in my twenties, the ambiguity of the situation appealed to me this time.

It’s interesting, however, that from the distance of just a couple of weeks, I once again don’t remember many of the details.  In that sense, my original response stands, that this is very much a novel of ideas for me, and much less so about character or plot.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

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.

Ursula Le Guin’s recent death has set me on a rereading journey (and a reading journey: there’s still plenty of her work I’ve never read). I decided to start with Left Hand of Darkness, and it was fascinating to reread it. It stands up to the passage of time, and yet has not aged well. It is still a suspenseful tale, and it proposes thought experiments that are still relevant today. But the gender norms that the terran diplomat Genly Ai expresses (written in 1969 and projected into some unstated but future time) are already out of date. Conceptions not only of roles but also of gender identity have changed in major ways that make parts of the narrative distracting.

This reread made me wonder why movies and television shows are routinely rebooted or redone but books rarely are (with the exception of parodies or pastiches that combine classic books with wildly different genre tropes). I’d really love to see a progressive, visionary, feminist author retell this story today.

My perspective on the two main characters has shifted since I first read the novel. The protagonist Genly Ai so struck me previously that I’ve used the name “Genly” in several online locations when I needed a handle. On this reading, however, perhaps because I’m now middle-aged and was then more Genly Ai’s contemporary in age, I identified with Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. Estraven is the moral center: restrained, patient, mature, visionary, committed to a greater good, capable of intentional self-sacrifice. Ai is no less fascinating as a character (indeed, flaws are often the most fascinating things about characters); it’s just that I’ve gained a fuller appreciation for Estraven.

Reunited with an old friend

For years, I have fondly remembered a novel I read when I was a kid. It was an adult novel, not a children’s book, and it was about people who moved from a city to the country to start a goat farm. I thought the title was Star Hill, and looked off and on over the years with no success. (Bear in mind I was reading a library book of unknown age in either the late sixties or early seventies.)

Well, recently I was made aware of Internet Archive’s book program, and took another try at search algorithms—and I found it! Turns out the title is Thunder Hill, and it is by Elizabeth Nicholds, published by Doubleday in 1953. I found a copy for sale online and am having a lovely time dipping into it.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Having spent a lot of time in Second Life over the past eleven years, parts of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are downright quaint: the ways in which he needs to explain avatars, or virtual spaces, or the word “metaverse.” And there are things he describes that have been implemented almost word-for-word in Second Life, which is kind of creepy.

I enjoyed the story itself (and much more than Neuromancer, with which Snow Crash is often paired as precursors to parts of the internet and virtual reality). I’ve only read a few of Stephenson’s novels, but I rather enjoy the way they meander and take side trips.

Huun Huur Tu

Throat singers from Tuva, who have been touring for several decades now, performed at the Rockwell to a sold-out crowd (produced by World Music/Crash Arts, which added a second concert on the 16th). Quite amazing to watch singers produce these amazing sounds. More than most concerts, I found myself most interested in watching the musicians.

The Rockwell is a small basement venue in Davis Square with a small stage in an alcove. There are definitely seats with bad sight-lines. It was my third new-to-me venue in three concerts this week.


Advertised as “an evening with Tyminski,” I didn’t know quite what to expect.  Tyminski is fronted by Dan Tyminski, famous for bluegrass band Alison Kraus and Union Station and for the hit “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Tyminski performed almost entirely music from his new solo album, Southern Gothic, which was pretty straightforward country rock. They did do “Man of Constant Sorrow” as their penultimate number.

City Winery is a new venue in Boston (open for two months, a server said), and it’s a nice space. The tables in the back are high-tops, so even there the view would be fine.

Slocan Ramblers and the Last Revel

Fun, high-energy concert in the Burren Back Room in Davis Square. Seats were at a table right at the stage. It’s fun to be five-six feet away from a musician. It was my first time there, and now I know there aren’t any really bad seats. It was nice to be at a table and have dinner and drinks, though.