***Group Read: Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin (spoiler thread)

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***Group Read: Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin (spoiler thread)

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1ronincats
Fev 25, 2011, 6:43pm

Relevant background: Le Guin was the child of two anthopologists. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was extremely important in the collection of and analysis of cultural data on western tribes of Native Americans. His study of Ishi, the last remaining member of his tribe, was written up by his wife, Theodora Kroeber, as Ishi in Two Worlds.

Always Coming Home is more an anthropological collection of cultural data about a future civilization than a typical novel. You will find stories, poems, and encyclopedia-like informative entries mixed together. There is an extensive appendix with songs, maps, alphabet and language information, crafts, and much more.

Suggested reading schedule (realizing that many people will read it at their own speed, which is perfectly fine):
March 1-7--"Stone Telling Part 1" through "The Four Histories".
March 8-14--"Pandora worrying" through "Eight Life Stories"
March 15-21--"Some brief valley texts" through "POEMS: 4th Section"
March 22-28--"The Back of the Book" These are the appendices and are optional, but fascinating to dip into.

The spoiler thread will be used this time for those who have finished as much of the book as they intend to in this time and space, with no limits on discussing things that happen outside of the schedule. Those who want to comment as they are reading, which is welcome, will please use the general Future Women thread.

2drneutron
Fev 25, 2011, 10:38pm

BTW, I added a link to this thread on the wiki.

3ronincats
Fev 25, 2011, 10:45pm

Thanks, Jim. You beat me to the punch--I was going to send you a message, but you were on top of it!!

4PJGraham
Fev 28, 2011, 10:28am

Have book; ready to go! This will definitely be a little different for me.

5sibylline
Fev 28, 2011, 10:35am

I feel like a racehorse at the gate!

6TadAD
Fev 28, 2011, 5:03pm

I'm not very far in but it's interesting. The story hasn't quite grabbed me, yet, but I'm loving the archeological/anthropological "asides".

7billiejean
Fev 28, 2011, 9:21pm

Just checked it out of the library.
--BJ

8jasmyn9
Mar 1, 2011, 8:37am

I'm having a rough time getting started, but I think it's because of all the stress that has been going on over the past week or so.

9sibylline
Editado: Mar 1, 2011, 8:54am

I dove into it last night -- I keep thinking about Earth Abides which I read last year. A culture 'devolving' and splintering after a catastrophe (epidemic, not war so the 'infrastructure' is intact, at least for a while). I't's making me think of those people -- a thousand or more? - years later. Although this 'Earth culture' would appear, outside the context of the Valley, to have many (voluntary?) layers to it, as if people choose which sort of culture will suit them? I've been peeking ahead and looking at different things because I don't see this as something that I have to read as it 'unfolds' but more as a collection of layers and information that, when you have enough of it, will begin to form a coherent picture. You could start at the end (as she mentions in the beginning) and it wouldn't matter -- it would just reveal what sort of person you are! Yep! But I like it a lot. The attraction/repulsion/ misunderstanding/stubborness of Owl's parent was riveting.

10sibylline
Mar 4, 2011, 6:21pm

Roni threw down the gauntlet on the Future Women thread so I am over here (although I see I wrote the last post too, four days ago). In any case I've read through the poems...... I'm trying to think what I exactly am thinking about it. I'm not thinking very much one way or the other as yet, I think, because I don't have enough information. Individually I enjoy each piece -- for ex -- yesterday I loved the story about the Keeper and the little piece of cornbread. It spoke to me of hoarding and the pointlessness of it and had the genuine feel of an 'oft told tale' with a point to it. I am curious too as to who Pandora is -- is she far in the future, how far? What happened to this blue clay culture? Lots of questions, no answers.

11aulsmith
Mar 5, 2011, 8:48am

I read the Stone Telling novella embedded in this book when the book first came out. However I felt no motivation to read the accompanying material. I thought this would be a good time to do that. However, after several days of trying to force myself to read more than a page or two, I finally realized that for me it's reading like an anthology, which means I'm only going to read a piece or two a day. Which also means I'm not going to get it all read in March, if ever. However, if folks mention any particularly interesting parts here, I'll go read those. I have a theory about Pandora, based on her first two pieces. I'll read the other ones and see if it holds up.

12ronincats
Mar 7, 2011, 7:39pm

Aulsmith, I think that is a good description.

In response to some of the comments on the Future Women thread I asked:

Ask yourself why the author chose this format instead of a straight narrative, as in all of her other books. What is the function? Are we supposed to slow down, as we are unable to plow ahead through a single story line? What do the other materials add to our experience? Does reading it slowly, dipping into it, savoring this bit and that, add to our immersion in the cultural thought? Is it worth it or not?

13sibylline
Mar 7, 2011, 9:29pm

It seems likely that LeGuin with her interest in anthropology wanted to see if she could weave a novel shaped more like a 'study' of a culture. It does seem as though the gap between Stone Telling's story and the other material is wide enough, at least for now, to seriously challenge the reader -- in that while reading a novel (or anything) the brain is constantly even anxiously trying to link things together, make it coherent, and it is, presently, somewhat exhausting to do that. If I didn't 'trust' LeGuin I don't know if I would keep reading. I also think this really is a book one should read as one wishes, read the Stone Telling narrative, then maybe the stuff in the back, then Pandora, then poems or whatever..... it's very post-modern in that regard.

14aulsmith
Mar 8, 2011, 7:57am

Honestly, I think the reason the novel is structured this way is that Leguin was under contract to provide a novel to her publisher and all she had was a novella. So she honed some of the notes she'd made while developing the world, wrote some poetry and the Pandora part and sent it off with the word "novel" in the title.

I picked it up again for this read because other people have told me that all the notes really added to the story for them, but it's just not working for me. I'd rather be reading some real anthropology rather than mucking around in Leguin's mind.

Of course, some of this is due to reading most of what she's written in the intervening years. She's returned to these themes again and again. So I'm not getting anything new and Stone Telling's story isn't my favorite, so additions to it aren't satisfying any itch.

15TadAD
Editado: Mar 8, 2011, 3:17pm

Finished it. Review will follow after I think a bit but I don't think it entirely worked.

Not a bad read but I would have preferred it in the novella form that folks here have mentioned. Even then, I think it's flawed...but, interestingly, not for the sometimes-heard complaints about this book being "matriarchy good, patriarchy bad," since I don't think it said that at all.

More later.

16TadAD
Mar 8, 2011, 8:43pm

My comments on the book are here.

17sibylline
Mar 8, 2011, 8:49pm

I greatly enjoyed my reading tonight -- the Four Histories -- the old ladies who hated each other, the war with the pigs, and the cotton adventure particularly. They had the same quality as the one about the keeper who hoarded things. And so I am caught up one day late.

18TadAD
Editado: Mar 8, 2011, 8:52pm

I found the whole war of the pigs thing oddly amusing. It's so foreign to our reality for a few people to say, "Hey, let's have a war. The hours are from 9 to 5 and it's limited to the gulch over yonder. Who wants to go with?"

19sibylline
Mar 8, 2011, 9:02pm

I agree, the pig story had an element of black humor to it, it is cleverly done -- ritualized conflict, truly about nothing at all, and yet real since people die, but also kept in its place and viewed from a distance with some scorn. All three of those stories had an undercurrent of humor.

20souloftherose
Mar 9, 2011, 4:09pm

I've now managed to get to the end of the first Stone Telling section and on through some of the extra stories and poems but I'm still finding it really hard going. I am encouraged by some of the comments above and I'm going to try and get to at least the end of The Four Histories tonight.

21ronincats
Editado: Mar 9, 2011, 5:34pm

Lucy, I'm right behind you--I finished the Four Histories last night.

The first Stone Telling section--the way the two cultures find each other's POVs almost incomprehensible. The best they can do is for Kills to say, make this little adjustment, the bridge, let my culture pour through to its goal so it will have minimal impact on you. It's not such a big deal. And the Kesh saying, there is no need to disrupt the river here. Obsidian's comment, and the reaction, say it all.

Why are the four romantic tales labeled romances? They do all have to do with male/female relationship, yet the first three are definitely cautionary tales as per the note in the second. I liked the last one the best.

I am enjoying the poems. I am reading this, a section or two at a time, as my bedtime reading each night, a good pace for this type of writing. It allows me to savor each bit.

22sibylline
Mar 10, 2011, 8:44am

He he, I feel like I've heard that argument at many a Town Meeting....... just this once won't..... except that it does, disruption lasts a long time.

I struggled a bit, speaking of time, with the two city 'chapters' and the 'explanation' of how the Valley people (I keep having to push away 'valley girls' btw) regard the passage of time. It's very sophisticated, a 'willed' way of viewing things that, I think, is meant to convey that the way Valley people view time affects the choices they make - everything you do is always and now, so..... a harmful choice doesn't go away. It takes a load of mindfulness to do that.

I took the romantic tales to be about 'love' moving out of balance into extremes, a bit Romeo and Juliet style, that excessive love is destructive. And yet, I also felt the stories, as with the pig war, also accept that this is something that happens, that people can't help. So the only thing you can do then is try to be kind (as the people tried to help ease the suffering of the man who died instead of his wife, although they couldn't do much.) I thought that story had a great deal of wisdom in it -- that you can't 'take on' someone else's illness, no matter how much you love them.

I'm glad we're reading along together Roni.

23norabelle414
Mar 14, 2011, 9:44am

I've decided to read 'Stone Telling' as a whole before reading the other stories. I hope they're more interesting, because I'm almost done with 'Stone Telling' and I'm finding it very tedious.

24souloftherose
Mar 15, 2011, 8:55am

#21 I definitely liked the last story of the Four Romantic Tales the best, probably because it seemed the most similar to our romantic tales. It seemed strange to me that of the four tales two were cautions against relationships between members of the same house. I understand why these relationships weren't considered acceptable but it just seemed odd that half the romantic tales would focus on this. Was Le Guin trying to draw our attention to this particular belief and if so, why?

I also liked the Four Histories but I found myself really surprised when The Trouble with the Cotton People mentioned trains and then was really pleased when The Time and the City section started to explain it.

#22 Lucy, I think The Time and the City section as been my favourite section so far. Having said that I found some of the stories in this section a bit too preachy.

I'm hoping to finish The Time and the City and the second Stone Telling section soon. I feel like I've been plodding along with this book but it feels like I'm starting to get the hang of how to read it.

25aulsmith
Mar 15, 2011, 9:19am

24: I think the cautionary tales are more because a society usually writes a lot of stories about what happens to people who engage in taboo activities.

26sibylline
Mar 19, 2011, 3:43pm

I've finished, and posted a somewhat feeble review here.

I'm very glad I read it, and I think it was a sincere effort to try something different.

27ronincats
Editado: Abr 23, 2011, 12:29am

Finally getting my review written, as I finished it when I was ill.

This was re-read for a group read, and I enjoyed reading it again. Le Guin's parents were anthropologists, with her father concentrating on cultures in the American Northwest, and their influence has always been discernible in her science fiction, but nowhere more so than here. This is not a linear story but an immersion into a post-apocalyptic world from the viewpoint of one cultural group. Both for this group, the Sinshan in their valley, and for the Condor, Le Guin accurately uses many features present in the aboriginal cultures of the Northwest and the Northern plains. The culture is shared not only by narrative but by song, poem, legend, and infrastructure, giving a rich, multi-layered texture to the society. The author, as Pandora, frets about her approach, but ultimately speaks her true purpose, I believe, in the chapter of Pandora speaking with the archivist.

ARC: But I have no answers and this isn't utopia, aunt!
PAN: The hell it ain't.
ARC: This is a mere dream dreamed in a bad time, an Up Yours to the people who ride snowmobiles, make nuclear weapons, and run prison camps by a middle-aged housewife, a critique of civilisation possible only to the civilised, an affirmation pretending to be a rejection, a glass of milk for the soul ulcered by acid rain, a piece of pacifist jeanjacquerie, and a cannibal dance among the savages in the ungodly garden of the farthest West.

28Prop2gether
Abr 28, 2011, 2:46pm

Well, it took four false starts and three library renewals (through two different library systems) to get started on this one. It's going to take the same kind of perverse perserverance to complete it. LeGuin has never been anywhere close to my favorite writer in the various genres she's chosen, and I'm finding the archeology inserts disruptive. They are often oddly fascinating, but disruptive to the reading experience. I enjoyed Native Tongue much better in the reading. However, there's still two-thirds of LeGuin's tome to go. . . .

29ronincats
Maio 20, 2011, 4:16pm

John Scalzi (science fiction writer) was reflecting on three of his favorite books recently on his blog, and guess what one of them was. Here's what he said:
"Not so much a novel as it is an ethnography of a people who, in the words of Le Guin, 'might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.' And for me in most ways far more interesting than a simple novel would be, because as a book it's the difference between standing outside events, being told about them, and being inside a world and being invited to experience it. It's not just world-building wankery, however; Le Guin's gift to the reader is to give you enough of a view into the life of this world that you can't help but reflect on both your own world and your own life. There's also the fact that as a native Californian, I like the idea that the state of my birth is still going to have been around a long, long time from now--and will still have been a singular, imaginative place."

The other two books, btw, were
Winter's Tale
By Mark Helprin
and
A Mencken Chrestomathy
By H. L. Mencken

30aulsmith
Jun 8, 2011, 9:15am

This week I've been reading Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness for the first time after many years. I noticed that it was basically in the same format as Always Coming Home: narrative interspersed with anthropological observation. I think what makes Left Hand work is that the informational parts come at a point where you're asking yourself the questions that they answer. In Always Coming Home, there's far more information than you need to make sense of the narrative.

31gennyt
Jun 8, 2011, 2:32pm

I've still not got around to starting Always Coming Home, but I'd love to re-read Left Hand one day.

32BookDoc16
Ago 18, 2011, 4:06pm

I actually read this anthology a few years ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly. I think I'll browse some of the other Group Reads threads!