No Time To Spare Review

Ursula K. Le Guin’s wisdom shines through each of her words in her book that reflects on what matters.


photo by Kat Klinefelter

With wisdom accrued over her 90-year life, Ursula K. Le Guin writes with astute insight on a smattering of topics that lesser writers would overlook.

Aris Pastor, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Last summer, I volunteered at the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, cleaning, weeding, watering, and harvesting plants that were to be sent to food banks around the community. There was a good amount of teenage volunteers that were, like me, in part there to build up a record of volunteer hours in our applications, but every week, the same older men and women around seventy or eighty years old worked with us. They had a type of passive wisdom that I had, at that point, never experienced. They knew plants by their scientific names without being biologists or environmental engineers, and they knew life in a way that can only come from years or living it. 

My experiences in talking with these people was very much what reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s memoir, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, is like. The book is built from the best of her blog entries, all of them being in the early 2010’s. It contains a myriad of thoughts, from choosing and being chosen by a cat to her appreciation of opera to her own old age. 

Le Guin grew up during World War II and the later Cold War, but she spends much more time pondering the mundane than she does the wars of her childhood. When she brings in the political or the metaphysical, it is disguised–we get her thoughts on how uniforms and Americans’ perceptions of war have changed, rather than her experience as a child during the war. 

When reading memoir in the past, I have found that many authors try to extrapolate both plot and meaning from their lives. Le Guin, however, doesn’t try to force a singular meaning to her life, and this memoir, made up of blog posts on a smattering of topics, doesn’t try to construct a plot from her life. 

The life that she has lived has clearly constructed the perspective she writes from. Le Guin has lived through global conflicts, deaths of family and friends, and births of new family. She offhandedly mentions that she went to Harvard, but she doesn’t dwell on her years there. She has lived through almost ninety years of history, and she carries that wisdom with her–but her eyes remain on her present and future. Her most astute wisdom comes from observing everyday life. 

Pullquote Photo

The realization that she is not making money or working or building a legacy does not mean that she has time that is free. Time spent breathing is still time spent doing something, and Le Guin still sees that as valuable.

However, when she does write about the state of American politics or the troubled history of our country or the ways capitalism wears on culture, it is with a razor-sharp edge. I particularly enjoyed her chapters centered on the concept of the “Great American Novel”, and how, in writing, the explicit country border and the implicit gender border of this phrase deems it meaningless and unnecessary. 

Perhaps it was my own faulty expectations, but I was surprised by how modern her views were. Le Guin’s writing gives readers insights into a life of change and a woman that, through almost a century of living and reading and writing, has accepted those changes. 

Because the book was written through selected blog posts made in the early 2010’s, and because of Le Guin’s death in 2018, it is interesting to see what her thoughts are about the past with the perspective of the future. 

Le Guin, in a section commenting on the role of women’s anger, wrote about the uselessness of anger in reference to abortion rights, instead valuing “steady, resolute, morally committed behavior and action”. Le Guin did not live to see the current overturning of Roe v. Wade, but she did predict that it may happen should those that support the right to abortion not hold firm. I cannot help but wonder what she may think of the state of modern politics, if she would take the mantle of women’s anger again. 

Throughout the book, Le Guin is aware of her own age and death. She writes, in reference to a ban on poultry batteries the Oregon Legislature has set to take effect in 2024, “I will not live to see the birds go free.”

Le Guin’s blog posts are not ordered by date. There is a freedom to her writing, the format and style giving way to a scattered, spontaneous feeling. Rather than building to a fragmented sense, though, both the format and the randomness of her thoughts feed into the thesis of her book–Le Guin has no time to spare. 

The realization that she is not making money or working or building a legacy does not mean that she has time that is free. Time spent breathing is still time spent doing something, and Le Guin still sees that as valuable. 

Right now, as a senior in high school with autumn settling in, I can feel the need to be building my future at every angle. Time not spent studying or writing essays for college or building my resume is time wasted. Perhaps I should follow Le Guin’s words, then. 

As she writes, “In my case, I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.”