Get the Sunday Star paper tomorrow (Aug 4) for a 25% discount coupon on The Dispossessed and 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, when you buy the book at Kinokuniya Bookstores, Suria KLCC. Look for the coupon in StarLifestyle.
Goodbyes are rarely easy – particularly when it’s a farewell that you’ve decided on rather than one that was thrust upon you. And in this case, deciding to end the column I began more than four years ago was definitely not a decision that came easily, even though it felt necessary.
When I came up with the idea in 2015, trying to read the books (as many as I could, certainly not all!) from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die anthology seemed like an enjoyable challenge that would force me out of my reading comfort zone while also making sure I read all the “greatest hits”.
Along the way, it by turn also became a celebration of books, a confessional of my reading failures, a soapbox for my likes and dislikes, a venting platform for my frustrations with the literary world – and ultimately, a diary of not just what I read, but how the books have intersected with so much of my life.
In some ways, it seems strangely fitting that the final book left in the pile that I’ve been working my way through is a both a title and author that I’ve been meaning to get to for years and hadn’t yet: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018).
Those of you who have followed my column might know of my special love for science fiction, and how much it irks me that so few books from this genre end up on these “must read” lists. And even of the few that do, the number of female sci-fi writers can be counted on one hand – if I recall correctly, other than Le Guin, Mary Shelley with Frankenstein (“Frankenstein proves to be a reanimated read”, Booked Out, Star2, Feb 15, 2015) might be the only other (unless you count Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which Atwood herself prefers to classify as “speculative fiction”).
Despite her reputation as one of the greats of sci-fi, I’ve always shied away from Le Guin, partly because my very first attempt at reading her years ago – The Left Hand Of Darkness (1969) – did not go well at all. Though I found her concept for the book fascinating, back then I found her prose too dry and dense.
So in keeping with my attempts recently to introduce more diversity to my reading, I decided to finally give Le Guin another try – and found that the very thing that put me off before, the writing, immediately drew me in.
The Dispossesed (1974) tells the story of two twin worlds, Anarres and Urras; and of Shevek, a physicist from Anarres who travels to Urras to mend centuries of separation, but finds himself caught between the complex politics of both worlds.
Le Guin’s spare and direct writing expertly depicts the realities of these two worlds, as well as the larger sociopolitical questions that we instantly recognise from our own society. With almost every turn of the page, Shevek’s journey of discovery is also ours – and doubly so, because we are constantly being introduced to both Anarres and Urras, and then seeing through them our own world with new eyes.
The Dispossessed is part of Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle which includes other novels/novellas and short stories loosely set in the same alternate/future history – The Left Hand Of Darkness is one.
To me, The Dispossessed represents one of the things I’ve loved most about writing this column: the joy of discovering (or rediscovering) books and authors that I might never otherwise have.
In fact, one of my favourite quotes on reading comes from Le Guin herself: “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
Writing Booked Out has certainly been that, a process of seeing myself and learning what I might become through the books I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading. Thank you so very much for being a part of that journey.
(And a couple of special thank yous: first, to my ever-patient copy editor Malini Dias, who not only greeted my initial idea for the column with much-needed encouragement but has continued to support it over the years; second, to Husnah Naim of Kinokuniya Bookstores, for being as excited as I am about books.)