Love It, Review It, Give It Away: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft and A Wizard of Earthsea

It’s time again for my monthly giveaway and review. This month is a little different–and more nostalgic–as I’m offering the winner a choice between two books. To find out how to enter for a chance to win a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story -or- A Wizard of Earthsea, check out the giveway rules here. The contest ends Monday, September 3rd at 11:59pm EDT.

Then and Now: How Le Guin Inspired Me to Read and to Write

God bless the grade 7/8 teacher who decided science fiction and fantasy offered superior reading curriculum to the grim survivalist fare so common in Canadian classrooms. For in her class, I was introduced to the first book I ever read in a single sitting: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. It begins:

The Island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-racked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.

How is that for a hook?  There is a secret wizarding school–which beats Hogwarts, IMHO–and the best confrontation with a dragon I’ve ever read. The stuff in this book inspired all kinds of D&D adventures I later wrote for my friends.

In high school, Le Guin provided me another reader’s first: joy at learning of a book’s existence. It turns out that A Wizard of Earthsea was part of a series, and I consumed The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore with equal enthusiasm. That same joy visited me again this past year–shortly before Le Guin’s passing–when, having now decided to pursue writing seriously, I learned she had also published a book on writing.

Le Guin was the first person to have two books win the both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Her writing is beautiful, and in Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, Le Guin gives some lessons on how she does it.

Many of the writing books I have read deal with the elements of stories: plot structure, character, pacing, and the like. This book addresses with none of those things. Instead, it focuses on making your writing sing within the structure you’ve given it. She deals with everything from the sound of writing to sentence length to repetition to conveying information without slowing down the story.

The exercises she provides have the advantage of real-world testing and refinement as the book itself was based on a workshop series Le Guin gave several times.

Overall, this a little gem of a writing book from an expert in the craft. The conviction she puts in the pages–if nothing else–inspire a desire to make every sentence a work of art. Personally, I plan to methodically start going through the exercises in the fall. If anyone wishes to join me, shoot me a message and we can do it together.

Book Details for Steering the Craft (from the publisher):

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Published: September 1, 2015
Pages: 210

A revised and updated guide to the essentials of a writer’s craft, presented by a brilliant practitioner of the art

Completely revised and rewritten to address the challenges and opportunities of the modern era, this handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing. Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative, from the sound of language to sentence construction to point of view. Each chapter combines illustrative examples from the global canon with Le Guin’s own witty commentary and an exercise that the writer can do solo or in a group. She also offers a comprehensive guide to working in writing groups, both actual and online.

Masterly and concise, Steering the Craft deserves a place on every writer’s shelf.

Book Details for A Wizard of Earthsea (from the publisher):

514h421swdl-_sx302_bo1204203200_Published: September 1, 2015
Pages: 210

*Note: at the time of writing this, the product description is totally messed up on Amazon and talks about a fitness instructor.

Originally published in 1968, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea marks the first of the six now beloved Earthsea titles. Ged was the greatest sorcerer in Earthsea, but in his youth he was the reckless Sparrowhawk. In his hunger for power and knowledge, he tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tumultuous tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.