Monthly Archive for July, 2016

Further Tales from the Unexpected


Further Tales of the Unexpected


Durham readers continued their ventures into fantasy with their June book choice, The Unreal and the Real, Volume 1 of the selected stories of Ursula K Le Guin. The first mystery was who had chosen this book, an unsolved puzzle for our journey……


Beginning with a quick round of ‘points’ from everyone, there was a surprising prevalence of low scores for this popular and highly acclaimed author. Where was I? Was I hearing right?… I, too, had been surprisingly detached and unengaged by this volume but had not expected to hear this from most of the group. What had contributed to this unusual response to intriguing tales displaying the fine craftsmanship of Le Guin’s prose? Several members realised that they had decided they don’t enjoy collections of short stories. They were looking for the absorbing, gripping fantasy tales that unfold over days or weeks of reading, the satisfaction of a long term relationship with the characters and the plot. It was difficult to know where to begin to discuss so many stories. Unlike Raymond Carvers collection of snapshot stories in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Le Guin’s short stories demand serious thought, reflection and analysis for each one. To read these stories end to end prevents an appreciation of the varied meanings in the prose and the time for imagination and wonder to enhance our experience of the artistry of the writer.


The pleasure of a book group is that when some flounder others will have dived deeply, discovering hidden treasures that can be shared. Several readers were enthralled by this volume, appreciating Le Guin’s fine storytelling and interweaving of magic and fantasy with the political realities of totalitarian states. We considered the backdrop of communism and the eastern European struggles that would have been the historical context of these stories. We reflected on the symbolism of the characters and the tales such as ‘The Diary of The Rose’, where mind control has become a reality at a time when the West feared the potential of brainwashing techniques. Some stories had echoes of celtic fairy tales, that meeting of the visible and invisible worlds where humans find themselves in conversation with fairies, entranced, in communion with nature. In “Direction of the Road’, Le Guin invites us to see reality through the eyes of a tree questioning our whole experience of consciousness and reality. Strange happenings. Anthea reminded us of the Irish story telling tradition as one which fosters a love of telling and hearing short stories, perhaps differing from an English culture. Jane drew our attention to the beauty and lyricism of the prose, dancing at the boundary between poetry and prose.


Our July book is translated literature, ‘A Grain of Truth’ by Zygmunt Miloszewski, an event lead by a Polish translator, Marta Dziurosz, Translator in Residence, Free Word Centre, London. It has been organized by Rebecca Wilkie, Programme Manager, Festivals and Events, New Writing North. Marta will lead our discussion and be introduced by Rebecca form NWN. It is at Waterstones. Most people bought copies at the June meeting. If you still need a copy, try online or Waterstones Durham.


Jane has collected monies for a gift for Ashley to be given 5.30pm at Leonards café, 11th July- a short walk from there afterwards to our meeting at Waterstones. Anyone who would like to join please be at the café on 11th July.

Angela Douglas