Three Books


Homesick: New & Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. Lovely Black Sparrow trade edition, 1990; design by Barbara Martin. An amazing book, a revelation to me. I picked it up looking for the posthumous collection A Manual for Cleaning Women (that track is collected here) based on, well, the hype. But the hype was more than right, and I feel simultaneously abashed that I didn’t know Berlin before and grateful to know her writing now.


Three Hainish Novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. An omnibus collecting Rocannon’s WorldPlanet of Exile, and City of Illusions. 1967 hardcover by Nelson Doubleday. Jacket design by John Lisco; cover illustration by Jack Woolhiser. I finished City of Illusions this weekend—probably the most accomplished of her earliest (non-)trilogy, synthesizing high adventure into a philosophical exploration of truth and lie. A reread of The Left Hand of Darkness is next.img_1187

Purity and Danger by Mary Douglas. 1988 trade paperback by ARK. No designer or cover artist credited. I dug this out at some point in my big Le Guin read/re-read, and it’s been hanging around since. Can’t remember why.

The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship (Mary Douglas)

Pollution ideas work in the life of society at two levels, one largely instrumental, one expressive. At the first level, the more obvious one, we find people trying to influence one another’s behavior. Beliefs reinforce social pressures: all the powers of the universe are called in to guarantee an old man’s dying wish, a mother’s dignity, the rights of the weak and innocent. Political power is usually held precariously and primitive rulers are no exception. So we find their legitimate pretensions backed by beliefs in extraordinary powers emanating from their persons, from the insignia of their office or from the words they can utter. Similarly the ideal order of society is guarded by dangers which threaten transgressors. These danger-beliefs are as much threats which one man uses to coerce another as dangerous which he himself fears to incur by his own lapses from righteousness. They are a strong language of mutual exhortation. At this level the laws of nature are dragged in to sanction the moral code: this kind of disease is caused by adultery, that by incest; this meteorological disaster is the effect of political disloyalty, that the effect of impiety. The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship. Thus we find that certain moral values are upheld and certain social roles defined by beliefs and dangerous contagion, as when the glance or touch of an adulterer is held to bring illness to his neighbors or his children.

From Mary Douglas’s study of pollution and taboo, Purity and Danger.