“The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”
“Staying Awake” appears in the February issue of Harper’s. In it, LeGuin offers a salient history of reading and then launches into a screed condemning the takeover of numerous publishers by large corporations: “Moneymaking entities controlled by obscenely rich executives and their anonymous accountants have acquired most previously independent publishing houses with the notion of making quick profit by selling works of art and information.” It’s a thoroughly robust and enjoyable diatribe; by the time this eloquent writer has spent her fury, you want to stand up and cheer. (I did, anyway.) This is not just an exercise in throwing brickbats; LeGuin argues cogently that the usual capitalist business model is all wrong for the promotion, production, and dissemination of quality literature.
This article is, alas, not available online in full text; the Harper’s site features only the first two paragraphs. Finding this issue on the newsstand is a longshot at this point. May I suggest your local public library, that splendid repository of back issues of periodicals, along, of course, with many other wonderful things (and people)!