Lots of neighbourhoods have books; my little coastal village has one. They’re collections of photos or sketches of houses and locales, accompanied by brief paragraphs of local history, favorite recipes, awkward poems. They’re interesting mainly to the people who grew up in or move into those neighbourhoods, who can see what it used to be like, or complain about how it’s not anymore.
It just happens that the book for my Portland neighbourhood was written by Ursula Le Guin. We live just a block from Thurman, and I’ve known the area for decades. I was here when they first built the rowhouses Le Guin complains about. I shop at the little vegan-friendly coop she shopped at. I walk up to the forest Thurman Street ends at. I walk or drive along it to its other end at the Willamette River.
This book is like any other such book – nice photographs that either remind you how the street used to look, or make you scratch your head to figure out what’s there now. I’m not as firmly against change as Le Guin. The neighbourhood is more vital now than it was in 1990; there’s more activity, more people. I don’t like it all, but it does have life and character. I’m sorry to see some old houses go, happy about others. It doesn’t bother me that the warehouse across the street is being replaced by apartment buildings, or that the few industrial locales are moving to less tenanted areas. They’ll do fine, and in the interim, new growth is encouraging new cafes and stores and restaurants. Someday they’ll build a vegan restaurant and it’ll be perfect. Until then, it’s like all neighbourhoods – always changing, always with good parts like the coop, and bad parts like the bicycle pub-crawler with its loud drunks.
“Life without weeds
isn’t life, it’s a product.”
Le Guin accompanies the photographs with poems, or selections from the Baghavad Ghita, or conversations overheard, or local stories. The result is no better and no worse than any other such book. Like Roger Zelazny, Le Guin is apparently a writer whose prose is better than her poetry. What’s here isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. There are snippets of great, and she captures the photos well, but mostly it’s just nice.
Buy this book if you live here, or for the photographs. It’s a pleasant book, and interesting for locals, but it’s not a must-have for fans of Le Guin’s writing.