What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars (aka 8/10)
This book is a collection of essays published by Jo Walton on the Tor.com website between July 2008 and February 2010. The are almost all about SF (and occasionally fantasy) books she’s reread. Walton reads at a pace that leaves me breathless with jealousy and manages to read her way through both rereads of old favourites and new reads as well and a very steady pace.
I read pretty much all of these on the website when they were posted, but that didn’t stop me from pre-ordering the book and starting to read it as soon as it hit my Kindle, abandoning the book I had just started for the duration of this one. And I enjoyed it all over again. She reads a depth into books that I rarely manage and occasionally I get a bit left behind, but that’s okay.
I’ve read some of the books she covers in this book, but I admit most I haven’t. Walton seems to have a liking for complicated books of many layers and older books, and while I love the idea, I struggle to read such things and have been even more since my ME developed. Since that happened when I was 21 (and 23 years ago; I don’t mind if you feel the need to calculate my age), I missed out on some very fertile reading years. But that’s okay too, I love the books I read and I get as much out of them as I get out of them.
It didn’t matter if I hadn’t read the book she was discussing in any particular essay. It was still a most interesting read. Most of the books I still don’t feel a surging desire to read even now, but it’s always nice to know a bit more about books that are well known in the genre. I have bookmarked some essays to either go back and check out the original blog posts (they’re all still online) and see what the commenters had to say, or to consider the book for myself.
I think the books that tempt me the most after these essays are the Steven Brust books. So I stopped half way through the essay for the first one and skipped forward until we reached another author. Will I read them? I don’t know. There’s the time and the money and all the other books I want to read to consider. But I’m going to avoid spoilers to give myself the option. As Jo Walton says a few times in this book, you can get all sorts of things out a a reread but you can only ever read a book for the first time once.
She also has a few essays that aren’t about particular books, but about issues that come up in the SFF genre conversion. There are things like how SF fans read compared to how mainstream readers read – and her discussion of this makes me realise why literary fiction just doesn’t work for me. I read too much like an SFF reader and so I put emphasis on the wrong parts of the story. As, Walton says, mainstream authors often do the same when they try to write SFF.
She also talks about rereading series, different kinds of series, readers who gulp and readers who sip, the concept of skimming and that scary creature who can get into books you loved years ago and ruin them, the Suck Fairy (a term I’ve been using as I discuss rereading myself).
This is kind of an odd book, as it talks in detail about books that the reader may not have read. This reader often hadn’t, and this reader loved the book all the same. It won’t be for everyone, but give it a try if you think it sounds interesting. You could even try one or two of the columns on Tor.com and then come back and buy the book so Jo gets a royalty and you have her essays forever.
I also find it kind of ironic that my first new read for 2014 (White Nights by Ann Cleeves was started in 2013 so it only half counts), the year my only goal is to get in some rereads, is a book all about rereading.
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