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Jo Walton is an award-winning author of, inveterate reader of, and chronic re-reader of science fiction and fantasy books. What Makes This Book So Great is a selection of the best of her musings about her prodigious reading habit. Jo Walton's many subjects range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. Among them, the Zones of Though Jo Walton is an award-winning author of, inveterate reader of, and chronic re-reader of science fiction and fantasy books. What Makes This Book So Great is a selection of the best of her musings about her prodigious reading habit. Jo Walton's many subjects range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. Among them, the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by 'mainstream'; the under-appreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field's many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read. Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.


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Jo Walton is an award-winning author of, inveterate reader of, and chronic re-reader of science fiction and fantasy books. What Makes This Book So Great is a selection of the best of her musings about her prodigious reading habit. Jo Walton's many subjects range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. Among them, the Zones of Though Jo Walton is an award-winning author of, inveterate reader of, and chronic re-reader of science fiction and fantasy books. What Makes This Book So Great is a selection of the best of her musings about her prodigious reading habit. Jo Walton's many subjects range from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gems. Among them, the Zones of Thought novels of Vernor Vinge; the question of what genre readers mean by 'mainstream'; the under-appreciated SF adventures of C. J. Cherryh; the field's many approaches to time travel; the masterful science fiction of Samuel R. Delany; Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children; the early Hainish novels of Ursula K. Le Guin; and a Robert A. Heinlein novel you have most certainly never read. Over 130 essays in all, What Makes This Book So Great is an immensely engaging collection of provocative, opinionated thoughts about past and present-day fantasy and science fiction, from one of our best writers.

30 review for What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction & Fantasy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Intertextuality in SF: "What Makes This Book So Great" by Jo Walton I've been reading SF for more than 30 years. I've probably read everything worth reading in the field, and I’ve been always intrigued by the two questions: 1 - What makes a SF book a good example of its kind? 2 - Why is SF relished by practiced readers, while others hate it? Walton's book tries to answer the above-mentioned questions. Walton is clearly a SF devotee (on t If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Intertextuality in SF: "What Makes This Book So Great" by Jo Walton I've been reading SF for more than 30 years. I've probably read everything worth reading in the field, and I’ve been always intrigued by the two questions: 1 - What makes a SF book a good example of its kind? 2 - Why is SF relished by practiced readers, while others hate it? Walton's book tries to answer the above-mentioned questions. Walton is clearly a SF devotee (on top of being a SF writer as well, which I've never read in fiction mode by the way). One crucial factor is that SF is written in a kind of code, which must be learned by apprenticeship. This necessity, of course, intensifies the skeptic's bewilderment at the bother taken by those who learn it in the first place. I learned all of the SF narrative codes when I was very young. You can find the rest of this review elsewhere.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    I can say without blushing that I felt like I was in a long drawn-out conversation about books and reading with a long-time friend. It might not be true, but it certainly felt true, and it was a continued conversation with whom I spent some truly memorable moments as I walked through the fantasy that was Among Others. I'm still not blushing, but perhaps I should be, because I dropped a goodly sum of money trying to hunt down all these other books, the ones I hadn't already read, simply because he I can say without blushing that I felt like I was in a long drawn-out conversation about books and reading with a long-time friend. It might not be true, but it certainly felt true, and it was a continued conversation with whom I spent some truly memorable moments as I walked through the fantasy that was Among Others. I'm still not blushing, but perhaps I should be, because I dropped a goodly sum of money trying to hunt down all these other books, the ones I hadn't already read, simply because her enthusiasm was simply the last push I needed after realizing that her taste in SFF is sublime. I feel blessed, as I always feel blessed, after being introduced to fantastic and sophisticated works of high literature. (No one can gainsay me on this. I've spent a lot of time in both worlds, and genre lit is no less brilliant than any other.) My only regret is that I can't continue the discussion as I'd please. I'd have loved to discuss so many other top-notch pieces and see her take on them, too, but in the end, I might just have to do some further rereading of my favorites. There is a solid logic there that my younger self disdained and my older self has gradually seen for its beauty. Of course, I might not reread Dune for the fourteenth time. I've pretty much memorized that novel already. But there are a few others that might serve a third or a fourth read. I have to face reality... the temptation is more than a little unendurable. Shall I reopen Rajaniemi, Joan D. Vinge, or Brin? How about Eco, PKD, or Gaiman? Or Neal Stephenson, Manly P. Hall, or Ayn Rand? (Yes, indeed.) The list feels like it ought to be endless, and perhaps when I'm 800 years old it might still seem that way, but for now, the brightest stars are the most effortless to name. Thank you for this conversation! Brad K Horner's Blog

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicky

    If you're looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the "100 Must Read" books I've been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it's worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan -- she doesn't claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn't hedge about including one book over ano If you're looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the "100 Must Read" books I've been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it's worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan -- she doesn't claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn't hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those "100 Must Read" books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation. It's rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton's written resonate right through me -- and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I've spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there's that: I'm utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there's some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it's no surprise that I adored this. It also helps that it's very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words -- or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology. It's the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that. The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of "100 Must Read" books and others of that species try and arrange, but there's a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It's not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read -- it's just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.

  4. 5 out of 5

    seak

    I really wanted to post about this new book by Jo Walton (one of a few coming out this year by the author), but I find that if I wait until I'm done reading, it'll be years before I can say anything. And the reason for that is right there in the title. What Makes This Book So Great is about as clever as you can get for a book containing Jo Walton's reviews and other posts she has done for Tor.com, referring to both the reviews and the immediate book. Full of wonderful reviews, Walton covers many I really wanted to post about this new book by Jo Walton (one of a few coming out this year by the author), but I find that if I wait until I'm done reading, it'll be years before I can say anything. And the reason for that is right there in the title. What Makes This Book So Great is about as clever as you can get for a book containing Jo Walton's reviews and other posts she has done for Tor.com, referring to both the reviews and the immediate book. Full of wonderful reviews, Walton covers many classics of fantasy and science fiction and does so with so much love of the genre that it compels you to check them out. As if I don't have enough in mount-to-read, this book covers so many I have and haven't heard of and I have to have them all. Now, you see why I can't possibly read this book all at once. It makes me go track down other books! In addition to wonderful reviews, there are plenty of other articles, such as one of my favorites so far, "How to Talk to Authors." In this world where authors are so much more accessible than they ever have been, from blogs to twitter to the endless supply of comic conventions, chances are you have the opportunity to meet an author. Don't make a fool of yourself with such simple advice as don't say "I'm sorry, but I haven't read any of your books." Because, well, what does someone say to that? As, Walton points out, "Writers see their sales figures. They know that statistically it's unlikely that you've read their books." I'm really enjoying this book and wanted to let you know a little about it even though I'm nowhere near close to finishing it. It's one of those to read when you are in the mood and highly recommended because Jo Walton's love for the genre is infectious.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    This fulfills that same sweet spot as Hornby's writing for The Believer and Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: I really enjoy reading what a devoted reader has to say about reading. (Forgive the recursion, please) In this case, Walton is an astoundingly prolific readers, and surely she is the most prolific re-reader the modern world has ever known. Her tastes aren't exactly mine, although there is enough overlap to make some of these reviews into "I must read this now" urgency. But even the titles I won' This fulfills that same sweet spot as Hornby's writing for The Believer and Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris: I really enjoy reading what a devoted reader has to say about reading. (Forgive the recursion, please) In this case, Walton is an astoundingly prolific readers, and surely she is the most prolific re-reader the modern world has ever known. Her tastes aren't exactly mine, although there is enough overlap to make some of these reviews into "I must read this now" urgency. But even the titles I won't be adding to the List make for interesting thought. As a writer, Walton is able to explain what makes books work for her, as well as why they fail. So there's an informed look at mechanics (but not a primary focus; you don't have to want to write to appreciate her commentary) Further, as this past year has seen a lot of discussion of diversity in SFF as a genre and as a community, her take on intersectionality and on the sad disappointments of much classic work is insightful and heartfelt. We all love things we know have problems, whether from nostalgia or other reasons, and professional reviews don't usually address the issue. So, really, this collection of Walton's is rather like reading a whole slew of reviews by one of my online reviewer friends, including occasional discursions into where, when, and how one reads. Fun stuff. Library copy

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    I didn't enjoy this quite as much as I'd hoped to, but that is partly my fault for failing to read the description and the Table of Contents as carefully as I should have. This is, as Walton explains in her introduction, a collection of blog posts which were written for Tor.com “between July 2008 and February 2011.” They are all short – mostly around three pages long. That part is great. What was less great for me was that Walton is not writing reviews of new books, which I knew, but is writing I didn't enjoy this quite as much as I'd hoped to, but that is partly my fault for failing to read the description and the Table of Contents as carefully as I should have. This is, as Walton explains in her introduction, a collection of blog posts which were written for Tor.com “between July 2008 and February 2011.” They are all short – mostly around three pages long. That part is great. What was less great for me was that Walton is not writing reviews of new books, which I knew, but is writing about books she is rereading. This would be fine, except that, of course, one mostly rereads books one really enjoyed, and if you enjoy one book by an author you very likely will be fond of their other books as well. The upshot being that she has four essays on C.J. Cherryh, four on Robert Heinlein, fifteen on Lois McMaster Bujold, and seventeen on Steven Brust. Aside from Heinlein, who I didn't like enough to reread, I've not read any of these (though I do have Bujold on my list as “maybe someday”). Anyway, the reason I should have known better than to pick this one is that she seems to lean pretty strongly toward science fiction, and I prefer fantasy. There were some interesting essays – one Tolkien, a couple Ursula Le Guins, and really fun one on why George Eliot (who wrote Middlemarch) should have been a science fiction writer. Some of my favorites were the “general” essays, about how and why we read. I think there were about ten of these, so, not a large proportion of the 130 pieces. I liked four of the ten. Even with the ones I liked, though, I wasn't quite happy. The author wants her readers to know that she is a spectacularly fast reader – at least a book a day, and sometimes as many as six a day – and that she was a classics major, so her reading includes Difficult Books. She rereads partly so that she won't run out of books to read (and this is presented, not as a budget issue, but as a matter of the number of interesting books in existence). When I read this, in “Why I Re-read,” I thought she was kidding, and she presented it amusingly. Turns out, however, that she wasn't kidding. Of course, being such a fast and skillful reader is lovely for Ms. Walton, but as a standard from which to offer advice to other readers, it seems a bit extreme. Actually, it wouldn't have bothered me if she had only mentioned her remarkable reading abilities once or twice, but they came up with surprising frequency. For readers of her blog, who would have encountered her little brags once or twice a year, assuming they read her posts as they were published, this probably wasn't particularly annoying, but in book form it was a bit much. Going back through the book, I'd say there were about eight pieces I enjoyed. Not a great ratio, but if I'd checked this out of the library (assuming my library system owned this, which it doesn't) I'd have been quite content. The one I mentioned earlier, on George Eliot, was really good, and I also very much liked “From Herring to Marmalade: the perfect plot of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.” Also the one on Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    I like this book a lot, and I'm really glad Tor decided to publish it as a handsome hardback. But you should be aware that all of her original retro-reviews that are in the book are still available online -- and more! Plus, there's a searchable database to all 819(!) posts at http://michaelcross.me.uk/jowalton/ -- which you should definitely bookmark, and spend some time on, if you like Jo Walton's reviews and/or really good reviews of most of the best books published in the science-fiction and I like this book a lot, and I'm really glad Tor decided to publish it as a handsome hardback. But you should be aware that all of her original retro-reviews that are in the book are still available online -- and more! Plus, there's a searchable database to all 819(!) posts at http://michaelcross.me.uk/jowalton/ -- which you should definitely bookmark, and spend some time on, if you like Jo Walton's reviews and/or really good reviews of most of the best books published in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. Trust me on this -- she's our best and most enthusiastic critic and reviewer. And, if you don't already know about her, here's "What Makes Jo Walton So Great" by her editor at Tor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden: https://www.tor.com/2014/01/21/what-m...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Misha

    I love Jo Walton's blog posts on Tor.com. Walton is a passionate, thoughtful reader and re-reader and I appreciate her sharing this with so many. For one, I know I will never read or re-read as much as she has in this lifetime, but I get the benefits of her experiences one essay after another. I am about halfway through these and they were perfect for a family trip in which I had little time or concentration to read a sustained narrative. I just finished reading her many awesome chapters on Bujo I love Jo Walton's blog posts on Tor.com. Walton is a passionate, thoughtful reader and re-reader and I appreciate her sharing this with so many. For one, I know I will never read or re-read as much as she has in this lifetime, but I get the benefits of her experiences one essay after another. I am about halfway through these and they were perfect for a family trip in which I had little time or concentration to read a sustained narrative. I just finished reading her many awesome chapters on Bujold's Vorkosigan series which is particularly helpful as my book group is discussing "Warrior's Apprentice" in a couple of weeks. I do with this book had a recent post she did on what other books and series you might like if you like Bujold, depending on which books and aspects of each you enjoyed---that is a particularly great post for Bujold fans. Loving this so far....

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    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 starti 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jo

    When I read Jo Walton's award-winning fantasy "Among Others'' (winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards), I especially enjoyed how the young character constantly visited to her local library to get stacks of science fiction and fantasy books through interlibrary loan. I thought at the time that Walton must be an avid reader. Avid is an understatement. When I read Walton's book of columns, entitled "What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy,'' I found out t When I read Jo Walton's award-winning fantasy "Among Others'' (winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards), I especially enjoyed how the young character constantly visited to her local library to get stacks of science fiction and fantasy books through interlibrary loan. I thought at the time that Walton must be an avid reader. Avid is an understatement. When I read Walton's book of columns, entitled "What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy,'' I found out that she reads several books a week, and if she spends a day in bed, she will get through four to six titles! If you are a die-hard science fiction and fantasy reader, this is a great book to read because Walton highlights many of her favorite novels. Some are rather obscure, and no doubt will require you to get them via interlibrary loan. If you are relatively new to the genre and are looking learn more, Walton provides a lot of names to become familiar with. But my favorite parts of Walton’s essays were her observations about the practice of reading. One chapter discusses the delights of re-reading a book. She has read “Game of Thrones’’, which is more than 600 pages, six times! She notes that there are three kinds of people in the world: those who re-read, those who don’t because there are too many books out there to read, and those who don’t read at all (of those people, she asks, “What do they think about on buses?’’) Other questions she muses over include whether it is OK to skim a book, what to say to an author (don’t tell her you skimmed her book!) and what to do if the first book in a series is amazing, but the sequels aren’t so much. All in all, a great collection of essays.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was great, and confirmed what I have always believed: that Jo Walton and I are completely in sync when it comes to books. I loved hearing her thoughts on a lot of favorites of mine, like why Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell isn't more widely imitated, or how the first few books of the Dragonriders of Pern were the best. It was also interesting, and left me a lot of things that I want to read, to hear her talk about things that I had either not read or never heard of. I have seen Steven Brust's This was great, and confirmed what I have always believed: that Jo Walton and I are completely in sync when it comes to books. I loved hearing her thoughts on a lot of favorites of mine, like why Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell isn't more widely imitated, or how the first few books of the Dragonriders of Pern were the best. It was also interesting, and left me a lot of things that I want to read, to hear her talk about things that I had either not read or never heard of. I have seen Steven Brust's Dzur books around for years, used to shelve them at Borders, in fact, but never really cared. Now having read Walton's rundown of the series, I'm determined to try at least one! I really loved the essays where she wasn't just straight up talking about a book, but talked about skimming vs reading every word, or reading a series out of order. We are the same on these counts as well! This wasn't a perfect book, it's taken from a blog series that she did, which is what keeps me from giving it five stars. There's very much a sense that she is talking to friends via the blog, some of it was a little baffling. You kind of had to be in the Tor.com online community to get all the jokes, in a manner of speaking. But it's an excellent reference, and I plan to use it as a guide to What to Read!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Teleseparatist

    If you know me well, then you probably know that I can be a little excessive about reading about other people reading. If I could, I would force everyone I like, some people I don't like, and possibly some borderline strangers to regularly update me on their reading habits. Instead of satisfying that addiction, goodreads only made things worse when I joined. I'm personally responsible for forcing convincing a number of friends to sign up, promising them that it's fun but really, driven by my des If you know me well, then you probably know that I can be a little excessive about reading about other people reading. If I could, I would force everyone I like, some people I don't like, and possibly some borderline strangers to regularly update me on their reading habits. Instead of satisfying that addiction, goodreads only made things worse when I joined. I'm personally responsible for forcing convincing a number of friends to sign up, promising them that it's fun but really, driven by my desire to keep up to date with their reading. (Raise your hand if I've ever bugged you to update your goodreads! Feel free to do that by means of hitting the like button.) (What follows is not really a spoiler; you can't really spoil this book; but lengthy and digressive thoughts around and on the side of this book, on the subject of books, reading and reviewing and hate-reviewing, that I thought a spoiler tag would work to hide that part. When I get back to the book at hand, the spoiler tag will end, and there's a tl;dr.) (view spoiler)[ Lately, however, I've been feeling a little burnt out on goodreads/Internet book communities and spaces. It could at times feel like the more I looked around, the more negativity I encountered. And well, in some cases I am sure it was well-deserved scorn that was being heaped on books (and, in some cases, authors, and in some cases, reviewers, and readers, and... yeah). I mean, when a book has the potential to trigger someone, the chance to know and decide against reading it is nothing to scoff at. Personally, I'm not triggered by books per se, but I do feel pretty awful whenever I encounter certain harmful disability-related tropes, to the point that I usually avoid reading fiction with characters with intellectual disability. It's so rarely done well. But I digress already - my point is, I do prefer to know if I'm about to read a book where the protagonist is saved when a pure-hearted character with DS sacrifices themselves because the world is not a good place to be disabled and also #buryyourdisabled. I don't think that requires explanations. And I understand that others have various issues they are more sensitive to and aware of than I am, and so their reactions to books can be pretty strong. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I certainly wouldn't want to be forbidden from complaining about the stuff I dislike. (I'm Polish, complaining is a national sport - not a pastime, we're far too serious about it. I'm allowed to say it because it's true.) In fact, I've written a negative and even a scathing review (or five) on this very website. Pointing out racism, or cultural appropriation, or really inconsistent tone, or #killingallthequeerwomen. I've also frequently written positive reviews that pointed to some parts of a book that bothered me. So it's not that that has got me down. (Sorry for the long hedging here.) It's more that it feels like I've seen more anger than joy, and that the angry reviews seem to get more traction, particularly from people who haven't read something. (Certainly seems to be this way about my own reviews. I'd love to get the likes for my raves instead. Not that that doesn't happen to other people; clearly I'm raving wrong.) But I've gone to pages for books I *loved* only to see that the top review is a one-star DNF complaining about things that aren't even accurately represented in the review, but given hundreds of likes for being entertaining by people who haven't read the book but trust that person to be right about it. And then I think, well, what if people see my review (positive! lotsofstars!) and think ill of me because I'm not coming down on the book for the same reason? Is my reading wrong because I wasn't offended? Am I being insensitive? But I read it, and they didn't, and yet I feel potentially ashamed of my enjoyment. This is even true about books I'd graded ages ago, and doubly so when I post a review of a controversial book now. And then there's another aspect: I am tormented by the bad impulse to correct people who are wrong on the Internet and claim something about the book that to me sounds like a really doubtful or biased interpretation, one that requires disregarding parts of the book that contradict it. But then again, the problem arises - what if they aren't wrong? Maybe the book clicked with me, making me ignore the unsavoury parts. Maybe I blinked and missed (or, as the case has been once, accidentally pressed next page fifteen times and skipped) the part that was truly bad, the fly in the ointment. And yet - maybe the reviewers are wrong. I've seen authors who wrote books representing their own experience and identity get slammed for being culturally insensitive on flimsy evidence. I've seen reviews that state authoritatively that the book is garbage for claiming that group X is inferior, or depicts the group as such, when in fact it's a villain, or at least a person with a stake, who makes that statement and it is textually called out. And don't get me started on books with narrators who are wrong (and the readers are given data to know that the narrator is wrong) about something... Anyways, I'm fairly sure it's been a while since I last stepped in; now I'm reduced to secretly hoping someone will say something clever and convincing instead (ideally, someone who actually knows the reviewer and not me, an unwelcome online stranger). And vice versa - if I see someone loving a book I hated with a fiery passion, I don't come over to tell someone their taste sucks (even if really, I don't see how you can read that author's note and not feel that it's condescending!). And yet I sort of feel like my enjoyment of books I loved gets at least a little sapped when I realise others hated them for reasons that sound like the opposite of YMMV. It feels like I've gone out of my way to have someone tell me my taste sucks. And they don't even know me. Or, well, my internet persona. I feel like there should be a point to this. Maybe it's this: the problem is probably mostly me, and surely the only solution can be found in learning what to avoid and how to deal with types of critique that are vastly popular and influential. I should grow both more sensitivity to the issues I'm not an expert on and thicker skin when it comes to reviewers disliking what I liked. I should be willing to consider the possibility that I missed the shittiness and, if upon consideration I stand by my assessment that the reading that sees the book as bad isn't textually supported, then I shouldn't let it affect my enjoyment. No one should pretend the suck fairy isn't there if she is, but I shouldn't let others' suck fairies get me that riled up if I don't think they're there. But maybe, if the suck fairy isn't a major part of the book, its body or framework, but one element of many, it would also be good not to only focus on the bad, and not to feel like others' aren't entitled to different readings. Moreover, maybe the fact that others don't consider the book to be, and let me list random things, anti-lesbian, or antisemitic, or anti-Eastern European, doesn't mean that they didn't pay attention or notice something that is there, but rather that they read the whole and emerged with a different but also valid interpretation. And maybe it's okay to have a few problematic faves as long as they are not Supernatural I mean are you serious that was flaming poison. (hide spoiler)] Okay, tl;dr abbreviated version: sometimes seeing people complain about how awful some books purportedly are on various issues makes me sad or like things less even when I think those people are wrong, or even when I think people are right and I agree and disliked the book too / have no desire to read it, because I wish instead of having to point out the shitty we could focus on celebrating the awesome. And that's what makes this book so fun. I don't always agree with Walton's tastes at all, but I loved how enthusiastic and loving she is about books and how unapologetic she is about liking what she likes. And at the same time, that she is willing to admit when stuff she likes contains flaming piles of garbage. I mean, most of us have loved piles of garbage at some point. (A few books by Oscar Scott Card were so influential for me as a teen and had an impact on shaping some parts of my life philosophy. And that's not even mentioning what fanfic I read.) It reminded me of how much I can enjoy interacting with others about reading, and that criticism, also when coming from me, doesn't have to be like a contest where the person who notices the most that's wrong, wins*. I'm grateful for the recommendations (I've noted down a few titles I want to check out.) I was so happy that she'd written up Bujold novels, because I could read the novel and then Walton's take on it. *Unless it's typos, in which case, Tor.com, don't mix up it's and its please, how am I supposed to tell my ESL students that it matters to use them correctly in formal contexts. As to the format of the book, amusingly enough, I don't think it quite worked for me - I would have liked to have more context in some cases (some of the essays definitely felt like they were only written for readers acquainted with the work under discussion). All the same, I really enjoyed the short essays that were more meta - about the act of reading, aspects of SF, Walton's readerly quirks. I saw myself a lot in her description of where she reads (I mean, unless I'm playing Pokemon Go, I read on my commute. Even if I'm walking on foot. I haven't caused an accident, yet.) But as my wife likes to repeat (or maybe quote?), a good book makes you want to read all the books, and this book made me feel like reading not just some of the books it hailed but all the books (insert that hyperbole and a half pic), even ones I won't love, and maybe even a few that won't make me look good (to myself) on goodreads. Badreads? Goodreads secrets, anyone?

  13. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    I'm not a big SF reader, so I'm not this book's audience. I've read barely a quarter of the books this discusses. (For some reason I thought there would be more of a focus on fantasy. I was wrong.) I did enjoy a few essays a lot, though, particularly the one titled "Literary criticism vs. talking about books" - Literary criticism is a conversation, and it's a conversation I've never been a part of - critics are in dialogue with the text but also in dialogue with each other. I'm talking about book I'm not a big SF reader, so I'm not this book's audience. I've read barely a quarter of the books this discusses. (For some reason I thought there would be more of a focus on fantasy. I was wrong.) I did enjoy a few essays a lot, though, particularly the one titled "Literary criticism vs. talking about books" - Literary criticism is a conversation, and it's a conversation I've never been a part of - critics are in dialogue with the text but also in dialogue with each other. I'm talking about books as part of a different conversation... Beyond that, I resist the term because critics are supposed to be impersonal and detached, they're not supposed to burble about how much they love books and how they cried on the rain. Most of all I resist because I hate the way that necessary detachment and objectivity seem to suck the life and joy of reading out of the books critics talk about... It's funny. I'm a real writer. But when it comes to this I feel as if I'm not really a grown-up critic. And I don't want to be. It's too much of a responsibility and not enough fun. That made me think. And yeah, Derek Jeter's been on my mind a lot this weekend, so that's a factor, but while a great book does have tangibles that can be discussed objectively, sometimes I just want to burble about intangibles. Emotion and reading experience and "I loved this so much I can't talk about it." And that's a part of reading that literary criticism never seems to capture.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    Four & a half stars. Walton wrote a chapter in this book called “Gulp or Sip: How do you read?”. I guess I’m both a sipper and a gulper. I used to be a gulper of everything. I read quickly and easily and I read everything. But somewhere along the way I lost ability to gulp everything. I don’t seem to have huge swathes of time to just sit and read. So some things I sip. I sipped this book. I loved it but it took me a while to read it as I was busy reading other things, planning a Christmas party Four & a half stars. Walton wrote a chapter in this book called “Gulp or Sip: How do you read?”. I guess I’m both a sipper and a gulper. I used to be a gulper of everything. I read quickly and easily and I read everything. But somewhere along the way I lost ability to gulp everything. I don’t seem to have huge swathes of time to just sit and read. So some things I sip. I sipped this book. I loved it but it took me a while to read it as I was busy reading other things, planning a Christmas party (it was great by the way), Christmas shopping, working, walking my dog, cleaning my house and planning for my surgery. But now I have time. I had my surgery yesterday (nothing serious) and now I am recovering and I have a few weeks where I get to sit around and read. How nice is that. Anyhow I loved this book. I am in awe of the amount of time Jo Walton has to read and I loved her telling us why she thinks these books are so great. I’ve read a lot of the books she talks about, I skipped the chapters she wrote about Steven Brust mostly because now I want to read all of them. If you are a lover of science fiction and fantasy I highly recommend this. It is like having a nice long chat with an old friend about books.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sandi

    I really like Jo Walton's writing and I feel like a lot of her tastes correspond with mine. This book was an enjoyable read for me. Do NOT pick up this book if you do not want to significantly add to your TBR pile. My quibble with this book, and the reason that my review alternates between three and four stars is that too much of this book (25%) was a direct shill for two authors/series - Brust and Bujold. Now, admittedly, I love the Vorkosigan saga and can understand her enthusiasm for it but h I really like Jo Walton's writing and I feel like a lot of her tastes correspond with mine. This book was an enjoyable read for me. Do NOT pick up this book if you do not want to significantly add to your TBR pile. My quibble with this book, and the reason that my review alternates between three and four stars is that too much of this book (25%) was a direct shill for two authors/series - Brust and Bujold. Now, admittedly, I love the Vorkosigan saga and can understand her enthusiasm for it but her blog posts are essentially a plot synopsis with minor spoilers, not really an in-depth dissection of issues or ideas. She would have had more to talk about with Bujolds's other books about which I would have liked to have read. Not to mention, once you get someone to read one of her books, that person will either eagerly gobble the rest up or their lack of taste will cause them to ignore the rest of Walton's recommendation. As far as Brust, I have not yet cracked open his books so I cannot comment on the opinions expressed but again, too many blog posts about only one series (18 out of 130 or 14%) without any real meaty discussion. Since I haven't read the series, I was reduced to skimming these sections for fear of ruining my (hopefully) future enjoyment. I do think there are other authors out there she could have talked about and instead wrote a compilation/condensation of her impressions of these two authors, i.e. recommended start places, the chronology of the books, their relative strengths/weaknesses and tone. I enjoyed more of the one-off impressions of books and authors and I really enjoyed the discussions on rereading in general and other topics. I like her discussion delineating her take on issues in science fiction and fantasy from the point of view of a genre fan. Organizationally, this book should contain an index listing the books she rereads.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Unless you are as well read as Jo Walton (doubtful, she admits she almost reads quickly and constantly), there is no way you could walk away from reading this book without a few new books that you want to read. Its clear that Walton really enjoys the books she writes about here, even the ones that she sees faults in. Although never labeled as such, she writes sets of posts about genre tropes (time travel books, alt history, etc). And if there are any chapters that don't peak your interest, you w Unless you are as well read as Jo Walton (doubtful, she admits she almost reads quickly and constantly), there is no way you could walk away from reading this book without a few new books that you want to read. Its clear that Walton really enjoys the books she writes about here, even the ones that she sees faults in. Although never labeled as such, she writes sets of posts about genre tropes (time travel books, alt history, etc). And if there are any chapters that don't peak your interest, you won't suffer for very long as most are 3-4 pages (and then its onto the next one). Authors that I'm more interested in because of this book: Samuel Delany, CJ Cherryh and Robert Heinlein. Disclaimer: There are two parts of this book that I did not read - the posts about Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books and Steven Brust's Vlad books. I had already planned to read the Vorkosigan books and will go back to read those chapters once I do. As for the Vlad books, in her introduction to the series Walton made it sound very interesting. So I plan to try the first in the series out before reading those chapters.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marie-Therese

    This volume reads like precisely what it is: a series of short blog posts, frequently related by author or theme, collected together and bundled into a very lightly edited book. Some of these little essays are thoughtful and interesting and are sure to spur the casual reader of the genre on to new discoveries. Others, though, are the kind of thing best left to the ephemerality of the internet (no one needs to immortalize their leaden April Fool's posts or republish trite open-ended queries meant This volume reads like precisely what it is: a series of short blog posts, frequently related by author or theme, collected together and bundled into a very lightly edited book. Some of these little essays are thoughtful and interesting and are sure to spur the casual reader of the genre on to new discoveries. Others, though, are the kind of thing best left to the ephemerality of the internet (no one needs to immortalize their leaden April Fool's posts or republish trite open-ended queries meant to elicit discussion among blog regulars). There are also too many essays loaded with heavy spoilers for me to be able to recommend this book as means for newcomers to explore the genre.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Collins

    This is a lovely collection of Walton's essays, mostly about works of science fiction. I have read many a book based on her suggestions. She writes regular columns for Tor.com. I wish it had an index. There's a table of contents, but the title of each essay doesn't always indicate which authors or works it covers. This is a lovely collection of Walton's essays, mostly about works of science fiction. I have read many a book based on her suggestions. She writes regular columns for Tor.com. I wish it had an index. There's a table of contents, but the title of each essay doesn't always indicate which authors or works it covers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Boxofdelights

    This book makes me want to read or reread a lot of books, and also get much better at reviewing them.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    What makes What Makes This Book So Great so great—and it is—isn't just Jo Walton's boundless enthusiasm, although that's certainly a factor. What makes it so great isn't the sheer number of books she discusses, either—although she does read a lot more than I do, and I thought I read a lot! I have read many of the same books (more than I expected, actually), but by no means all; I discovered at least five that went straight onto my to-read list. You will find more than 100 discrete volumes covered What makes What Makes This Book So Great so great—and it is—isn't just Jo Walton's boundless enthusiasm, although that's certainly a factor. What makes it so great isn't the sheer number of books she discusses, either—although she does read a lot more than I do, and I thought I read a lot! I have read many of the same books (more than I expected, actually), but by no means all; I discovered at least five that went straight onto my to-read list. You will find more than 100 discrete volumes covered within these collected online posts from Walton's column on Tor.com, in fact—and remember that every one of them is something she read here for a second time, at least, in order to review it. It isn't even how well and how often Walton's taste meshes with my own—although that's true as well. For one isolated counterexample that stood out for me precisely because it was so uncommon, she mentions in an aside that she doesn't plan to reread Mary Gentle's Grunts, which I recently read and thought was quite a romp... but for the most part, where I've read the book at all, her assessment of it makes perfect sense to me. No, in the end what makes this book so great is Walton's own voice, which is always clear, colloquial and endlessly erudite. What Makes This Book So Great evokes everything about Walton's writing that I originally admired—that I fell in love with—long, long ago, before she'd published a single book, when she was just another prolific poster on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written. She loves sf, as a reader and as a writer, and as someone who knows the field intimately—and, what's more, she knows how to express that feeling, in ways that make me want to feel the same enthusiasm again myself. What makes this book so great is... Walton herself.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    I both am and am not the target audience for this book, having never been a devoted reader of Walton's column. I am, however, a well read fan, which is part of why I found the subtitle ridiculous (but that's a marketing choice on the publisher's part). Many of these books are not 'classics' by any stretch, despite how lovingly they are described. What this book is is one author's take on books she likes enough to read and reread, so if that's what you're looking for, you could certainly do worse I both am and am not the target audience for this book, having never been a devoted reader of Walton's column. I am, however, a well read fan, which is part of why I found the subtitle ridiculous (but that's a marketing choice on the publisher's part). Many of these books are not 'classics' by any stretch, despite how lovingly they are described. What this book is is one author's take on books she likes enough to read and reread, so if that's what you're looking for, you could certainly do worse. My frustration lies in the incredible whiteness and Western-based nature of the authors and works chosen - Butler gets one post in which she bounces off "Kindred" and doesn't try another one of her books, but Brust gets 18 posts, one for each book in his series, for example. It's weighted toward male writers, and mostly heterosexual pretty much goes without saying (Delany gets a few posts, at least, and there are one or two other mentions of other folks, but if you didn't already know who they are, you wouldn't pick up on it). On the one hand, the author likes what she likes, but on the other, I desperately wished for more self-examination of the choices she picked to write about, particularly as the posts moved close to the current time. The field has changed a lot and she had a huge platform for introducing new voices and diversity to the field but I didn't see this happening in either the columns or this collection. I picked it up hoping that I would be introduced to authors I either hadn't read or perhaps hadn't really understood the first time through and needed to revisit. And that goal, alas, was not achieved, which is a shame from my standpoint. Added to this, she namechecks a notorious sexual harasser in the field as one of her best buddies (his reputation was very public at the time the book was being put together) and I got yanked out of the text every time because all I could see were the number of women who wouldn't be believed, who would stop attending cons, perhaps stop writing, because any complaints would be greeted with "Shiny Big Name Female Author says he's awesome! La-la, can't hear you!" So, yeah. I didn't hate every post, by any means but I can't say that I was motivated to read any new to me authors either.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    What Makes This Book So Great is a must read for any genre lover. Walton will astound and amaze you. Her essays are poignant. She often talks about details that I’d skip over or miss, and works them into a larger picture that I’d probably not look at quite as intensely as she does. The bottom line? Walton reminds me of why I love reading, and why I love this genre, and why I started running this pipsqueak website in the first place. Walton makes me want to simplify and get back to my reading roo What Makes This Book So Great is a must read for any genre lover. Walton will astound and amaze you. Her essays are poignant. She often talks about details that I’d skip over or miss, and works them into a larger picture that I’d probably not look at quite as intensely as she does. The bottom line? Walton reminds me of why I love reading, and why I love this genre, and why I started running this pipsqueak website in the first place. Walton makes me want to simplify and get back to my reading roots, and, better than that, she makes me want to read differently. And the real crux of the matter is the fact that this book is going to make Mount To Be Read turn into a transcontinental mountain range, and the best part of it is that Walton will get you excited. She’ll root you back in that passion that first got you started in speculative fiction. That’s a true gift. I needed something to bring me back to my genre roots, to remind me of my passion, and to give me the insights and ambition to read differently. This is one of those books that I can read again and again, and always find something different in the text. I love books like that. Read my full review here: http://www.bookwormblues.net/2014/02/...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2773548.html This book of reviews originally published on Tor.com in 2008-2011 is an extended conversation about great (and some less great) works of SF, part of a chat that I've been having since the start of the century. The final essay, which I think didn't appear online, established the agenda: this is not literary criticism, this is talking about books, not new books but books that she has reread and thought about for our benefit. As always, I find I have distinc http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2773548.html This book of reviews originally published on Tor.com in 2008-2011 is an extended conversation about great (and some less great) works of SF, part of a chat that I've been having since the start of the century. The final essay, which I think didn't appear online, established the agenda: this is not literary criticism, this is talking about books, not new books but books that she has reread and thought about for our benefit. As always, I find I have distinct points of convergence (Bujold, Le Guin, the Clarkes - Arthur C. and Susannah; Doorways in the Sand, When the Kissing Had To Stop) and divergence (Brust, Cherryh; to an extent Delany and Asimov); but enough of the former that I will be adding several of her recommendations to my own wish list (Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Black Wine, In The Wet). And the piece on The Last Dangerous Visions is grim but funny at the same time. All good fun and recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    (Reviews day Tuesday) This book isn't just about great books, it IS a great book. Jo Walton clearly engages with her blog readers on Tor, and these posts make for some of the most interesting analysis. This isn't just a collection of review of books (although there are a lot of those), there are reflections on why and how we read and re-read. Posts like 'sip vs gulp' and 'skimming' really ask just what it is we're doing when we pick up a book and stare at text. Of course, there are many wonderful (Reviews day Tuesday) This book isn't just about great books, it IS a great book. Jo Walton clearly engages with her blog readers on Tor, and these posts make for some of the most interesting analysis. This isn't just a collection of review of books (although there are a lot of those), there are reflections on why and how we read and re-read. Posts like 'sip vs gulp' and 'skimming' really ask just what it is we're doing when we pick up a book and stare at text. Of course, there are many wonderful review of books, and not just great or good books, but even some books that don't sound so good. Yet, somehow, hearing Walton's love for the book come through make me want to read even those 'not so great' (or at times, bad) books. Jo Walton clearly loves these books and authors, the genre, and reading (and re-reading). It reminds me of why I love this genre and what keeps me coming back. Perhaps someday I'll even re-read a book. ;)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I know that all of these essays are available for free online, but the hardcover was so pretty, and I always absorb content better when it's not scrolling down a screen. My only complaint is that I didn't really want to add more books to my to-read list. Thanks a lot, Jo Walton. I know that all of these essays are available for free online, but the hardcover was so pretty, and I always absorb content better when it's not scrolling down a screen. My only complaint is that I didn't really want to add more books to my to-read list. Thanks a lot, Jo Walton.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Girl

    I wish I had read more of the books Walton discusses here - as it was, I wouldn't be able to tell if she made some of them up wholesale (like she did with the April Fool's posts). But it was fascinating nonetheless. I wish I had read more of the books Walton discusses here - as it was, I wouldn't be able to tell if she made some of them up wholesale (like she did with the April Fool's posts). But it was fascinating nonetheless.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    ‘What Makes This Book So Great’ is a collection of Jo Walton’s blog posts about favourite sci-fi and fantasy books, originally published between 2008 and 2011. Given the length and content, each piece read to me a lot like a goodreads review. Jo is an enthusiastic and engaging reviewer, so I found the whole book a lot of fun to read. It raises some very interesting questions about reading, which obviously invite reflection on your personal habits. At the very beginning, she states that there are ‘What Makes This Book So Great’ is a collection of Jo Walton’s blog posts about favourite sci-fi and fantasy books, originally published between 2008 and 2011. Given the length and content, each piece read to me a lot like a goodreads review. Jo is an enthusiastic and engaging reviewer, so I found the whole book a lot of fun to read. It raises some very interesting questions about reading, which obviously invite reflection on your personal habits. At the very beginning, she states that there are two types of people: ‘those that re-read and those that don’t’. She is firmly in the former camp, by far the most prolific re-reader I’ve ever come across. I would definitely classify myself in the latter camp. In the past nearly five years I’ve been reviewing all I read on goodreads, there have been maybe three deliberate re-reads amongst 718 books. Plus a couple of novels I only realised part way through that I’d read before years ago then forgotten. It was therefore fascinating to read Walton’s explanations of why she re-reads so often. Notably, she links it back to a childhood during which she had a limited number of books to read. Perhaps I’m less of a re-reader in part because my childhood reading was unconstrained - I borrowed whatever I liked from the public and school libraries, plus second-hand book buying was a big family hobby and my mum worked in a (new) bookshop. I re-read a lot more as a child and teenager than I do now, however, and I think the internet is part of the reason. Access to so many recommendations entices me to pursue novelty. That’s only a part of it, though. There are many other reasons: reading as a search for understanding, dislike of clutter (which books can be, sorry to say), belief that books should be shared rather than sitting on shelves unread, probably unfounded belief that immersion in a new book cannot be recaptured in re-reads, fear of running out of time before I’ve read everything I want to, etc, etc. Nonetheless, Walton’s explanations make sense and encouraged me to consider re-reading more often. I do keep a strictly limited selection of best-beloved novels on my shelves with the intention of re-reading. Perhaps I should set aside three weeks when I read them rather than borrowing more library books? I do sometimes yearn to revisit those worlds which left such happy memories. Walton’s account of her reading habits will make almost everyone feel like they hardly read at all, and I’m no exception. She averages at least a book a day, while I manage two or three a week. I wonder if re-reading goes more quickly? I did wholly agree with her perspective on time to read, though. I also consider it my default activity and carry a book with me almost anywhere (except to work, due to lack of self control). How do people get to sleep without reading at least a little bit of a book? It takes me ages to fall asleep if I miss out that step. Likewise reading in the bath - unfortunately my current flat just has a shower and, like Walton, I can’t work out how to make it book-compatible. She and I both find the concept of ‘not enough time to read’ deeply puzzling. Only when I have guests to entertain exhaustively do I find insufficient time for reading. (From discussions with friends, it appears that the activities other people do with the time I use for reading include socialising, cooking, and exercise.) General discussion of reading is, however, a very limited part of the book. Most pieces concern specific sci-fi and fantasy books or the genres themselves. My favourite of the latter concerns the difficulty that people unfamiliar with reading sci-fi sometimes have with the technological details. I’d never really thought about this before, but in retrospect it seems obvious: This tachycon drive guy, who has stuck in my mind for years and years, got hung up on that detail because he didn’t know how to take in what was and wasn’t important. How did I know it wasn’t important? The way it was signalled in the story. How did I learn how to recognise that? By reading half a ton of SF. How did I read half a ton of SF before I knew how to do it? I was twelve years old and used to a lot of stuff going over my head, I picked it up as I went along. [...] Having a world unfold in one’s head is the fundamental SF experience. It’s a lot of what I read for. [...] SF is like a mystery where the world and the history of the world is what’s mysterious, and putting that all together in your mind is as interesting as the characters and the plot, if not more interesting. We talk about worldbuilding as something the writer does, but it’s also something the reader does, building the world from the clues. I found that very astute. There’s a related sense when reading really good historical fiction, of imagining yourself into a different world, particularly if it’s a period you’re unfamiliar with. One of the greatest joys of reading fiction, to my mind. I value a strong sense of place very highly in novels, sci-fi or not. Although I found the more general pieces more thought-provoking, the novel-specific discussions were enjoyable too, whether I knew the book in question or not. Walton spends quite a lot of time on the Vorkosigan saga and Brust’s Vlad series, neither of which I was remotely familiar with. Although I was happy to read about them, I wasn’t convinced to read either. Long series have never appealed greatly to me. My ideal form of fiction is a long (600+ pages) self-contained novel, I think. I do read series, but the sprawl of Vorkosigan and Vlad seems overwhelming. Given my preference for mixing genres and non-fiction, I doubt I could remember previous books well enough for long enough to truly appreciate series like that. Although Walton does make them sound compelling. Conversely, there are plenty of one off sci-fi novels that she recommends and I now want to read. So now I'm going to make a list of them and see if any are in the library catalogue, or otherwise remotely likely to be findable. Actually, I was a little surprised at how few of the books she talks about that I’ve actually read. I thought I’d got through quite a bit of sci-fi, but perhaps not. This may be generational; Walton is older than me and seems ambivalent towards cyberpunk, which constituted a big chunk of my teenage sci-fi reading. Still, I relate very much to her love for the genre. Anyone with a fondness for sci-fi and fantasy will find this collection pleasing. (I also highly recommend Walton's novels The Just City and Among Others.) EDIT: The first recommendation I planned to put on my to-read list was Lady of Mazes. Except when I looked it up on here, turns out I've already read it. I'll say this for Walton's re-reading habit - it allows her to remember what the heck she's actually read, rather than outsourcing it to goodreads! SECOND EDIT: It happened again with Permutation City and the Tanith Lee Drinking Sapphire Wine also sounds familiar. Maybe I'm better read in sci-fi than I thought, just terrible at remembering what I've read. Good thing I kept track, I guess?

  28. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality I read these in reverse order. I started reading An Informal History of the Hugos while I was at Worldcon, anticipating the upcoming Hugo Awards ceremony. I was also looking for something big that I wouldn’t have to write up in the middle of the con, because that just wasn’t happening. But once I finished the book, especially after attending a panel hosted by the author that covered which great books in 2017 did not make the Hugo Ballot, I wasn’t ready to qu Originally published at Reading Reality I read these in reverse order. I started reading An Informal History of the Hugos while I was at Worldcon, anticipating the upcoming Hugo Awards ceremony. I was also looking for something big that I wouldn’t have to write up in the middle of the con, because that just wasn’t happening. But once I finished the book, especially after attending a panel hosted by the author that covered which great books in 2017 did not make the Hugo Ballot, I wasn’t ready to quit. And there was another book just waiting for me. Admittedly, it was just a bit surreal reading about what made older books so great while I was waiting for panels to start that talked about what new books were/would be so great. But it was a good kind of surreal. After one panel where I wanted to buy “all the things” and started doing so on Amazon as the panel was running, I finally figured out that might be a bit much, even for me. So I started a list that just got longer and longer and LONGER as the con went on. Something to look forward to. But right now I’m looking back at two very interesting books that just go together, not only because they were written by the same person. Both of these books are, in their own way, a bit meta. They are books that talk about books. They also talk about the joys of, and the experience of, reading. If either one of those is your jam, they make for marvelous reads. They are also great to dip in and out of. While both books are rather long, they are divided up into short, easily digestible – or dippable – sections. But while there are similarities, there are also differences. What Makes This Book So Great is very personal. The book is made up of a series of blog posts that were originally posted at Tor.com, but this is, unquestionably, the author’s point of view. Like all readers, she loves what she loves, and also hates what she hates. And isn’t one bit shy about explaining about either. Even when I disagreed with her, and I often did, this was fun to read because it felt like we had similar experiences of reading and thoughts about reading and its joys. Even if I occasionally wondered what she was thinking about certain books. There are some arguments I would just love to have, as well as some books I’ve passed by that suddenly sound awfully interesting. Among Others by Jo WaltonIf you read and loved Among Others, this book will feel strangely familiar. It was obvious in Among Others that this was an author who loved the genre and had read extremely widely in it. This book feels like just the tip of that reading iceberg – which must be enormous. An Informal History of the Hugos is a bit less personal, but no less interesting. The Hugos began in 1955, and have been presented annually every since. We know what won, and what it won for. For the past several decades we also know what was nominated. And it’s not difficult to figure out what was eligible in any given year, even those earliest years – even if it is a pain for the pre-internet years. This book does not set out to provide the author’s opinion about what should have won in any given year – not that we don’t get a lovely slice of that. Instead, it looks at what was eligible in each year, what got nominated (if available), what won other awards that year (if applicable) and what won the Hugo. And attempts to determine whether what appeared on the Hugo ballot was of decent quality and reasonably represented the state of the field that year. It makes for a fun to read time capsule of SF history. As someone who has been reading SF for a long time, but not for the span of the awards, I have to admit that the discussion of the earliest years felt a bit academic, or at least distant, at least to me. When the book really picks up for me turned out to be 1971. I was 14, reading more fantasy than SF, but some of each. And most importantly, had enough of an allowance to spend on books. So that’s the point where I remember seeing things in the racks, even if I didn’t buy them myself (or check them out of the local library). I was fascinated from that point forward, seeing what else was available that I missed or wasn’t ready for or couldn’t afford. And it was cool to not just read each year afterwards, but to see how many of the eligible books I had read at the time. It brought back a lot of fond memories. And I still have some of those books. The author stopped in 2000, ironically the first year I attended Worldcon. While her reasons make sense, a part of me wishes she had continued. I’d love to read what she thought of the nominees and winners earlier in this decade, during the puppy farrago. Maybe we’ll see those posts in another decade or so, after the dust has settled a bit. But part of what makes this book so fascinating is its premise – and her conclusions. Did the Hugo voters mostly represent the field? Were most of the nominees of high enough quality to justify their inclusion on the ballot? Were there some books that seem blindingly obvious in retrospect that were completely overlooked at the time? Did they occasionally miss the boat, or not merely the boat but also the body of water it was floating on? The answer makes for an interesting – and highly debate worthy – yes all the way around. Read it and see if you agree. Ratings: I’m not sure whether these qualify for “Escape” or “Reality” ratings. I was surprised at how much I lost myself inside each book. But at the same time, they are very meta, nonfiction about fiction. There’s no question that you have to be a genre fan to be interested in An Informal History of the Hugos. What Makes This Book So Great is mostly, but not completely, SF and fantasy. (I loved the commentary on one of my all-time favorite books, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers).It also has a lot to say about the joys and experience of reading, regardless of genre, so it will be of interest to anyone who likes to read about reading, and is open-minded, or at least less particular, about genre. Whether an escape, reality, or a bit of both, I put both of these books on the B+/A- fence. Happy Reading!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joanka

    If you feel you still have too short to-read list, you should definitely read What Makes A Book So Great by Jo Walton, you’d be doomed to add many new positions there ;) It’s a collection of essays reviews and musings about Walton’s favourite books that she was re-reading. She concentrates on fantasy and science fiction, although some of ‘mainstream’ literature is also to be found. It’s fun to read and indeed I added many books to my list here, on GoodReads. I like Walton’s voice and I admire he If you feel you still have too short to-read list, you should definitely read What Makes A Book So Great by Jo Walton, you’d be doomed to add many new positions there ;) It’s a collection of essays reviews and musings about Walton’s favourite books that she was re-reading. She concentrates on fantasy and science fiction, although some of ‘mainstream’ literature is also to be found. It’s fun to read and indeed I added many books to my list here, on GoodReads. I like Walton’s voice and I admire her reading… skills? She reads so much, so quick and so deeply that it’s fascinating to learn her thoughts. I had my reservations, though. Because what I enjoyed the most were her general essays about reading and books, I was nodding and humming, and later I sent links to these texts online to my friends. As for thoughts on books, well, there were some absolutely brilliant ones, but also some that I couldn’t agree with in so many points, if I read them myself (Bujold-themed ones, I’m looking at you). In some she spoilt the plot too much for my liking, making me irritating, if I wanted to read them. So we experienced better and worse moments together, Walton and I, but all in all it’s a really nice book, drawing attention to many too-soon-forgotten books. I will be looking for them, now!

  30. 4 out of 5

    John Wiswell

    A vast collection of Jo Walton's blog posts for Tor.com as she re-read the Science Fiction and Fantasy canon. It's a testament to Walton's mind that the book is worth reading, as blog posts don't usually lend themselves to print, and her entries are usually three pages long, and thus usually necessarily never plumb too deeply. Her emphasis is mostly touching the things that excite us, that she missed on the original reading or that have held up with time. The key appeal is that, shallow as the e A vast collection of Jo Walton's blog posts for Tor.com as she re-read the Science Fiction and Fantasy canon. It's a testament to Walton's mind that the book is worth reading, as blog posts don't usually lend themselves to print, and her entries are usually three pages long, and thus usually necessarily never plumb too deeply. Her emphasis is mostly touching the things that excite us, that she missed on the original reading or that have held up with time. The key appeal is that, shallow as the entries often have to be because of their length, Walton's breadth allows frequent insights that, even at this length, you won't get from most critics. There's a series on time travel, its problems and how fiction deals with it being either important or futile. All of these posts are still available to read for free on Tor.com, and I've wound up sharing a few on Reddit and Twitter because they remain germane. Many of the highlights are editorials on a concept, like what long series are uniquely equipped to do, or how notions of the Singularity hurt Science Fiction storytelling, which introduce pregnant ideas in very few pages. Yet the hundred or so entries on individual works of fiction are good fun as well, bulking up my reading list, talking me into hunting down a copy of Jasmine Nights and revisiting Terry Bisson. It's lovely to have a book that covers so much ground, such that we can get some Hard SciFi, some social issues, and put them alongside chatter about a Fantasy in which cars run on blood and bad dreams. This is not a book of criticism, and you're not going to get a John Clute analysis in here. Her final entry specifically explains that she's not interested in (or equipped to) dissecting literature and partaking in that conversation. The conversations she wants are more traditionally fan-ish, even when she talks about the profound effect Samuel R. Delany and Lois McMaster Bujold have had on her psyche. The book really takes off when it hits a theme, and I recall three major ones: a long series of chapters on the writing of Lois McMaster Bujold, another on Steve Brust, and my favorite, meddling in a series of time travel stories. That last culminates in her pondering about useless time travel, where fiction doesn't let you resolve history with it, and makes up some of the most fascinating speculation in the book. If anything, I would have fancied many more series-posts, as at the worst, if you weary of a theme, you can skim or skip ahead and have plenty more post-bites to catch your attention. I only wearied of the book when I read too much of it in one sitting or day. It's definitely not built for rapid consumption, and that behavior reduces it to a giant bag of candy, wherein the lack of deep analysis can weary. That's short-form blogging for you, right? You engage with one notion, perhaps chat with the author, and then come back in a few days for another. So this wound up an ideal bathroom book for me, with another discussion of one classic or another to enliven breaks in my day. And don't disparage the bathroom book. That's a necessary part of some psyches, mine own included.

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