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Starred Review: What Makes This Book So Great

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton“For readers unschooled in the history of SF/F, this book is a treasure trove; for those who recognize every title, Walton evokes the joy of returning to a well-worn favorite.”

Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the November 15th issue:

starred-review-gif For anyone whose to-read pile is not quite tall enough, this collection gathers 130 of Walton’s blog posts from science fiction site Tor.com (July 2008 to February 2011) about her favorites works of sci-fi and fantasy. The books she discusses are not the latest to hit the market, but those that novelist Walton (Among Others) has reread time and again, because “something only worth reading once is pretty much a waste of time.” These brief essays are perfect for picking at random; binge on too many and the books cited might blur together. In the transition from Web to print, something is lost in translation: it’s disconcerting to see questions such as, “So, what sort of series do you like?” without accompanying comments. At the same time, the themes of the essays interweave nicely; many are meditations on the genre as a whole more than reviews of specific works, and Walton often ties her points back to earlier posts (most notably in the extended review of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga). Walton intentionally approaches these works as a fan rather than a critic, and she successfully captures the sensation of reading on a personal, sensory level. For readers unschooled in the history of SF/F, this book is a treasure trove; for those who recognize every title, Walton evokes the joy of returning to a well-worn favorite.

What Makes This Book So Great will be published on January 21st.

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Books: I Like Them, Who Could Have Guessed?

What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

Written by Jo Walton

I’ve been interviewed a lot about my Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel, Among Others. Because Among Others is about a science fiction reader, one of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is which one classic science fiction novel everyone ought to read. It’s an impossible question—especially in the context of my novel, which is about the kind of splurging, indiscriminate teenage reading many of us experienced. I can recommend one book for an individual person whose tastes I know, but there’s no one novel that will do for everybody. And yet, it’s a question people keep asking. Nobody reads just one book. Nobody reads just one book of a particular kind and genre! I couldn’t even give a top ten list without a lot of thought.

I read a lot. I care about books. I’m enthusiastic about books. I give books as gifts. I’m always saying to people, “Have you read X? You should read Y! If you like A, let me give you B!” It’s because I love books that I can never recommend just one.

What Makes This Book So Great is a collection of one hundred and thirty essays I wrote for Tor.com between 2008 and 2011. They’re essays about books, mostly old science fiction and fantasy books, but with some things on the edges of the genre and entirely out of the genre thrown in. There are essays about how we read, and why we read, and what genre is, and what makes a series and why we like to read series. These aren’t reviews. They’re essays about what I’m re-reading. My brief for Tor.com is to say interesting things about books nobody else has thought about for ages, and that’s what’s here—my thoughts on everything from The Hobbit to Middlemarch by way of Delany and Bujold and C.J. Cherryh. The pieces were written individually, but they often interconnect and refer back to each other; they’re part of an ongoing conversation between me and the readers of the blog as well as an ongoing conversation between me and the books.

What Makes This Book So Great isn’t a book of reviews, or of critical essays. It’s anything but academic. It’s a book of me burbling about some books I love, just as if I were sitting with you over a cup of tea and telling you about the awesome things I’ve been reading lately. So if you have to limit yourself to just one book, take this one. It’ll get you started on a whole pile of others.

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From the Tor/Forge January 6th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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