What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton

Review copy provided by Tor. Also I am a friend of Jo’s.

Also in personal connections to this book: Jo quotes me as saying that the physics in Anathem is no good, which it true, and which pleases me, because this is just the sort of book I would have read when I was an undergrad doing summer research and trying to find books in Library of Congress system libraries, and having the aside from me and Chad Orzel about the physics might well have saved me from diving enthusiastically into Anathem based on the rest of Jo’s essay only to find out about the physics with dawning horror. I shout through the world of letters to younger versions of myself and people like me: “You’re welcome!”

I read most of this book in its original blog post form, but for me it reads very differently in book form. I’m not sure why. Partly I think that it flows when there’s stuff to go on to: there is the sort of clear path from one essay to the next that is the sort of sensible train of thought that is the exact opposite of what my own reading does, that is how I would construct someone else’s reading if I was going to do it but is not how it actually works out for me. (I am more likely to say, “I’ve just finished Dragon, what do I want to read next, oh, I know, this photography book on the First Nations people of Northern Canada,” than, “I’ve just finished Dragon, next I’ll read Issola.” And I love Issola; it’s my favorite.) (Yes, even more favorite than Tiassa even though I am a Tiassa.) (Yes, even more favorite than Teckla even though it has barricades.) (I digress.) (But so does Jo’s book! So it’s thematic.)

Despite Issola (a graceful sweep, not a trap door!), Jo and I are quite a lot alike in the bits of this that are not about the specific books: the reading in sips throughout the day, the conviction that there are never, ever, ever enough books, and the whole thing is great fun to read. I have seen other people saying that What Makes This Book So Great is going to be an expensive book for them, and it might be that, if you don’t have a good library either in your home or close by. But for me it was mostly a book that made me have to stifle email impulses. The Cetagandans aren’t effete, they’re decadent, it’s not the same thing! And like that. There’s a lot like that. But I like doing that. Genre is a conversation; well, this is a conversation about a conversation. The last essay in the volume is about criticism versus talking about books, and how what this book is doing is talking about books. Well, most of what I do here is book posts talking about books, too. (None of it is criticism, but I reserve the right to talk about food and my dog and so on.) And if you want more of that, here’s a whole lot of more of that, all at once, with Delany and Bujold and all sorts of cool books talked about. Fun, and somehow different fun in book form.

One thought on “What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton

  1. I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I came to Walton’s Tor.com posts late so haven’t read all of her writing Brust, Bujold, etc. I’m anticipating that this will be an nicely immersive experience in contrast with trying to click through all the archives online.

    And, wow, I don’t know that I could pick a favorite Taltos book. It might be Dzur because of its structure (and all the talk about food) and because its about Cawti. And I do love Teckla and the barricades. And I have a soft spot for Orca because for me there’s something about it that really made me better understand the house. But then, yeah, I can’t pick.

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