What Makes This Book So Great

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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6 thoughts on “Books: I Like Them, Who Could Have Guessed?

  1. I am looking forward to this also. I love your thoughtful and thought-provoking posts. The first one I read was A Boy and His Martian: Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, which stuck with me.

  2. As a bookseller, I share your passion for recommending piles of books to people. I also love your reviews and can hardly wait for this collection. I already (meta) recommended it to a few of my coworkers.

  3. Given that I love all the books mentioned in Among Others, I’m pretty sure the books reviewed in this collection will be up my alley too 🙂

  4. But what makes a SCIENCE FICTION book great? It is annoyingly curious to read reviews of Komarr by Lois Bujold where the science, and how Bujold treats it, is significant to the story, but most reviewers ignore it. It has a touch of Godwin’s The Cold Equations which is quite well known and controversial. But most modern readers do not seem to notice.

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