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What Makes This Book So Great

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  942 ratings  ·  227 reviews
As any reader of Jo Walton's Among Others might guess, Walton is both an inveterate reader of SF and fantasy, and a chronic re-reader of books. In 2008, then-new science-fiction mega-site asked Walton to blog regularly about her re-readingabout all kinds of older fantasy and SF, ranging from acknowledged classics, to guilty pleasures, to forgotten oddities and gem ...more
Hardcover, 446 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by Tor Books (first published January 16th 2014)
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Manuel Antão
Oct 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
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
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on 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 ...more
Feb 07, 2014 marked it as to-read
Shelves: arc-review
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, referring to both the reviews and the immediate book.

Full of wonderful reviews, Walton covers many
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' ...more
Sep 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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 “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 ...more
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 -- 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 ...more
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I love Jo Walton's blog posts on 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 ...more
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks, non-fiction, 8, 2014, sf
This book is a collection of essays published by Jo Walton on the 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
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, 2017
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Sep 29, 2015 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
Jamie Collins
Sep 14, 2014 marked it as reference
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

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.
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book makes me want to read or reread a lot of books, and also get much better at reviewing them.
Aug 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers and re-readers
Recommended to Alan by: The author's voice
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
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-nonfiction
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 ...more
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 ...more
Nicholas Whyte
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing

This book of reviews originally published on 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
Feb 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
(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
May 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
May 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
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.
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
‘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
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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 ...more
John Wiswell
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
A vast collection of Jo Walton's blog posts for 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 ...more
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Jo Walton writes science fiction and fantasy novels and reads a lot and eats great food. It worries her slightly that this is so exactly what she always wanted to do when she grew up. She comes from Wales, but lives in Montreal.

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