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What Makes This Book So Great

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3.91  ·  Rating details ·  816 Ratings  ·  201 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 Tor.com 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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Bradley
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
...more
Nikki
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 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 ...more
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 top
...more
seak
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 Tor.com, referring to both the reviews and the immediate book.

Full of wonderful reviews, Walton covers many
...more
Kaethe
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
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 ...more
Jessica
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 Bru ...more
Leseparatist
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, owned
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
Jo
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
...more
Beth
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
...more
Sandi
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
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 ...more
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 ...more
Catherine
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
Girl
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.
Kerry
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014, 8, ebooks, non-fiction, sf
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
...more
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 ...more
Alison
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
...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 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.
Sarah
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.
Anna
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
...more
Jonathan Maas
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What Makes Jo Walton's Book So Great? A Few Things

I began with Jo Walton through her great short story Sleeper, and when I saw this - I could not resist.

It's non-fiction, which is rare for Walton. Really, it's a compilation of her blog pieces for Tor.com - correct me if I'm wrong - and it is a lot of fun.

She talks about reading and re-reading. She talks about loving some books more the second time, and disliking some others on the second go around.

She goes through many, many books - I consider m
...more
Dawn Livingston
Aug 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
I have to admit, I didn't finish the book. I didn't even get far at all. It's probably just a personal taste thing but there is no overlap between what she reads and what I read. She seems to prefer sci fi and I prefer fantasy and the comments did not make me want to read the books she liked so much. After awhile I lost interest so maybe the book is ultimately worth reading but... I got bored. Onto the next book.
John Wiswell
Mar 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Beth
Jun 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Jo Walton doesn't tip her hand until the very end of What Makes This Book So Great, it's pretty obvious from the beginning that the essays in her book are intended as enthusiasms rather than super-serious, high-minded critical reviews. At this point in time, the enthusiast style of writing about books is the one I'm most familiar with. It's what the web, and this site for that matter, thrives on, after all: personal, undetached responses to what we read, seeking both common opinions and ...more
Melora
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 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 ...more
Mitchell
As with probably any 5 star book, though more this one than most, your mileage may vary. The only other book I've read to date by the author is Among Others. I found that book to not really be much of a fantasy by my standards but wow did it understand what it meant to love science fiction and fantasy books and talking about them.

I encountered Jo Walton outside the only panel I saw her in at Sasquan. I don't recall what she was saying but I remember being very amused by her and thinking "who the
...more
Julia
Jan 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is 130 discussions about why Jo Walton loves her favorite books; she only discusses the books she has re-read here. And good golly does she read and reread a lot: one book on a slow day, six when she is feeling lousy. Each essay is two or three or four pages and breezy. Here are books that I haven’t read that Walton has convinced me to read: China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh, The Bone People by Keri Hulme, Anathem by Neal Stephenson, Shelter by Susan Palwick, The Interior Life by ...more
Michelle
Jun 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love Jo Walton. I feel like if I'd grown up in Wales and turned into a writer I might even BE Jo Walton.

This is a lovely book of essays taken from her column on Tor.com. Walton is the very definition of a voracious reader ... she reads several books a day. And she also re-reads favorites on a pretty regular basis, which is what this book is about.

Probably my favorite essay is number 95, SF reading protocols. It nicely lays out why certain people just can't get into SF: they never built the sk
...more
Marlene
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
...more
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1,863 followers
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.
“When I re-read, I know what I'm getting. It's like revisiting an old friend. An unread book holds wonderful unknown promise, but also threatens disappointment. A re-read is a known quantity.” 10 likes
“My ideal relationship with a book is that I will read it for the first time entirely unspoiled. I won’t know anything whatsoever about it, it will be wonderful, it will be exciting and layered and complex and I will be excited by it, and I will re-read it every year or so for the rest of my life, discovering more about it every time, and every time remembering the circumstances in which I first read it.” 9 likes
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