I read What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton for a couple of reasons. First, I love Jo Walton. Her book Among Others inspired me to start a science fiction/fantasy book discussion group at my library. That brings me to my second reason – I was hoping to get some good titles from this book for my group to read.
Jo Walton has read a lot more science fiction books than I have. Wow, has she ever. Reading What Makes This Book So Great was so similar to Among Others in some ways that I started to wonder if Among Others is not a novel but a memoir, and there really ARE fairies in Wales. In both books Walton throws out a lot of titles and authors for the science fiction reader’s consideration.
I enjoyed the book overall because it was like chatting with someone I don’t know well but like. The book is made up of a series of blog essays that were no doubt meant to prompt online discussion. The online discussions are not included. Some of the essays were fairly meaningless to me because I have not read the books or authors being discussed. However, I was definitely able to glean enough information about many works to decide whether or not to add them to my potential book club titles list. (Whether I can get my hands on enough copies of out of print books is another question.) By the time I finished What Makes This Book So Great, it was filled with little pieces of paper on pages I wanted to go back to.
Some of my favorite musings from this book:
“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who re-read and those who don’t. No, don’t be silly, there are far more than two kinds of people in the world. There are even people who don’t read at all. (What do they think about on buses?” (p. 17)
“Fantasy, post-Tolkien, has been largely involved with retelling Tolkien, or revolting against Tolkien.” (p. 342 – too true, but I like the way she said it)
“The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, that’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading – well, it sucks. … Suck Fairies travel in battalions. Her biggest siblings are the Racism Fairy, the Sexism Fairy, and the Homophobia Fairy. … Then there’s the Message Fairy. The lovely story you remember as being a bit like The Phantom Tollbooth has been replaced by a heavy-handed Christian allegory!” (pp. 420-422)
If you are a hard core science fiction reader, or want to be, I definitely recommend What Makes This Book So Great. Even if I can’t choose some of these titles for book club, I will add them to my own to-read list!