Instead, What Makes This Book So Great is a collection of Jo Walton’s blog posts on Tor.com between mid 2008 and early 2011, presenting the author’s essays about science fiction and fantasy in one cover.
Personal side-note/detour: Jo Walton’s writing is probably the biggest reason I became a regular Tor.com reader. When the site was originally announced, I dutifully added it to my Google Reader (ahhh… remember Google Reader?) and scanned the daily posts for interesting bits. Soon, I began to notice that many of the titles I clicked on were written by the same person: Jo Walton, whose novels I hadn’t read at the time but whose name I remembered from the venerable Usenet community rec.arts.sf.written (ahhhh… remember r.a.sf.w?)
The reason why I often ended up clicking on what turned out to be Jo Walton’s posts was simply that she very often wrote about the books and series I consider favorites. At the time, most SFF blogs I followed were focused on reviewing new books. Nothing wrong with that – it’s what I do, too. But suddenly here was someone who was writing lovingly and enthusiastically about books I’ve read and reread and consider all-time favorites: The Dragaeran books by Steven Brust. The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Several of C.J. Cherryh’s older series.
Maybe more importantly, here was someone who wrote about all those books in a pleasant, conversational, entirely non-stuffy way. About what makes those books fun. About what makes them worth reading and rereading. About what makes them, yes, great. Jo Walton wrote about her favorite books with infectious enthusiasm, sounding less like an author or critic and more like a fan who loves these books and just wants to talk with you about how cool they are.
Another, equally fascinating set of posts deals not so much with specific books or series as with the act of reading or, frequently, rereading science fiction and fantasy: the experience of revisiting a familiar fictional world, the value of seeing an earlier chapter or novel again when you’ve read the ending. There is no one on Earth who’s made me more eager to ditch the occasional review deadline to revisit an old favorite instead. Some time in the future, I’ll take a year off and just reread all the books Walton writes about.
What’s most refreshing about these posts is Walton’s straightforward voice: she writes as a fan, not as a literary critic. She writes to share her enthusiasm about these books, and to interact with other fans. I’m guessing I’m not the only person who only started reading Walton’s own novels after reading her blog posts—and not the only one who recognizes some of the author’s enthusiasm in the “bibliotropic” main character of Among Others (my review).
What Makes This Book So Great is like a one-person, one-site version of Speculative Fiction 2012: yet another example that, yes, the vast world of SFF bloggery is a valuable and unique source of insightful commentary and criticism. Jo Walton is one of my favorite voices in that world, and I’m glad Tor decided to compile some of her best work in this collection.
Full disclosure: I also write for Tor.com.