WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT? by Jo Walton. TOR Books (www.tor-forge.com), 2014, 447 pp., $26.99. ISBN 978-0-7653-3193-9. Click here to purchase.
WHAT MAKES THIS BOOK SO GREAT? has 130 essays from tor.com and Walton’s large productivity of blog posts from July 2008-February 2011. And what productivity – from someone who spends a LOT of time reading.
But Walton does a LOT more than just explaining what she reads, which can involve two books a day (speed reading evolves into lightning reading). As a person with a lot of “New York friends” (that’s me), if the New Yorker is irritated, they will have to explain exactly why, what caused it, and the solutions. So Walton also spends a lot of time explaining why she re-reads a book – a LOT. I mean, five or six times is not out of the question. She is a savant. Oh man.
OK, Jo, I agree, some books are that good you can re-read them. I don’t. There are thousands upon thousands of books I will never get to in my lifetime, but I would rather give myself a chance. I very rarely re-view a movie. (I have never re-viewed one of my favorites, “12 Monkeys.” I wanted to keep the memory of a great movie alive by choosing NOT to watch it for any type of flaws, etc.)
And at times, I thought her selections of “best books” were mediocre at best.
I remember a guest-of-honor speech at PHILCON given by Robert Silverberg, who spoke eloquently about readers. He wanted to turn away from the “push-button” readers – where they choose to read only the novels that push their buttons . . . the comfort, fast-food readers . . . the trilogies, number 9 in a series, etc. just so readers can satisfy some form of cheap reading addiction. I wonder if Walton falls into that category, the way I understand her reasoning from these essays. I think she mentions the “button pushing” in a couple of these – claiming she doesn’t do that – but I don’t know . . .
To me, EVERY reading experience must be brand new. No comfort-food reading! I want to be shocked and permanently transformed with each experience. If I have been completely satisfied from the first reading, I choose not to return. Why a re-run? I don’t care about re-runs.
Walton is also ridiculously eclectic in her choices – she likes Delaney as much as Cherryh. (Huh? Her “mansion contains many rooms,” as the saying goes.) I often find their works boring, distant, and dense. I often cannot find a way to empathize with any of the characters. However, Walton likes Ursula LeGuin, one of our best, no doubt about it. But some of the other authors – I don’t know. I fail to identify with most of her decisions.
Walton believes readers should really take “series” of novels seriously. (Refer to button-pushing.) I don’t know what to think. Jo, talk to me!
Sometimes she can be incredibly insightful in some of these essays. She is very engaging about what she likes and doesn’t. I wonder what she thinks of some of my favorite authors (Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons, even Ray Bradbury)?
I don’t know.