Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great

What Makes This Book So Great Jo Walton 51nh5hxMgRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great has won the Locus Award for Best Non-Fiction.

This lively book, subtitled “Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” is the best book I have read on rereading.  In these short essays, originally a series of blog posts she wrote for, she not only analyzes yhe greatest SF and fantasy books, but also where Doris Lessing goes wrong  (Shikasta) and where Michael Chabon goes right (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union).

And she has introduced me to the stunning Argentine writer Angelica Gorodischer, whose elegant novel Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, she compares to the work of Borges and Le Guin.  I had never heard of Gorodischer.

…it isn’t exactly fantasy–there isn’t any real magic.  It’s the history of an empire that never was.  A Lot of time passes.  Dynasties rise and fall.  Even the empire falls and is reborn.  We have all tech levels from nomadic hunters to planes and cars, not necessarily in a sequence you’d expect.  A number of the individual stories have the story nature, but some of them are interesting in the non-fiction way.  They don’t relate a history so much as a series of vignettes, so that they echo, in a macro-structure way, this amazing style that evokes by listing and naming.

The quotes from Gordischer’s novel are beautiful.  And I like to support small presses. (It is published by Small Beer Press).

Walton recommends many novels she thinks should be SF classics but says no one reads (among them Candas Jane Dorsey’s Black Wine and Robert Reed’s An Exaltation of Larks, which I’ve added to my TBR list).

She eccentrically speculates that George Eliot would have made a brilliant science fiction writer.

And all you readers will laugh at her thoughts on rereading. In “Why I Re-read,” she begins,

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who ree-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?) But there are two kinds of readers in the world, though, those who re-read and those who don’t.  Sometimes people who don’t reread look at me oddly when I mention that I do.  “There are so many books,” they say,” and so little time.  If I live to be a mere Methuselah of 800, and read a book a week for 800 years, I will only have the chance to read 40,000 books, and my readpile is already 90,000 and starting to topple!  If I re-read, why, I’ll never get through the new ones.”

Her reasons for rereading are logical and entertaining.

Walton is an award-winning  science fiction writer, but she really writes cross-over literary fiction.

Her stunning novel My Real Children has won the RUSA Women’s Fiction Award and Tiptree Award (Feminist) this year.  I wrote about it here last year:

The plot is as follows: In 2015, the heroine, Patricia, is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s disease. She remembers two pasts: in one she writes travel guidebooks in Italy, spends every summer in Florence, and raises three children with her lesbian lover, Bee; in the other she is Tricia, the wife of a closeted gay man and mother of four who does not discover her vocation as a teacher or a satisfying heterosexual relationship until her husband leaves her.

Walton is a brilliant writer, and this is one of my favorite books of the year.