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Format: Format Kindle
In What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton talks (primarily) about rereading books, so it's only appropriate that the first time I read this book, I was rereading it, too: except for the first and last sections, everything here is from her excellent blog series on Tor.com, which I discovered a few years ago and read from beginning to end.
Walton has a clear, straightforward style that has, for me, what she describes as I-Want-to-Read-It-osity, the quality that makes it impossible to put a book down, but more than that, she's great at identifying the parts of books that might prompt you to pick them up: she doesn't describe Cherryh (ambiguity, difficulty, history going on and on) in the same way she does Delany (rich with mind-blowing ideas). She's enthusiastic and insightful, and has a gift for inventing and/or popularizing certain irresistible reading concepts, from incluing (the art of scattering in background worldbuilding) to the spearpoint (the moment in a book or series that gains its power from everything that's come before). She's incredibly useful--I cite her in conversations all the time, I'm sure it's very annoying for other people.
This is a great book for anyone interested in reading generally, especially since Walton includes general essay posts on reading as well as on specific books (skimming? Gulping or sipping? Do you have friends who have trouble grasping SF? Have any old favorites been ruined by the Suck Fairy's pernicious attention?), and it's obviously a great book for anyone interested in speculative fiction, who can revisit memories of classics, find unknown authors, and delight in the included complete-series looks at Brust and Bujold. But for me, this book bears particular significance: it was, in its earlier form, what got me back into reading science fiction and fantasy by providing not only recommendations but clear ideas of what I might and might not like, and some notion of the history and cross-pollination going on. Science fiction and fantasy can be an intimidating field for anyone outside of it, or even anyone who read it as a kid and then drifted away. Writers like John Scalzi have done a great job recently of writing potential entry points into SF, but for me, it's Walton who really opened the door, who described books in ways that let me figure out if I would like them or not, and who sent me to the library and the bookstore with reading lists as long as my arm. This book changed my life well before it even was a book, and I'm very glad to finally own a copy of it. If you pick it up, it might change your life, too, and invigorate your reading possibilities and make you recklessly spend a lot of money on expanding your bookshelves--but if it doesn't do that, it will at the very least provide you with some incredibly enjoyable hours of reading time.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
In 2008, Jo Walton began a regular column over at Tor.com on the books she was reading. Actually, mostly re-reading. She was invited to blog on the site because, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden told her, she was “always saying smart things about books nobody else had thought about for ages.” In What Makes This Book So Great, she’s collected about a fifth of those posts and presented them in brief essays, being careful to point out she is doing so as neither a reviewer (who mostly cover new works) nor a critic. Instead, she tells us, “I want to talk about books and turn people on to them . . . I’m am rereading them [the books] for the sheer joy of it. I want to share that . . . I am talking about books because I love books.”
It doesn’t take long for the reader to pick up on that; Walton’s sheer exuberance about books and reading, and these books and re-reading in particularly, is the collection’s shining light, guiding the reader from one piece to the next, even when one doesn’t know anything about the books she is discussing or (rarely) disagrees with what she is saying about the books one is familiar with. The tone, as one would expect for her intent, and her medium (blogging) is conversational, lively, and always engaging. And yes, she often does say smart things. This is true also in the several essays that do not talk about particular books but instead address more general topics: genre, when one should begin reading a long series, how to talk to writers, why she rereads books she didn’t like the first time, and so on. That voice—inviting and intelligent—is easily the collection’s main strength.
The other is its breadth. Walton responds to over a 100 books/authors in this collection, a small sampling of which includes: Arthur C. Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Heinlein’s YA novels, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and James Blish’s A Case of Conscience. This is no stroll through a top twenty list of fantasy/science fiction though; there were plenty of books/authors I had not only never read but never heard of, and I consider myself relatively well read. She also wanders outside the genre world now and then, taking a look, for instance at Middlemarch (one of my own personal favorites). Finally, she takes a good amount of time to delve not just broadly but deeply into two long series: Lois McMaster Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN series and Steven Brust’s DRAGAERA series.
While the voice and the sweeping content are plusses, the format can be frustrating at times. By their nature, blog posts are short, and when one translates them to book form, I’d argue that shortness gets exaggerated in that (and this could be my own quirk) the book format lends a sense of weight in and of itself, and so the posts end up seeming more wanting than they might have on one’s computer or mobile device. This happens as well because in a blog, the original post is not the thing itself; it is the jumping off point to the thing. The ensuing conversation is often where the true substance lies, and so these essays feel a little slight. However, there is a remedy for this—the original posts and the (often lengthy) discussions still exist and are active.
The book can be frustrating also in that when the subject is a book one is unfamiliar with, then the posts are of a good length in that they serve as a brief introduction to the work and often (though not always) pique the reader’s interest in seeking out the work. But when the book is one the reader knows well, then the posts feel like they are merely skating the surface, leaving you wanting much, much more (again, one might find that in the comments online). And at times, though rarely, the serial, blog nature of it makes its presence known in some repetition or some flatter than usual writing.
What Makes This Book So Great therefore didn’t quite satisfy me wholly, but I still recommend it for its concise insights, its evangelistic joy in reading in general and reading fantasy/sci fi in particular, and its intelligently inviting voice. And if reading What Makes This Book So Great sends readers back to books they haven’t picked up in years/decades, or to some of those books they were unaware even existed, and finally, to the original blog posts themselves, where the conversation adds so much to the original, then really, who could possibly argue against such a result? Not I.
(originally appeared on fantasyliterature.com)