This is my five hundredth post for Tor.com. It’s quite amazing really—500 posts, of at least a thousand words each and some of them considerably longer, written over a period of two and half years adding up to a whole lot of words about what I’ve been re-reading.
Before the site started, Patrick Nielsen Hayden asked me to write here about what I was re-reading. He said I didn’t have to review, but rather to “say smart things about books that nobody else has thought about for ages”. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do all this time. Sometimes I’m writing about classics, like Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and sometimes I’m writing about cult classics like R.A. MacAvoy’s Tea With the Black Dragon and sometimes I’m writing about minor books that almost everybody has forgotten about but me like C.J. Cherryh’s Serpent’s Reach. Sometimes I’m even writing about things that aren’t science fiction and fantasy at all, like Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night and Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract or Two Books About Nuns. Sometimes I’ve asked questions like Do You Skim and What Kind of Series Do You Like?
Because I’m writing about books I already like (barring occasional shocks from the Suck Fairy) the question I usually ask when I come to writing about a book is “What makes this book so great?” It’s been a lot of fun getting responses to my reading—noting my own responses to write about them, and also getting to talk to other people who have read the book and love it or, sometimes, hate it. Best of all is when my egoGoogle tells me that somebody has read a book because I read it first. “I read this because of Jo Walton at Tor.com” they say, or “I didn’t like this as much as Jo Walton but...” It’s very gratifying when people do this. I also love it when people comment here a year after saying they’ve read the book now and...
I’ve also found out a lot. I’m still horrified how many of you skim when reading for pleasure. And I’ve come up with new theories about fantasy and origin stories and SF reading protocols and it’s great to have a place where I can come out with this kind of thing and get a thoughtful response. The comment threads here are generally great—probably the very best was when I did the Bujold re-read last year, that was just amazing. It has made me read in some ways more consciously—if I feel like reading something I pick it up, but if I’m not sure what I want to read I sometimes think in terms of whether I’ve been doing mostly science fiction or fantasy lately and that kind of thing. I’m also probably the only person who feels like I’m goofing off when I read new books and non fiction.
I’m going to keep going, I’m not bored yet, and you don’t seem to be bored yet. But I thought I’d take the opportunity of this five hundredth post to look back on what I’ve done so far—and also to announce that sooner or later when we get it into shape there’s going to be an actual book of some of these pieces, with the title What Makes This Book So Great.
Now there’s very little reason for you to buy it, as they’re all also going to stay online right here, and with their hyperlinks and comment threads, and besides, you’ve read them already. (You wouldn’t want to re-read a series of posts about re-reading, that would be too meta.) But some people do like hard copies—I do anyway—and other people might not have seen them the first time or might have missed some and want a permanent record. Also, I can imagine it being a useful resource for librarians...except that they can google just like anyone else. (You know, there’s a reason I don’t work in marketing.) But whether or not it’ll be useful to anyone, it’s great to think that people think these pieces are worth collecting.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and eight novels, most recently Lifelode. She has a ninth novel Among Others (coming out next Tuesday, I’m so excited!), and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.