What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction & Fantasy by Jo Walton is the last book I read before DWJ March and I'm actually writing this post on February 28th because I don't want to miss sharing any of what I've gained from reading this book. I have yet to get to any of the Jo Walton books that have made it onto my TBR but it doesn't matter (and I don't think she would mind so much either). She's an avid re-reader and so am I and so I'm sure that we could be friends.
While this book is subtitled "science fiction and fantasy", it's really mostly science fiction and, in addition, it's really mostly older science fiction so I haven't read many of the books that she is talking about. In fact, I counted and there were only maybe seven books that she mentions that I have read. But again, this didn't matter at all because she's not reviewing the books and she's not assuming that you've read them before either. Instead, she takes each of the 100+ books that she's just re-read and she briefly gives a synopsis of sorts and then talks about the experience of re-reading each one and tells which are the things that bring her back to these tales time and time again. There are also a few posts (these were all originally posts on Tor.com) just about reading and those will be easy to relate to by any of us readers.
In addition to making me consider immediate re-reads of some of the books she mentioned that are particular favorites of mine (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency), she also made me really think about my (then) upcoming Diana Wynne Jones re-reads, about what I was hoping to get out of them and about why I wasn't only picking up those of DWJ's books that I hadn't read yet. Walton's reason for re-reading turns out to be exactly my own --
"A re-read is more leisurely than a first read. I know the plot, after all, I know what happens. I may still cry (embarassingly, on the train) when re-reading, but I won't be surprised. Because I know what's coming, because I'm familiar with the characters and the world of the story, I have more time to pay attention to them. I can immerse myself in details and connections I rushed past the first time and delight in how they are put together. I can relax into the book. I can trust it completely. I really like that."Finally, the last entry of this book also got me thinking about this blog. Since her original writings were in blog form, I really feel like there is a similarity in purpose and style and the way that she unapologetically states that she is not a critic but rather a fan really resonated with me and gave me the confidence to keep pushing my blog in the direction I've chosen to take it. To dedicate a month to a favorite author is perfectly acceptable because I'm celebrating reading and re-reading and the books that I love.
"You may also have noticed a lack of critical detachment. I am talking about books because I love books. I'm not standing on a mountain peak holding them at arm's length and issuing Olympian pronouncements about them. I'm reading them in the bath and shouting with excitement because I have noticed something that is really really cool."I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in SciFi/Fantasy and especially those of you who are re-readers. Also, her posts are still going up on Tor.com so you can read them there (plus many, many more). I have a feeling that I will go down that rabbit hole soon and come out a better and more confident genre reader (and, of course, re-reader) in the end.
With kudos to a great book about great books,