Eva van Emden, Freelance Editor

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February 9, 2016

What Makes This Book So Great?

I’ve just devoured a book I’ve been waiting to get my hands on for a while: Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great: Re-Reading the Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are two reasons this book is so great: Jo Walton likes the kinds of books I like, which means I get to read essays about some of my favourites. And she also enjoys books in the same way I do: she reads a lot, she reads books she likes, and she re-reads.

I read in cafes and tea houses. I don’t think of this as going there especially to read, any more than I think of going there to breathe. I will be reading and breathing while I am there drinking tea, that goes without saying.
I don’t know a lot of people who re-read, but to me it’s central to getting to know and enjoying a book. There’s an interesting discussion in this book about the reasons for re-reading—how sometimes you want something you know you like, and how if you read a lot there’s not an infinite supply of books that you really like. Re-readers will be enlightened by essay on the Suck Fairy, a phenomenon known to re-readers everywhere. (The Suck Fairy sprinkles suck on your favourite books, so that when you re-read them, you find racism, sexism, and authorial tics that can’t possibly have been there when you were younger.) There are tantalizing hints throughout this book of a household that collects books because they might not be in print, or they may not be in the library. A family and a circle of friends who collect books, share them, and talk about how great they are. I would love to see those bookshelves.

I used to only read in-print paperbacks and current SF magazines in the bath, but since I moved here where I have a huge old bath and very hot summers, I have given in and now even read hardbacks, as long as they belong to me.
I read with great pleasure the series of essays on the Vorkosigan Saga, but I’ve also learned that my reading has some large gaps in it, so I’ll be reading some C. J. Cherryh and Steven Brust, and then re-reading the parts of What Makes This Book So Great that discuss them. In fact, I’ve got a whole list of authors to check out, so that’s a gift that keeps on giving.

These essays appear online at Tor.com. The above quotes are from “Gulp or Sip: How Do You Read?

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