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What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton [Feb. 7th, 2014|11:50 am]
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Review copy provided by Tor. Also I am a friend of Jo’s.


Also in personal connections to this book: Jo quotes me as saying that the physics in Anathem is no good, which it true, and which pleases me, because this is just the sort of book I would have read when I was an undergrad doing summer research and trying to find books in Library of Congress system libraries, and having the aside from me and Chad Orzel about the physics might well have saved me from diving enthusiastically into Anathem based on the rest of Jo’s essay only to find out about the physics with dawning horror. I shout through the world of letters to younger versions of myself and people like me: “You’re welcome!”


I read most of this book in its original blog post form, but for me it reads very differently in book form. I’m not sure why. Partly I think that it flows when there’s stuff to go on to: there is the sort of clear path from one essay to the next that is the sort of sensible train of thought that is the exact opposite of what my own reading does, that is how I would construct someone else’s reading if I was going to do it but is not how it actually works out for me. (I am more likely to say, “I’ve just finished Dragon, what do I want to read next, oh, I know, this photography book on the First Nations people of Northern Canada,” than, “I’ve just finished Dragon, next I’ll read Issola.” And I love Issola; it’s my favorite.) (Yes, even more favorite than Tiassa even though I am a Tiassa.) (Yes, even more favorite than Teckla even though it has barricades.) (I digress.) (But so does Jo’s book! So it’s thematic.)


Despite Issola (a graceful sweep, not a trap door!), Jo and I are quite a lot alike in the bits of this that are not about the specific books: the reading in sips throughout the day, the conviction that there are never, ever, ever enough books, and the whole thing is great fun to read. I have seen other people saying that What Makes This Book So Great is going to be an expensive book for them, and it might be that, if you don’t have a good library either in your home or close by. But for me it was mostly a book that made me have to stifle email impulses. The Cetagandans aren’t effete, they’re decadent, it’s not the same thing! And like that. There’s a lot like that. But I like doing that. Genre is a conversation; well, this is a conversation about a conversation. The last essay in the volume is about criticism versus talking about books, and how what this book is doing is talking about books. Well, most of what I do here is book posts talking about books, too. (None of it is criticism, but I reserve the right to talk about food and my dog and so on.) And if you want more of that, here’s a whole lot of more of that, all at once, with Delany and Bujold and all sorts of cool books talked about. Fun, and somehow different fun in book form.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Comments:
[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2014-02-07 05:06 pm (UTC)

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Well, as Jo notes in the introduction, the original blog posts are still up at tor.com, and you can still comment on them. I bet some of the posts will indeed get new comments as a result of the book.
[User Picture]From: txanne
2014-02-07 09:39 pm (UTC)

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OMG YOU *ARE* A TIASSA, HOW DID I NEVER NOTICE.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-07 09:55 pm (UTC)

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Mrissa dreams, and plots are born.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-08 01:23 pm (UTC)

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Awesome plots.

Funny how nobody talks about plots to make people happier so much.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 01:26 pm (UTC)

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Aww. Thank you.
[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2014-02-08 05:55 pm (UTC)

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They seem to have the notion that making people happier is boring, at least in fiction and possibly in life. And really it's the other way around. Making things worse is banal and tedious and omnipresent, while making things better and people happier is awesome but also hard, and requires paying attention.

Edited at 2014-02-08 05:57 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-08 01:20 pm (UTC)

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I'm not sure that decadent really exists -- or effete either, in that sense. I think it's a literary thing. I see it in books, but I don't see it in history or in the world now, and I think this is my problem with Cetaganda and Cetaganda. I think people look at the Ancien Regime from outside and see something that wasn't quite there even with the hair. I have been reading about salons, and it isn't that way. I hadn't worked that out when I wrote that post. My thoughts about books are a work in progress.

I am thinking about doing a post about how the Kindle has changed my reading patterns. But I do totally read ALL of something. Also I will eat the same thing for every meal until it is all gone. And I write my books in order and one at a time. No value judgements on people who do other things. But that's me.



[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 01:34 pm (UTC)

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Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. And the people who are looking at the Ancien Regime that way are often busy doing things that the next set will see as totally decadent--lordy, look at 19th century France for easy pickings here.

I would be very interested in how the Kindle has changed your reading patterns. Mine would be very boring, I think, because short. 1) It has gotten me things that are out of print or only in ebook form. 2) It has eased my anxiety about running out of books while I am away from home. I am very like you in the sense of Never Enough Books as described in WMTBSG--to the point where the people who feel that they will never get to all the books seem to be living in a magical fairyland, and it's lovely there, but I cannot go eat the barley and mushroom soup there with them no matter how much I would like to--and the Kindle means that while that is still true, I can always reread The Blue Castle or The Vor Game if my airplane gets snowed in somewhere or if I am in the post office line and finish reading whatever else I was reading, always, and that's very good.

Oh, and 3) I read manuscripts on it instead of hauling three-ring binders around the house. Mine is a keyboard Kindle, and I have no idea what I will do when I finally break the thing, because the keyboard is crucial to how I use it, but so is the lack of backlighting.

#1 and #3 are nice but have not really changed my reading patterns at all. I read manuscripts when my friends say, "Here is a manuscript I would like critiqued please," and I read things I couldn't find in print when I can find them in print. Possibly slightly more so when I can read them in line at the post office instead of rereading The Railway Children.

But since I don't read things in order until they're gone, I can read a bit of The Railway Children because I'm in line at the post office and then not only not go read all the rest of Nesbit but also not read the rest of it and go back to my library book until I'm in line somewhere else, at the pharmacy or something. If it was new to me I couldn't, but it's not, so here we are.

(And I'm with you: no value judgments on people who do other things, but that's me.)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 01:41 pm (UTC)

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Oh, as for the food thing:

I think my not eating the same thing for every meal until it's gone is not entirely rational. I try to balance food within meals, not just between them, so if I had a balanced meal of Spanish rice with andouille and a bit of fruit on the side for lunch--the way I make Spanish rice it has veg in it--and then I had it again for supper--and then again for lunch the next day--that wouldn't do my body any more harm than having it for three lunches and different things for suppers. Or even lunch, supper, and breakfast, which was unthinkable to me until half a minute ago but I just realized might well be what you meant. But still it feels like it will be better for my body to have different things for suppers.

The other thing is that unless it's something like the chicken meatball soup I asked my mother to bring this week--oh gosh I like that soup. It's such nice soup. No one else in the house likes that soup, so I know that I can just keep having it for lunch until it's gone, and no one will feel that I have hogged the soup. And if no one feels like cooking supper tonight or tomorrow, I could just keep eating the soup and no one would feel that I had deprived them of their proper chance at the very nice soup they don't like. But most things we cook for the three of us aren't like that. Most things we cook for the three of us are things that someone else might want some of, so I feel that they ought to get a chance.

This is very silly, since a me-portion is so much smaller than a them-portion as to almost make no difference. But there you have it.

And you know how I am about writing books, so.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-08 02:54 pm (UTC)

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Lunch, supper, and breakfast next day, yes, I often do this when rysmiel is away. I don't do it if I don't feel like it, I also cook myself complex one off meals, but if it's there I do often want it again. This doesn't mean I don't save things to share -- I am good about that, usually.

But I do think there's a thing here that extends beyond books.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 02:59 pm (UTC)

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I very rarely have more than one meal in a row when I am the only one eating. I get very excited when this happens. I love the people I live with or I would live somewhere else, but I never really lived alone. I lived with my parents, and then I lived in the dorms with the cafeteria, and then as you see me. So the complex one-off meals that are just as I like them never lost their shine. Nor did having a giant vat of something I like that I can just scoop out a bit more of and go on with what I'm doing. Nor did being able to eat random bits of things and not worry anybody that it isn't really enough for a proper meal. It's not that I never get these things, it's that there was never a period of my life when I had months and months of them at a stretch so that I started thinking, "Ugh, cooking for just myself again."

I think you're right about brains and the thing beyond books, though. I really do think. It's not the same thing beyond books for everybody. But.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-08 03:23 pm (UTC)

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I have lived alone, and I have lived with other people, and I lived alone with a little picky Z for quite a while. And whenever I have lived on my own I have done a lot of eating the same thing. I once ate chicken stew every day for a couple of weeks without actually getting tired of it.

I was just thinking that it relates interestingly to your post about favorite shirts.

I would wear the same clothes that I love endlessly until they fell apart, except for the bit where they fall apart. I bought five copies of my glasses-cleaning cloth when I was in Florence, because it is my perfect glasses cleaning cloth. It's the first page of the presentation copy of Ficino's translation of Plato, and it's a gorgeous illuminated manuscript page and it has lapis blue. I can understand why other people might want other ones, but I will never want a different one, I will just want that one again forever.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 03:54 pm (UTC)

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If I could get more copies of my physics department T-shirts to sleep in, I would need other ones for winter, but I would keep sleeping in them as often as they were clean. So I do get that.

I mean, I also like my new Muppet Labs T-shirt. It is brilliantly orange, and it says, "Safety First," and Beaker is the I in First. I just find it so cheering. But my physics department T-shirts, they were the best shirts, one was blue and one was grey, and I would sleep in them until I died if I could get more.

So yes. Some things are like that.

I also think I am more like that with food than some people. Like, the plum pasta salad we are about to make, with the peanut sauce and the peapods and everything. It is so nice. I could just keep eating it. I would make more of it in a batch and just keep eating it, except that it goes bad faster than I get tired of it. And there are lots of foods I like, so I would eventually want sushi again, or the lamb stew I made when you were here with Sarah and Allen, or like that. But not because I didn't like plum pasta salad in peanut sauce any more. Because it's nice.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-08 03:59 pm (UTC)

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Also there was a green and cream sweater I got when I was ten. I would still wear that sweater. When I was ten was a great age, because I stopped growing, so I could start wearing things until they wore out. So I did with that sweater (my mother: "aughhhh that sweater!"). It did a strange thing from the way it was constructed. It sort of grew wider and shorter, so every time you washed it and laid it out to dry, you had to try to stretch it down, and every time you were wearing it and not thinking of something else you had to absent-mindedly pull down on the ends of it, or it would become a bolero jacket for a much larger person than me. But it was dark green and cream (I know I said that, but it's important) and warm and nice and I loved that sweater. And it was not a style that said "I am ten years old" or "I am thirty years old" or any age. My grandmother could wear that sweater. Anyone could. It was the best sweater.