If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.
It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.
It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.
It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.
The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.