Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others, which I was going to review together with Tam Lin in yesterday’s post, until I realised that I was being over-ambitious given the small amount of time I had available, is a trickier beast altogether than Tam Lin. I’ve been reading Jo Walton’s blog, her posts at tor.com, and the various things she’s written about Among Others since its release. I also read a few reviews before I read the book. The effect of all the pre-novel-reading reading was to give me double vision – my engagement with the novel was modified by what I already knew about it. I kept encountering ideas that I’d already read about, and that kept popping me out of the story. As a result, I’m not sure what I thought about it. I’ll have to read it again to really know.

So, for the moment, I’m not ready to talk about anything else in the novel other than books and reading. The heroine is at least as bookish as the characters in Tam Lin. Her love affair with the library, bookshops, and best of all, interlibrary loans, is at the heart of the book. She reads voraciously, extravagantly, and argumentatively, using books as both a way of understanding her world and as a defense against its difficulties. She finds her way to some sense of belonging through science fiction and its fandom, through finding like minded people to share her reading and ideas with. As Michael Berry of The San Francisco Chronicle puts it:

“Among Others” is one of those rare tales that strike at the very heart of the healing power of literature. As Mori discovers the joys and frustrations of reading Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin and others, she also learns lessons about dealing with her more mundane problems and readies herself for her ultimate confrontation with her mother. Walton’s latest novel is as riveting and as moving as her recently completed alternate World War II mystery trilogy and will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever had her or his life changed by a great book.

I love this aspect of the novel. Books about books and the delights of reading are surprisingly rare and I savour them if I find them. And it’s wonderful to see someone taking genre fiction seriously, engaging with its ideas and acknowledging its intelligence. I’m a genre reader myself, and even use the specific skills you get from having to work with the author to build up an entire imagined world when I’m reading apparently non-genre fare like Jane Austen or any mainstream fiction about unfamiliar places and communities (and, when you’re a lass from New Zealand, most everything you read is about unfamiliar places).

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