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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Among Others (here be a self-centered review)

One of my favorite living authors is Jo Walton. I fell in very predictable love with her Sulien books--they're alternate mythology for Arthurian nuts like me--and then read all her other novels. All are brilliant, just fucking brilliant. She just published her newest, Among Others, which may not be her best (it's so hard with an author like her) but is certainly the most important book I have read in a long while. I read it in a day--today in fact, I just set it down about fifteen minutes ago. I should probably put this off until I can construct a REAL review, but I just can't, like I couldn't stop reading the book.

Because, as la-ti-da as it sounds, this book was written for me. I have been waiting for it since I was Mori's age, fifteen and frightened and nervy and confused and reading everything I could get my hands on, even fluffy crap like Piers Anthony, who really is like Chaucer (just think about it). It is written for librarians, because Mori understands what libraries are and what librarians do and how important they are. She is in love with them the way I was when I read my way through the science fiction aisle from Anderson to Wolverton (we didn't have any Zelazny), the way I still am. Her librarians, Miss Carroll and Greg, are the librarians I strive to be. Eight books never would have been enough to tide me over for a week.

Mori daydreams about meeting C.S. Lewis. Haven't we all been there? Too embarrassing. He's dead! Thomas Hardy is dead (Mori would not approve of my love for Hardy, but there it is). Tamora Pierce is alive but there's a snowball's chance in hell that I'll ever meet her! And yet.

I want to talk to Mori. I want to ask her if she has read any Terry Pratchett yet, or any more of Cherryh. I want to know if she thinks Dan Simmons is a hack or amazing.

Reading Mori was like reading my own soul. It is such a selfish thing. This is a selfish review. I haven't even told you what the book is ABOUT, have I? But I can't resist; everything is there, everything. The undertone of superiority in Mori's voice when she compares her fellow female students sharing lipstick to Susan in The Last Battle, her air of sober cosmopolitanism when considering adult topics like anarchy and homosexuality. The affirmation of an author you like liking another author you like (with the modern version of this being my glee at watching Neil Gaiman Tweet to Robin McKinley). The outrage at authorial affronts: how dare Lord Foul's Bane compare itself to The Lord of the Rings? How dare Lewis intend Narnia as an allegory? For my part, how dare Redwall compare itself to Watership Down?

Mori's yearning for a karass (God bless you, Mr. Vonnegut)speaks to every person who has ever experienced the profound loneliness of, as Miss Carroll says, not having a chance to talk to people about things that matter to you. Her joy at finding that karass, at finding out that there are other people like you, really! people who read what you read and want to talk to you about it, is palpable and true. And there are. There are other people. Clearly Walton is one, clearly her childhood was on the same dramroad as mine, otherwise how would she have known just what would make me cry and say, Yes, that is how it is? It is not just about being a misfit. It's about books. What it feels like to love books and to believe that no real person could ever be as good a friend as The Once and Future King (my Lord of the Rings), to rely on them and use them and learn from them. It is a love story and a tribute to the power of books.

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