There was a thing going around Facebook last week where you’re supposed to list 10 books that have stuck with you over the years for whatever reason. I did that. I did it last time it went around, too. I’m sure at least half the books I listed were different because I’m from a hardcore reading family. We always had piles of books laying around the house because seven people were constantly in the middle of reading a book. We had shelves and shelves of books… thousands of books. We bought books at junk stores, antique stores, thrift stores and garage sales. When the roof was blown off our house during a hurricane, Mom salvaged as many books as she could, laying them outside to dry in the sun, in neat rows that filled our driveway from the garage to the street, and the sidewalk from one end of our property to the other. Books were important to us.
Whenever that “List 10 Books…” thing goes around, I list the first ten books I think of that I enjoy going back and rereading. I’d like to make another booklist, though; a list of the first books I read that got me started reading a particular author, series, or genre of book. These will be listed in the order I think of them and the number will be wherever I stop.
EDIT: I know this is long, but it’s in list form, so it seems shorter.
1. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. This is the first book in the Mrs. Pollifax series about a 60-something-year-old widow who is feeling at loose ends in her life and decides to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a spy. I adore Mrs. Pollifax. There are 14 books in the series and I recently reread them all. The first five are still my favorites, even though they are quite dated now. I’ve also read most of Dorothy Gilman’s other novels. A Nun in the Closet is my favorite of her non-Pollifax books.
2. The Anodyne Necklace is the third book in Martha Grimes’ series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury and the wacky villagers of Long Piddleton, including the no-longer-Earl of Caverness, Melrose Plant, who gave up his titles, but trots out his Lord Ardry calling cards when the occasion calls for it. The characters, particularly Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, are what drew me in and sent me scurrying to the bookstore for the first two books in a series that now consists of 23 novels. (In looking up that number, I discovered a new title that was released this summer! Woohoo!)
3. The Three Musketeers – The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – Treasure Island – I’m not sure which of these books I read first as a child, but one of them led to the others, which led to more adventure stories. All three of these books remain favorites that I enjoy reading over and over again.
4. Flint, by Louis L’Amour – This was the first Western novel I ever read. Although the Sackett series became my favorite L’Amour novels, I have a special place in my heart for the rich man from the big city who returned to the desert to die and found a new/old life instead.
5. Dragon On a Pedestal, by Piers Anthony – It was late at night and my next door neighbor was jonesing for something new to read. He asked if I wanted to accompany him on a quick run to the bookstore. I wandered aimlessly through the stacks until the cover of this book, featuring a little blonde girl in a frilly dress petting a dragon, caught my eye. I bought it and didn’t get too far into the story before realizing it was part of a series of books about a magical land filled with puns. In fact, it was the 7th book in the Xanth series, which now numbers 39 books and I’m way behind. Joy! New books to read! The first two books in the series – A Spell for Chameleon, and The Source of Magic - remain my favorites.
6. Borrower of the Night, by Elizabeth Peters – I checked this out of the tiny library in the small town where I graduated high school. It featured a strong, independent, highly educated young woman, Dr. Vicky Bliss, as the protagonist. That appealed to me, as did the humor and the twist on the traditional gothic novel. I loved reading everything I could find written by Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels (the other name under which the late Barbara Mertz wrote). The best thing about Borrower of the Night, though, is that it led me to the author, which in turn led to Crocodile On the Sandbank and the next 18 books in the Amelia Peabody series. (I think that will be the next series of books I reread.)
7. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich – Many years ago, my mother-in-law sent me a box of books she’d read that she thought I’d like. This book and the next three in the Stephanie Plum series were included. It took me a while to get around to reading One for the Money, but once I did, I laughed all the way through it, quickly devoured the next three books, and then drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble (in another state!) to buy the one other book that had been published up to that time. The series now numbers 21 books. The quality of the writing has fallen off as the author is involved in a lot of projects, but the characters are still fun. Readers are divided into the Morelli camp and the Ranger camp, but my favorite character is still Grandma Mazur, the terror of Trenton’s funeral homes.
8. Storm Front, by Jim Butcher – This book introduced me to Harry Dresden, hardboiled Chicago P.I. and wizard. There are currently 15 books in the Dresden Files series and reading them is a wild ride. Wizards, faeries, vampires, archangels, demons, werewolves… Not the type of book I ever imagined myself enjoying, but the author sucked me right into that world and I find myself eagerly awaiting the next installment.
9. The Clue of the Black Keys, by Carolyn Keene – My grandmother gave me this book one summer for Christmas. She never could get around to mailing Christmas gifts in December, and once Christmas was past, she figured she may as well save the postage and give us our gifts when we visited on summer vacation. This was my very first Nancy Drew book and after reading it, I spent the entire summer reading one or two Nancy Drews a day until I’d caught up on the series and ruined my eyesight. I still have a box filled with my old Nancy Drew books and a shelf of the old Blue Nancys (the original stories from the 30s and 40s – much better written than the updated versions, although with a few wince-inducing racist moments that were probably the main reason for the rewrites). Nancy Drew introduced me to the mystery genre which, as you can tell, is my favorite.
10. The Mitford Snowmen, by Jan Karon – A friend gave me this tiny book about a small town snowman building competition for Christmas one year. It was my introduction to Father Tim, Uncle Billy, and the rest of the Mitford gang. I own all 9 of the Mitford books and both of the Father Tim books. And as I checked online to make sure my numbers were correct, I saw that, after ending the series in 2006, Jan Karon has written a new Mitford book that will be released tomorrow!
11. The Family Vault – Rest You Merry, by Charlotte MacLeod – I’m not sure which of these books I read first; each of them is the first book in a series by the late author, Charlotte MacLeod. The Family Vault introduces Boston Brahmin Sarah Kelling Kelling, and art investigator Max Bittersohn. Although the first book is filled with tragedy, the series that follows lightens up considerably and features some of the more eccentric members of Sarah’s family. Rest You Merry introduces Peter Shandy, professor at a small agricultural college in Balaclava County, Massachussetts and (like me) a compulsive counter. As the series progresses, you get to know and love the quirky campus faculty and its imposing (and hilarious) President Thorkjeld Svenson. Through these books, I also discovered The Grub and Stakers series and the Madoc Rhys series, set in Canada and written under the pen name Alisa Craig. I was heartbroken when Ms. MacLeod died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2005.
12. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie – I remember living in a tiny studio apartment in Orlando, with all of our possessions in storage in Arkansas, my husband spending 16 or 18 hours a day at the Navy Nuclear Power School, and being bored out of my mind. There was a library in the shopping center a few blocks downhill from our apartment complex and I walked down there one day and, remembering my mother’s fondness for Agatha Christie, grabbed this book. I returned it the next day and checked out as many Agatha Christie books as I could carry up the hill. I eventually read every Christie book in that library. When we moved to Idaho Falls later that year, I found “new” Christies in the library there. Ditto when we moved to Honolulu the following year. I’m not sure how long it took me, but I eventually read all of her books and her autobiography, and have seen several of the movies based on her books. And Then There Were None was my introduction to grown-up mystery novels.
13. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien – When I was 16, my parents went to New Orleans for a week and left me in charge of the house and my two younger siblings. Mom had asked a young neighbor couple to look in on us and one day the wife brought over her favorite books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, to loan me. From, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” to, “Well, I’m back.” I was hooked on every word. As soon as my parents returned I got my dad to buy me a set and for the next 30 years or so I reread them once a year. I think it was three years later and we were living in Arkansas when I accompanied my dad on a buying trip to Dallas. While there, we went to a Sanger-Harris store and I saw a display of The Silmarillion. Dad bought it for me for Christmas, admonishing me to act surprised when I opened it. I love that book almost as much as the trilogy, but I don’t read it nearly as often because it’s a much more complicated story. I have most of Tolkien’s novels. He was my introduction to the fantasy genre and I consider him one of the greatest writers of any genre.
14. Whose Body?, by Dorothy Sayers – I didn’t think any mystery writer could ever hold a candle to Agatha Christie. I was wrong. It was actually the PBS series Mystery that introduced me to Lord Peter Wimsey. After reading the books, he has become my favorite detective character. Well, he and Bunter because what would Lord Peter do without Bunter? I love Lord Peter so much, the one thing on my “will not leave without seeing” list for Oxford was Balliol College, the very real Oxford college the fictional Lord Peter attended.
15. The Silver Chalice, by Thomas B. Costain – This was on the bookshelf in my 8th grade English classroom and my teacher was thrilled to let me borrow it. I think the thrill was more that one of her students was actually borrowing a book than it was about the particular book. This was my introduction to the historical novel (I consider The Three Musketeers to be in the adventure genre). The book begins with the richest man in Antioch adopting the son of one of the poorest men in Antioch and takes the reader on an epic journey through Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome in the years after the crucifixion of Jesus. I loved this book so much I sought out other Costain novels. This one is still my favorite, but I also enjoyed The Tontine.
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling – Back in 2000 when the fourth Harry Potter book was about to come out, our local newspaper was besieged with a Letter to the Editor campaign probably instigated by a local conservative fundamentalist Christian church. The book wasn’t even out yet, but the letters were filled with dire warnings of all the evil it contained. I thought I remembered a bunch of letters in the newspaper when the third book was published and I became curious what all the fuss was about, so I went out and purchased the first Harry Potter book. I was enchanted. When I finished reading the first one, I immediately bought the second and third books. I could hardly bear the wait for the fourth book. I convinced my daughter that she would like the books and she devoured them. When a visiting missionary friend saw them on the coffee table, she read them and loved them. Needless to say, the letter writing campaign backfired at my house. I read the entire series every couple of years, and I still cry in all the same places. (Not for Sirius Black, though; he had gotten pretty whiny and annoying by the time he died.)
Okay, I’ll stop here because everyone probably stopped reading somewhere around Louis L’Amour. Have you read any of these books? What books have you read that introduced you to a series, author or genre that you love?