My Top Ten Gateway Books/Authors

April 1, 2014 Top Ten Tuesday 22

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors in My Reading Journey.  

Into the Book World, by moffs

Gateway books… those books or authors that opened you up to a whole new world of reading. After all these years, it’s sometimes hard to be sure which book it was in particular, though some still stand out like shining stars.

  • Nancy Drew. I’m pretty sure it was a Nancy Drew book (though I can’t remember which one) that first got me excited about reading mysteries. I do know exactly when: the summer before I turned 7, when I had my tonsils out and we moved from New York City to rural Maryland. I spent the week after I got out of the hospital with my grandparents and not allowed to run around much, so I spent the week reading. After going through all of Mom’s old Bobbsey Twins books, I stumbled on her shelf of Nancy Drew mysteries. By the end of the week, I’d plowed through 10 or 12 of them — all she had — and I was hooked. I devoured Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, the Three Investigators, Judy Bolton, anything I could get my hands on.

  • Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Again, I can’t be sure which book it was. It might have been Christie’s The Secret Adversary, or Marsh’s A Man Lay Dead. Between them, those two authors ushered the middle-school-aged me into the world of grown-up mysteries – specifically by British authors. After I discovered those two (and read everything I could get my hands on), there was no stopping me. Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Dick Francis, Catherine Aird, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ellis Peters… I fell in love with British mysteries and never looked back.

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C. S. Lewis’s masterpiece was probably not the first fantasy I ever read — almost certainly not if you count fairy tales. But it was the one that sparked a lifelong love of fantasy, and by extension, science fiction. Because I loved the Narnia books, I began actively looking for others like them in my elementary-school years. Lewis led me to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain and L. M. Boston’s Green Knowe books, to George MacDonald and Madeleine L’Engle and Tolkien.

  • The Lord of the Rings was my gateway to grown-up fantasy, even though I discovered it in 6th grade. It led me to Katherine Kurtz and Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley (even though the latter two are really more SF than fantasy), and later to Mercedes Lackey, Raymond Feist, David Eddings, and many more. And it’s hard to say whether my love for the works of  Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce owes more to Lewis or to Tolkien, since I didn’t discover them until college or even later. (That’s in part due to my age; I graduated high school in 1980.)

  • The White Mountains, the beginning of John Christopher’s YA post-apocalyptic trilogy about a future in which the Tripods control humans through mind-altering Caps, was almost certainly the first SF novel I ever read. From there I moved on to Robert A. Heinlein’s juvenile SF, Andre Norton, and Ray Bradbury, and eventually to Heinlein’s adult works, Asimov, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (which I read when it was first published as a novella), and a few other SF authors (see the aforementioned Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley.)

  • King Arthur and His Knights. I stumbled across a ravaged copy of Elizabeth Lodor Merchant’s retelling of some of the tale’s from Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in the hot, dusty attic room that served as my summer camp’s library, and I was enchanted. It is, coincidentally, illustrated by Frank Godwin, who would later become (posthumously) my step-great-grandfather, though of course I didn’t realize that at the time. Regardless, I fell in love as much with the illustrations and the material as the book itself, and it sparked a decades-long love affair with Arthurian myth. Because of that book, I read Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga and other Arthurian fiction, some of the classic source material and semi-related myths (Chretien de Troyes, Geoffrey of Monmouth, The Mabinogion), and even nonfiction explorations of the Arthurian myth and history. I also helped my mother, a tour director, design and lead a tour of Arthurian Britain.


  • Mary Stewart.  Stewart’s romantic novels, which my mother loved but which I found only after reading The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills, were my introduction to the romantic suspense genre. I read them in high school, along with Victoria Holt, but once I hit college, I didn’t read much else until I picked up one of Jayne Anne Krentz’s Arcane Society novels. I was drawn to it more from the paranormal angle, but I moved from there into her non-paranormal romantic suspense (both as Krentz and, in the historical mode, as Amanda Quick) and then to Nora Roberts. Oh – and I still love Mary Stewart!

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series was probably my earliest historical fiction, and gave me a thirst for stories about earlier times. That thirst was fed by Louisa May Alcott, L. M. Montgomery, Noel Streatfield, Rosemary Sutcliffe, and Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, until I was old enough to move on to adult historical fiction.


  • Mary Balogh was probably my gateway to historical romance — in fact, to romance as a genre altogether. Although it may have been Mary Jo Putney. I can’t be certain whether I read A Summer to Remember or Angel Rogue first, but once I discovered that historical romance was more than the “bodice rippers” of my bookstore days (the ones I didn’t read), I was hooked.
  • Robyn Carr’s Virgin River started me on contemporary romance, which I had been avoiding until for some reason I picked up that book. I still don’t read a lot of contemporary romance authors, focusing on a short list of top-notch authors (Carr, Mallory, March, Wiggs, Woods, and Thayne, so far.)  But I’m grateful that I found them. (Come to think of it, I suppose you could say Rosamunde Pilcher came first… but I don’t think of her early romances as contemporary, somehow.)

  • Romeo and Juliet was my introduction to Shakespeare. I saw my first play at age 10, performed by the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, and fell in love — with the language and with the romance. I read bits of the play a week later, but didn’t have an opportunity to study Shakespeare until high school, when my school put on first Romeo and Juliet and then A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That first play in Stratford also kindled my love of theater, which became my college major. One of my few regrets in life is that I haven’t stayed involved in theater, at least not consistently. But as a homeschool mom, I made sure our daughter read and watched more live Shakespeare than most high school students ever get to (and she loves him, too!)

So what are your gateway books, and where have they led you?

    22 Responses to “My Top Ten Gateway Books/Authors”

    1. Mark Baker

      I identify with several on your list, although I always trace my love of mysteries back to Nate the Great, a detective in a series of picture books. From there, I go to the Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and Nancy Drew. Historical fiction started with Little House. And Narnia was one of my first fantasy series as well, although I pretty much read mysteries these days.

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Oh, I forgot all about Nate the Great! The first one came out when I was 10 (I looked it up.) I don’t think my library had them, though – I heard other kids talking about them occasionally, but I think the only one I read was the first one.

    2. Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

      I remember reading The Old Clock when I was about 9 (I still have it and it’s got the same cover as the one you posted) I wasn’t a huge Nancy Drew fan but this one I remember loving. I like how your list is really diverse with Narnia and Virgin River on it (I love both and wish I had put them on my list). Virgin River started me on contemporary romances too. Great list Lark.
      Here’s my TTT post
      Kimberly @ Turning the Pages

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        I’m an eclectic reader! And to be honest, I still re-read most of these occasionally, with the exception of the childhood mysteries. (Well, OK, I have re-read some of the Judy Boltons as an adult — the ones I couldn’t find copies of when I was young.) Speaking of re-reading, I think it’s almost time for me to re-read Virgin River…

    3. Lianne @

      That hardback edition of LOTR is gorgeous! I have yet to get a hardback copy for myself so hehe, perhaps I should keep a lookout for that particular edition 😉

      Great list! I had read one of Mary Stewart’s novels some time ago and enjoyed it enough. Hope to read some more one of these days, lol

      My TTT

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        It’s so gorgeous, I’m afraid to read it! I’ve gone through several paperback versions over the years, beginning with those pink-and-purple psychedelic fever-dream covers from the 1960s (which I read in the ’70s.)

    4. Marla

      I love The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe! I remember buying my first copy and tearing through it. It wasn’t my first taste of fantasy, but it sure helped solidify the love. Great list.

      Check out my TTT.

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        I think my first copy was given to me, and it took me a couple of years to collect the rest of them, between birthdays and Christmas gifts. Luckily the library had them, so I could read them all before I owned them. But I’m curious – what was your first fantasy book? (Maybe I’ll find it on your TTT?)

    5. Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic

      We read a lot of the same books as children–Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, C. S. Lewis, Heinlein, Andre Norton. Then the middle grade and high school books for me, too, were a lot of yours–Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Dick Francis, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh (and Elizabeth Peters), Heinlein and Assimov. I also read a lot of Harlequin romances with my cousins and aunt when I visited them. Later I read Anne McCaffrey in college and after along with lots of British mysteries and a few American mysteries (Tony Hillerman), more science fiction–Ender’s Game, A Canticle for Liebowitz and many others. When I started reading romance again about 10 or 15 years ago it was Mary Balogh and Jo Beverly for historical romance and Jennifer Crusie and Susan Elizabeth Phillips for contemporary. Virgin River series came later!

      So many great memories, Lark! I didn’t have time to do TTT today, but I feel like I just did it reading your post and then commenting…LOL. I agree with almost every book you name…only a few I didn’t also read.

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Somehow I’m not surprised we read a lot of the same books as kids! We’re not that different in age, I think, and we share a lot of similar tastes. But I didn’t discover romance until after my daughter was born. Or rather, I didn’t start reading it. I was well aware of Harlequin and other “series” romances when I worked in the bookstore, but I’m ashamed to say I was a bit snobbish about them then. And it’s true, the quality was a toss-up – some terrific authors got their start in Harlequin or Silhouette series romance, but there were some not-so-great ones (and still are. But that’s true in any genre.)

        I haven’t read Hillerman yet — I need to, as I hear they’re excellent. And I read A Canticle for Liebowitz, but alas, I think I was too young to really understand it. I loved some of Bradbury’s work, hated others. Ditto Arthur C. Clarke (Dolphin Island is still a favorite.) As for the romance authors you mention, I need to try Jo Beverly qand Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

        Glad you stopped by!

    6. Jennifer

      Such a great list! Mary Balogh is fabulous and really shows what good writes can do with historical romance. I haven’t read Robyn Carr, but I plan on trying her soon. And yeah for Laura Ingalls Wilder!!

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Balogh awes me. She’s meticulous about getting the period stuff right, but her characters are compelling and her plots are believable. If you try Carr, start with Virgin River. Seriously. The new Thunder Point series is good, but my heart’s still in Virgin River.

    7. Caitie F

      I agree with so much of your list! Nancy Drew had such an impact on my reading! And Lord of the Rings got me into adult fantasy.

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        It’s funny; people either seem to love or hate LOTR. I think some people can’t get past Tolkien’s deliberate use of a somewhat antiquated, epic style — but what could you expect from a man who was an expert in Old English and Anglo-Saxon poetry? To me, it’s part of the book’s charm; it isn’t breezy and contemporary. But I can see how some readers might bog down in it. I’m glad you’re a fan, though!

      • Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard

        Probably so! They certainly hold many of mine! When I was in high school and college and actually earning a little money, I started haunting used bookstores for copies of the books I’d loved but hadn’t owned (and the ones that had been lost in a move, as well.) I’ve kept that up, so I have a whole big Ikea bookcase full of childhood favorites in my office-cum-library. The adult and YA fantasy is split between the living room (hardcover) and the basement (mass market paperbacks.) And the mysteries are similarly split between the office and the basement shelves. Romance paperbacks are in the office, too. If we ever have to move, I’ll have to prune by about half or hire an extra truck. (It’s not quite that bad… but we do have a LOT of books.)

    8. Stephanie Shepherd

      So many great things on this list. Narnia was probably my gateway to fantasy and my series obsession. Also love Agatha Christie and other mysteries from that era. I was also (and still am) so into the Arthurian Legends. I’ve read every book I can get my hands on, took a class on the topic in college, have visited every notable Arthurian legend site in England etc… I included, belatedly, The Once and Future King on my list which I think is the book that got me hooked. That and the movie Excalibur which I likely should not have been watching at the age I was watching it:)

    9. Sandy Farmer

      You’ve got some great books on this list. I need to go back and read The Chronicles of Narnia. I did manage to read J R R Tolkien. King Arthur, Romeo & Juliet…classics. Great list!

      SP & STS
      Sandy @ Somewhere Only We Know