Thursday, April 26, 2018

Gateway Books and Reading Histories

A few weeks back, I had to reorganize my bookshelves and in the process I came across some books that got me thinking about my personal reading history and gateway books. I've been thinking a lot about my reading history and the books that made me the reader I am now. Recently, I've specifically been thinking about how much one book and one author influenced my reading and changed everything. Since then, I've gotten to have numerous conversations with friends and family about the books that made them the readers they are now. So bear with me, I'm going to get a bit nostalgic and long winded on you.

Personally, I owe much of my reading history to Robin McKinley and her books. I’ve spoken often about how The Blue Sword was the first book to really interest me in fantasy. It is THE book that I can attribute most of my current reading tastes to. Before I read it, my reading tastes ran along the lines of classics like The Swiss Family Robinson, The Boxcar Children series, and the Nancy Drew books. Let’s just say that if I hadn’t picked it and the rest of McKinley's books up my reading tastes would probably be very different today.

Let’s flashback to the 90s. 1995 to be exact. Eight year old me was browsing through the books at the local library and I found the above beauty and the cover immediately drew me in. I was so intrigued by the pretty horse and awesome glowing sword that I had to check it out. As soon as I was home, I sat down and read it in one sitting. That book made me a Robin McKinley fangirl for life. It had everything I never knew I had wanted. There were kidnappings, magic, horses, swords, a kickass heroine, and just a hint of romance. I loved it. Like loved it so much that I immediately reread it and proceeded to reread it four more times before we went back to the library a week later.

I was obsessed! I wanted more of the world and more of the horses! When we returned the book, I asked my librarian if The Blue Sword was part of a series. She just smiled knowingly and lead me to where all of McKinley’s books were located. Let’s just say that my librarian made sure that I went home with both The Hero and the Crown, Spindle's End, and Beauty in my hands. And I loved them every bit as much as I had The Blue Sword

It was the book that lead me to fantasy. Every time I returned to the library after that, the librarian always had a couple books set aside that she promised that I would love because I loved The Blue Sword. I devoured each and every book she gave me after that. And guess what? She was right. I loved all of them! And each one was always a fantasy novel. That librarian recognized the intense love I was developing for the genre and she kept the fire stoked. She and the books she gave me became a lifeline. I was that weird girl who read all the time. Each book offered an escape and an adventure and I couldn't resist diving in to one every chance I got.

Over the next several months and years, my librarian introduced me to some of my favorite books of all time. After I finished Hero, Spindle's End, and Beauty, I was introduced to Patricia C. Wrede and her delightful Mairelon the Magician books. And let’s not forget her wonderful The Enchanted Forest Chronicles and her Sorcery and Cecelia books. Those were quickly followed by Ella Enchanted, Gom on Windy Mountain, and The Hobbit which then led to me devouring the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy. From there it snowballed dramatically. I quickly picked up Sabriel and my first Shannara book. And then the wonderful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was released and books with magic and mythical creatures became cool in my small town. I was no longer the weird kid who read all of the fantasy books she could get her hands on but became the person that people came to for book recommendations. Ironically enough, that’s something that hasn’t changed and I still read fantasy with an undying fervor.


When I think about it, the moment I picked up The Blue Sword for the first time was probably the most important moment in my reading life. It started my life long love affair with fantasy and all of its awesome subgenres. That book and that librarian helped shape who I am as a reader and as a person today. I shudder to think of all the books I would never have found if I hadn’t read it and asked my librarian for more books like it. Robin McKinley's other books had just as big of an impact on my reading. Beauty and Spindle's End introduced me to fairy tale retellings and I devoured all I could get my hands on and I still have a soft spot for them. When I first read Sunshine, I had no idea what urban fantasy was but it was the first book that exposed me to the genre. 

I've wondered more than once if I would have been brave enough to pick up the a lot of the books I love today without having read The Blue Sword. I really don't know if I would have even though I seriously can’t imagine my life without steampunk, urban fantasy, or Brandon Sanderson books in it. I’m so grateful that Past Me was so intrigued by the cover. I wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t taken it home that day.

What about you? What book changed your reading history forever?

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