As I was lying in bed the other night, I started thinking about books that lived as “firsts” in my mind. The first chapter book I could remember, or the first time I read an “adult” book. This list ended up being more interesting than I expected. Some because it seems so arbitrary which books I now remember. They surely weren’t the first. They likely weren’t the only. They stand out for reasons I can’t quite explain. So here they are: the books of my life.
1. First Picture Book – Each Peach Pear Plum
My parents were incredibly avid believers in the power and importance of the written word for children, so I had a veritable library of books as a kid. Also the actual library, where we went all the time. So picking out just one picture book is hard. But for some reason this one sticks in my mind. Part of it is probably because I rediscovered it as an adult and was both pleased and alarmed to realize how much of the rhyming poetry I remembered twenty-odd years later. This book takes well known nursery rhymes and weaves them together into a delightful find-and-seek picture book where you have to spot the characters. Plus hidden extras like a spider and a cat. It’s a classic that doesn’t get old—check it out.
2. First Chapter Book – The Crystal Drop
This one is tied with the Day of the Triffids, but I actually remember a little bit about the plot of this one, whereas the only thing I remember about the other one is that aliens land and their spaceships (or possibly them?) have three legs.
Crystal Drop is a chapter book that my mother read to my brother and I. Long before we had the patience to sit and read an entire chapter book on our own, my mother would read them to us, usually a chapter a night.
This book is about a post-apocalyptic journey across the country. A girl and her brother are making their way to… some family members? I can’t remember if it’s their parents, or if their parents are dead and they’re trying to find grandparents or aunts and uncles or something. But there’s definitely a dangerous cross-country journey, and she has a necklace that her mother gave her that’s a crystal drop, which features prominently in some way.
3. First Chapter Book By Myself – The Golden Compass
I would like to be clear: this is definitely not the first chapter book that I read on my own. I probably read this book about four years after I started (voraciously) reading on my own. So it’s a strange phenomenon that this is the one I think of when I think of my first experiences with chapter books.
Maybe instead I should say that this is the first book that I was proud of reading, because it was a little outside of my age range—I was nine when I read it, and it was in the options for the next grade to read as part of their free-reading period. I asked my teacher if I could read it anyway, and she said of course.
My best friend Paula told me I HAD to read this book. She then proceeded to tell me the shocking ending, so this was also my first experience with spoilers. I think it’s part of why I’m so spoiler adverse now! But this book held up despite the fact that I knew what was coming. It even added a certain level of dread and bitter sweetness to scenes where the characters thought everything was going to turn out okay, so I liked it.
4. First Shocking Book – Ender’s Game
I will always remember being ten years old and thinking I was reading a very mature, adult book, because one of the characters said, “That Bean is so careful, he could piss on a plate and not spill a drop.”
I googled it to see how accurate my memory was. Not bad! “Bonzo, he pre-cise. He so careful, he piss on a plate and never splash.”
Anyway, apparently to a ten year old the occurrence of the word ‘piss’ in a novel was shocking in the extreme, which goes to show my parents were incredibly strict about what TV they let us watch as children. I’m unsure if this has had any appreciable impact on my personality, though I’m still not a huge fan of body humour, so maybe that’s why!
In other news, I tried to read the sequel to this, also at ten year’s of age, and that book is way more complicated and developed than this one. I definitely understood nothing and gave up part way through.
Also, Orson Scott Card is a horrible human being and if you’re going to read this book I recommend stealing it from the internet, or borrowing it from a friend, or buying it from a local used bookstore to make sure he gets none of the money.
5. First Book with Sexy Bits – Interview with a Vampire
I read a whole lot of Anne Rice when I was going through puberty. At the time, I thought that they were chalk-full of sex. To the point where I got into an argument with my friend about it when she said the vampires in these books can’t have sex. So I checked, and it turned out she was right! I guess they just had a lot of sexual themes? All I know is there were times I was embarrassed to read them on the bus, and I would make the gap in the pages as small as possible so people couldn’t read over my shoulder.
I also read her Witches series at roughly the same time, and that one not only had sex, it also had weird horrifying incest rape, so probably not appropriate content for a twelve year old. Funny my parents wouldn’t let me watch The Simpsons but it didn’t occur to them to check what I was reading! But I turned out okay so it must not have done any lasting damage (she says with hope in her voice….).
Well, that’s the list! I’m sure there are other firsts (first book I hated?), but these are the ones that stand out in my mind. So what are your favourite firsts?