Philippine Board on Books for Young People chair Zarah Gagatiga asked me if I’d like to help raise awareness for Teen Read Week by providing a list of “Top Ten Books I Read When I Was a Teenager” (so no, this isn’t a “Books With Beat” theme post). I made an earlier post on my old blog about books I treasured early in my life as a reader, and it seems fitting to continue now with books from my teen-age years. Zarah will also be posting/linking to other answers on her blog.
These aren’t what you’d now call “young adult books” for the most part: for one thing, that genre didn’t really exists aside from the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/Sweet Valley juggernauts; and for another, I was already reading “adult” level genre fiction before I hit puberty. Given that these were some of my most productive years as a reader, it’ll be hard to create a list of ten, but I’ll give it a shot. So here’s my list, in no particular order:
JEDI DAWN (Star Wars Game Books) by Paul Cockburn: Simply reading stories was never enough for me – I wanted to be a part of those worlds, to enter them. Before I discovered that I could sit down and write my own adventures, and before video games reached the point where the world and the story were as important as the gameplay, choose your own adventure books were the closest I could get to that–and this book was the best one I ever read. In 1993, I went to England as part of a summer exchange program, and I fear I might have left a bad impression with the foster family I was staying with, because after a visit to a London bookstore I had absolutely no interest in socializing with them. This book is one of the reasons why that was the case.
ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE (and the Farseer Trilogy) by Robin Hobb: I’m sure that the Farseer trilogy wasn’t my first exposure to the first person POV, but it’s the first one I remember, and it certainly set the bar for all those that came after. Hobb was the first author I ever read who really, really didn’t shy away from having terrible things happen to her characters, and the fact that Fitzchivalry Farseer was–and still is, for me–one of the most grounded and sympathetic characters in fantasy fiction made his trials all the more heart wrenching.
NEVER DEAL WITH A DRAGON by Robert N. Charrette (and other Shadowrun novels): In retrospect, the fact that I used to buy tabletop roleplaying game modules and construct adventures solely for myself to enjoy seems a bit pathetic. I was an only child whose few friends just weren’t interested in “playing pretend”–but really, I didn’t mind, not when making those stories was such a joyful process. Shadowrun was my first exposure to genre-bending and cyberpunk and the novels were always fun in and of themselves, and useful as resources for my own stories.
GOD TALES by Nil Guillemette: I’m not sure which one of these books I first read, but I know that after I finished the first book, I went back to the St. Paul store and bought all the other available volumes (only a few were available at the time–now of course there are more than thirty). Even in my youth I was never comfortable with the harshness, rigidity, and simple inconsistency of certain Catholic teachings. These books presented in their stories –many of them with speculative elements–a morality that I understood, one where the focus was on love and reasonableness and not punishment. I still remember vividly one story which had Mother Mary defending a sinner in a makeshift legal trial, and successfully proving that all it took was one selfless act in a lifetime to shield a soul from the fires of hell. The early books in this series played a huge part in my ethical development.
[More after the cut]
THE EYE OF THE WORLD (and the Wheel of Time) by Robert Jordan: This was the series that defined epic fantasy for me and a generation of readers. The series lost me toward the middle, and with no end in sight I stopped reading… but when the able Brandon Sanderson brings Robert Jordan’s saga to a close, I’ll read it straight through from beginning to end.
NOBODY’S SON by Sean Stewart: Most of the books I gravitated to were parts of a series, as opposed to stand alone novels, mostly because those were the books that dominated the shelves in those days, so Nobody’s Son was a bit of a strange choice for me and the bookstores both. I never regretted my decision though. This book was the first to show me how to put a twist on an older story in order to make it new — or maybe it’s just that by this point I’d read enough to realize when tropes were being subverted, as in this case where the novel starts from the point which, in most other stories, would be the end of the tale.
THE MAGIC OF RECLUCE (and other Recluce books) by L.E. Modesitt Jr: Modesitt’s writing was like nothing I’d ever seen before, with a rigor and consistency I admire to this day. The level of thought he put into his magic system made it seem real to me, and the level of detail he put in his description of everyday jobs (in the first book, wood carving; in a later book, forging/engineering) made them seem magical.
LEGEND by David Gemmell: Gemmell’s books were comfort food for me, my equivalent of (high quality) Hollywood blockbusters, packed to overflowing with action and thrills and heroism. Legend was my very first “siege warfare” fantasy story, and also my first “old warrior comes out of retirement” story, and it’s still the standard against which all similar tales are measured. (And yes, I’m pretty sure that’s Sean Connery on the cover…)
A PLAGUE OF ANGELS by Sherri S. Tepper: I’m a bit of a sap, so it’s not strange for me to finish a book a bit teary eyed, but no other book has made me weep like a candy lover at the dentist. In a strange way, I’ve always felt that it was this book–more than any homily or teacher–that taught me the meaning and value of sacrifice and the cross.
THE MYTHOLOGY CLASS by Arnold Arre: The fact that I own the original four issue version of Arre’s first graphic novel is a point of pride for me — my proof that I was there when the komiks industry began to evolve into a new form. It was the first work of fiction I’d ever read to include — to celebrate — elements of Philippine folklore and myth, and no doubt because of that, it’s the first book by a Filipino that I ever fell in love with. Much of my interest in local myth and legend can be traced back to this particular “class” — and I’ve been learning ever since.
* The Lone Wolf series (gamebooks and novelizations)
* Wizard’s First Rule (and the Sword of Truth books)
* Ender’s Game (and the Ender Quartet)
* The Dragonbone Chair (and the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series)
* Star Wars: Heir to the Empire
* The Elenium and the Tamuli