Each of us has a gateway book, the book that opened our eyes to the epic worlds contained in sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. None of us would be where we are today without that one book that bewitched our mind and ensnared our senses (to quote a little-known Potions professor), effectively paving the way for us to become lifelong fans.
You never forget your first book, and today, in honor of National Book Lovers Day, some of us took the time to reminisce about the specific titles that made us into the genre FANGRRLS we are today.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I was always interested in stories of ghosts and the unexplained from as early as I can remember. The library books I checked out would often delve into the mysteries of the world from crop circles to the Bermuda Triangle. What these mysteries had in common was they lacked an answer to satisfy my young curious mind. But what these real-life tales were lacking in resolution, the first novel that made me a genre lover was not so disappointing in its conclusion.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle marked the return of Sherlock Holmes story after Doyle had killed him off eight years previous in The Final Problem. As with other characters in genre, death can be beaten if you are popular enough and the writer is willing. To me, it will always be the best Sherlock Holmes story not only because it was my first, but also because of how terrifying it was. Something I relished and couldn’t get enough of.
A supernatural beast, a family curse, and a manor house in the middle of nowhere; what more could you want? This book has been adapted a number of times for both television and film, but it doesn’t matter how good the effects are, there is nothing quite as scary as the images your brain can conjure. Especially when you are 9-years-old and your point of reference is limited. This is the Sherlock Holmes story that plays out the most like a horror; it is the Sherlock Holmes story that made me want to read more terrifying tales. - Emma Fraser
The works of Edgar Allan Poe
My interest in genre began not with Lord of the Rings or even R.L. Stine, but with utter creep Edgar Allan Poe. When I was around eight, a family friend dropped off some items they had no use for, including a series of small, clothbound books collecting Poe’s many works. I lived in rural Missouri, so I was bored out of my mind and reading every book I could find, even the ones I needed to use a dictionary to get through.
The collection was very old, and the books had a musty smell, along with weird drawings to preface each story. Those details only added to the aesthetic for me as I would stay up late reading in our house in the country. The stories I remember being taken in by included Bernice, Masque of the Red Death, and the poem The City in the Sea, none of which are even remotely appropriate for children to read. Where there's a will there's a way.
I’ll admit I was a pretty weird kid, and I definitely had too much time on my hands, but it was soon after that I was buried in more age-appropriate fare like the Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time. Although most parents would reasonably prefer their kids not to read such dark material, my early interest in horror rapidly grew into full-fledged genre obsessions. - Sara Century
Remember Me, Christopher Pike
By middle school, the girls in my class were moving on from trading Babysitters Club books for novels from R.L. Stine. I'd happily traipsed down the dark suburban streets and wooded paths of the Fear Street series. But once my best friend handed me a book from Stine's rival, Christopher Pike, there was no looking back. Sure, both had dead teens and crazy tales of love, murder, and horror. But Pike's books had a more salacious edge, naked dead teens! Plus, more blood, sex, and taboos that made me feel mature as I cozied up under my blankets with a flashlight for reading into the night.
I've read plenty of Pike and Stine books. But the one that's story has stuck with me all these years later is the horror at the heart of Remember Me. It follows senior Shari Cooper, who dies in the first act in an apparent suicide. But that's not how Shari remembers it. As a ghost, she follows her friends and family to play detective and solve her own murder mystery. But as she gets closer to the answer of who shoved her off the balcony, Shari unravels a terrible secret that could put her beloved brother's life at risk!
I still remember the descriptions of a bubble in blood in the finale, the tension of what it could mean, and the great rush of relief when it finally burst. Right there, I was hooked on reading horror. I'd burn through the rest of the Remember Me series and into his lusty Last Vampire books. Pike paved a way to Stephen King and Anne Rice, and a slew of satisfyingly sleepless nights. - Kristy Puchko
The Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey
Everyone goes through phases in life. Back when I was a young teen growing up in suburban America, I was just coming out of my brief horse obsession and looking for something else to take up the banner that was my fledgling interest in genre. After finding my way to the sci-fi and fantasy section of the local library one fateful day, a bright green cover and an image of a woman riding a dragon drew my eye. From there, it was a quick spiral into the world of Pern, and my obsession with genre was officially born.
After moving on to McCaffrey's Acorna series (one that probably doesn't hold up today but was very near and dear to my young fangrrl heart nonetheless), it was only a quick hop, skip, and jump to other authors like Tamora Pierce, Mercedes Lackey, and Anne Bishop. But I'll never forget the writer who found a place in my heart with her Dragonriders. It's because of her that genre fiction is still my favorite thing to pick up and read. - Carly Lane
The Vows and Honor series, Mercedes Lackey
I was first introduced to fantasy fiction with Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger, but I was stuck when I finished the Pern series. I wasn’t into sci-fi back then, and most of her stuff was in that genre. I wanted fantasy, and most of the covers of the books I saw as a little kid in the early ‘80s were so obviously sexist that I just passed them by. Then I saw Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword. On it was a woman in armor (and some very questionable purple pants that only a book cover designer from that decade could get away with). She was holding a sword. Behind her was a man in white and his white horse (who spoke, but I didn’t know that then). She was clearly protecting him. She was the warrior! I remember looking at it for a very long time until my mom asked if I wanted to get it with my allowance. Hell yes, I did! We can be warriors? We can be the ones protecting men? Are you kidding me? Mine!
The book opened up a whole new world for me; fantasy novels with the woman as a powerful force. Kerowyn defied her father to become a warrior. She wasn’t like the other girls. She was, in fact, like her famous grandmother Kethry, a sorcerous, and Kethry’s life bonded friend Tarma, a warrior. I devoured the next books about Tarma and Kethry and their battles together. Wait, we get to spotlight female friendships as well? We don’t have to be the single woman in a group of men? Oh, and hold on…Tarma isn’t hot? The oath she took to her Goddess means that she isn’t interested in sex? So we have women who love being mercenaries, one of them is hot, but the other is a “normal” person with incredible skills. They’re not there to please any man. They kick all of the ass and have an absolute blast messing with guys who decide to put them in a “pretty little lady and her protector” box. They make mistakes and have to live with consequences. They are such legends that Kethry’s granddaughter defies her family and follows their lead? Sign me up for this! These books led me to a whole world of female-driven fantasy fiction, including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorcerous compilations (Mercedes Lackey started her work there), and a world where women kicked all the ass with weaponry and magic. Purple pants aside, Kerowyn, thank you. - Jenna Busch
Twisted, R.L. Stine
This book had everything. Sororities. Love triangles. Split personalities. A douchebag named Gordon. I read it so many times between fourth and sixth grade that the pages were worn and the cover lost its paperback sheen. Twisted pre-dated Stine's Fear Street series and was my first foray into the vastly more adult style (hair toss) of YA horror once I'd outgrown Goosebumps (double hair toss) and needed something a little darker, a little scarier and with some kissing. But beyond that, this was the first book I'd read, honestly one of the few books I've read to this very day, with an unlikable narrator. Abby, our hero(?) is judgmental, delusional and pretty unhinged, even early on, like she's just barely clinging to the appearance of normal, and that something is about to explode out of her. Twisted was my Gone Girl years before Gone Girl. And not only did it open my eyes to horror, to that chill books can give you, to real goosebumps, but it gave me my introduction to the villainous female protagonist that I'm still eternally yearning for in every media I enjoy.
Was it a little cheesy? Perhaps a bit reductive? Sure. But it was wonderfully, delightfully Twisted, and made a horror fangrrl out of me. For that, I'm eternally grateful. - Courtney Enlow
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
I don’t remember exactly when I first dove into The Chronicles of Narnia. I’m almost certain that when I finally decided to start at the beginning of the seven-book series and read it all the way through that I was already familiar with the story of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, having seen an animated version beforehand, but regardless of whether I was seven or nine or 11 at the time, once I cracked open the cover of The Magician’s Nephew, there was no going back.
I devoured the adventures of the Pevensie siblings and their extended family and friends as they fought to liberate the kingdom of Narnia and it’s surrounding territories and bring about a peaceful and just world with the help of their not so subtle Jesus allegory lion. I fantasized about joining in their adventures, donning some fantasy armor and weaponry and befriending fauns and centaurs and fairies and other, less fictional, animals. I made my parents buy me a toy bow for my birthday and the parks and forests near my home became wild kingdoms full of adventure.
Eventually, the love of C.S. Lewis' world and work evolved into Harry Potter and the adventures of Tamora Pierce's world of Tortall and Phillip Pullman's dark and dangerous His Dark Materials. While Narnia may no longer be my favorite fantasy world in which to play, it is still the one I return to most often, and the one I easily credit with shaping the person, and the fan, I grew into. Now if only it hadn’t done Susan so dirty. - Tricia Ennis