Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday REWIND: Top Ten Debut Books + 2

Top Ten Tuesday is the weekly meme hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. This week was a chance for me to go back and pick up a topic I missed the first time around. (I wasn't on board from the very beginning.) So I made it easy on myself and picked: Top Ten Debut Books - with the addition of two making a total of twelve for this week. Best I could do.

Use this link to check out what the other Top Ten Tuesday participants have picked for their rewinds. There are over 40 topics to choose from!

A great first book from a new author is a miraculous thing. You and I both know that a first book, even a good first try, is often filled with clunky 'first book-itis'. The kind of bothersome nit-picky things that will hopefully sort themselves out by the time the second book comes along. But some authors just seem to hit the ground running with their first try.

Here are my favorite Top Ten Book Debuts + Two, in no particular order:

1) LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL (1929) by Thomas Wolfe. I read this in high school. It was a life altering moment for me when I realized that writing need not follow a prescribed and rigid course to make sense. For me it was as if Wolfe had invented a new way of using words, a new way of feeling. I was a very impressionable kid. I've never re-read the book. I'm afraid it will not live up to what I found in it the first time.

2) WATERSHIP DOWN(1972) by Richard Adams. My second favorite book of all time, I must admit.(After Pride and Prejudice.) There's been nothing since to equal the adventure, the amazing inventiveness and just downright great story-telling of this brilliant book. That it happens to be about a band of rabbits is only incidental, it is a monumental story of a band of individuals on the run from the destruction of their homes, survivors seeking their own elusive place in the world.

3) THE EYRE AFFAIR (2001) by Jasper Fforde. The first in the Thursday Next, Literary Detective series. This one establishes the general ground 'rules' for the rest of the books (more or less) and introduces the ominous Goliath Corporation. Mr. Rochester shows up in Swindon, having walked out of the pages of Jane Eyre and possibly ruining the ending of the classic. Don't worry, Thursday Next is on the job.

4) THE SPELLMAN FILES (2007) by Lisa Lutz. An amazingly dexterous and inventive first book. Funny as heck, too. About an eccentric family of modern day private-eyes who can't stop spying on each other. Coming soon to a theater near you.

5) THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT (1987) by Robert Crais. The first in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series set in L.A., still going strong, still being read by yours truly. The title is taken from a haiku favored by Crais which shows you a bit of his thinking. A book that still holds its own these many years later.

6) KILLING FLOOR (1997) by Lee Child. The book that introduced us to the peripatetic modern day knight in shining armor, Jack Reacher, ex-Army. These are the ultimate fables of the ultimate competent man whose own brand of honor and justice is inviolate.

7) THE CUTTING ROOM (2002) by Louise Welsh. The setting of this moody first novel are the gloomy streets of Glasgow, Scotland where the enigmatic and dissolute Rilke toils away as an auctioneer's appraiser. When he comes across a batch of disturbing erotic photos during a house clearance, he decides to find out more about the deceased owner.

8) MOHAWK (1986) by Richard Russo. The Pulitzer Prize winning author (for EMPIRE FALLS) began his brilliant writing career with this novel set in upstate New York, an area whose people and geography Russo knows very well. The book introduces us to the sorts of semi-autobiographical, disaffected characters, Russo has since become well known for. I am a big fan of Russo's wry voice. He is one of the very few modern literary types I read.

9) THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (2009) by Alan Bradley. Hard to believe that this was a debut novel by a man of a certain age writing in the voice of an 11 year old girl. Set in the English countryside of the 1950's, this is simply a wonderful beginning to a brilliant series.

10) REDWALL (1986) by Brian Jacques. The first in a series of vivid fantasy novels set in or near Redwall Abbey in a mythical land created by Jacques, but recognizable as England. The cast of engaging and heroic anthropomorphic animal characters are all indigenous to Great Britain. The books are a curious blend of make-believe history and adventure.

11) THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES (1920) by Agatha Christie. The novel that began it all and turned Christie into a household name. As well as being a topnotch mystery with a surprise ending, it introduced us to Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings and Inspector Japp.

12)MAJOR PETTIGREW'S LAST STAND (2010) by Helen Simonson. A charming, accomplished and memorable first novel. Major Ernest Pettigrew, an elderly widower of a type fast fading from today's England, embarks on a life-affirming friendship with a Pakistani woman from his village. A relationship frowned on by those who still consider the woman a perpetual foreigner. A gentle and believable romance for grown-ups.

I know I left off the first Harry Potter book, but I had to stop somewhere.


  1. Glad Killing Floor, and Watership Down is in there. Odd, but I have to have a double think, that if a book has been popular and a best seller, even a classic, for several years, that of course it can also be a debut novel. Just one, that I would throw in, FIRST BLOOD, by David Morell. In my mind, still one of the books that made sucn an impact on me as a debut novel.

  2. I've only heard of The Eyre Affair and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, both of which I really want to read! I do disagree with you on one, though: Watership Down. I could never get into it as a child. The talking bunnies just creeped me out for some reason (it doesn't make sense, as I have read other books with talking animals). So, I've never read it and really doubt I ever will. Everyone in my family wonders why I can't read it... Ah well!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier! :)

  3. Dave: Some of these debuts have been around for ages! I am always awed by a great first book. I am not a fan of Morell, Dave. But I'm willing to take another look. :)

  4. Phanee: I hope you do read those two, they are wonderful books. Remember that no two people read the same book. Just because someone loves a book doesn't mean you will AND vice versa. It's hard though - when you love a book you want everyone else to love it as well. :)

  5. I adore Watership Down, and I guess I never realized that was Adams' debut work. Good for him! Also love the Redwall series, will have to go check out the others.

  6. Dani: Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad we agree on WATERSHIP DOWN. ;)

  7. I heard so many good things about The Eyre Affair. It's definitely on my TBR list. I'm dying to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I own it and can't wait to get to it. I am a huge Christie fan, but I've never read her first. Adding to my TBR list now!

    I'm a new follower. :)

  8. Great list. Some I haven't heard of and will definitely add to my list. I just read a book by Lisa Lutz written with David Hayward, an interesting experiment in two people writing a mystery together. Here's my post about it. I love Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I'm a new follower. Great to find your blog.

  9. Dorothy: Welcome to my blog. You're in for some great reading with Alan Bradley's book, that's for sure. Don't put it off. :)

    I like Christie's first because it introduces Poirot and of course, you'll never guess who did it. Thanks so much for stopping by and joining up.

  10. Robyn: Welcome as well to my little corner of the world. I'm so glad you found me and thanks for joining. I'll be sure and check out your review. I had no clue Lisa Lutz was writing with a partner. THE SPELLMAN FILES is very deftinitely different. I think you'll like it.:)

  11. Nice list. So many books on it that I've loved.

    Here's my post for Top Ten Tuesday, a list of the books that most intimidate me.

    And I'll be part of the Easter Eggstravaganza Blog Hop Giveaway tomorrow. I hope you will stop by and enter my giveaways to try to win some great prizes.

  12. Deb: Thanks for dropping by. I will definitely be checking out your list of intimidating books and your Blog Hop tomorrow. :-)

  13. I couldn't agree more with Watership Down and The Mysterious Affair at Styles. They are both terrific books.

  14. Yes, you said it, Ryan! Well, they're all pretty terrific, in my opinion. ;-)

  15. I've heard lots of good things about some of these, but I've never read any of them.

    Here is my list

  16. Very interesting choices of debut books here, amazingly varied styles and genres.

    Of the two books I've read here, I love Lisa Lutz's Spellman family. Honestly, I didn't like Louise Welsh's book; I had to race through it and get it back to the library.

    One of my father's favorite authors was Thomas Wolfe, so he must have read this one. I am tempted to try it.

    Also, will definitely encounter Major Pettigrew, and Flavia DeLuce. On Robert Crais' books, I've got "The Sentry" on library reserve, and will see how it goes.

  17. I really was glad to see MOHAWK mentioned and most of the rest. But I have to give Flavia a pass. Too treacly for me.

  18. LBC: Thanks for stopping by. I'll be sure to check out your list.

  19. Kathy: I think I'm kind of proud that there is variety. I don't just read one thing although some might think so. Thanks for noticing. I can see how Welsh's book might not appeal to everyone. Very grim. But I have to say, I wish there had been a sequel. THE SENTRY is very violent, so I warn you ahead of time. Crais' books are definite thrillers. I would recommend you begin at the beginning with THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT, if you can find it. If not, then try VOODOO RIVER, which is where I began. :)

  20. Patti: Yes, I am a BIG Richard Russo fan, have read almost everything he's ever written except that book of short stories - I couldn't get into that one.

    I'm sorry you didn't like Flavia. Her loneliness touched me and I guess I like the setting of the 50's. The second book is actually even better than the first. Funny, I didn't find them treacly at all. Go figure. :)

  21. Alan Bradley's books seems to generate very strong reactions -- either one likes or dislikes them, no in-between views on this.

    On Robert Crais, well, I have The Sentry on hold, and it's gotten recommendations. I just skip violent sections. It's not a big problem. If it's too much, I'll go back to an earlier book.

    It's very definitely a good thing that you like so much variety in reading. You can switch to a different genre or book and read whatever your mood.

    I just finished "Roseanna," the first book by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and what a good book, could not put it down. I'm only sad that I've read 5 of theirs, and only have 5 to go. I'll have to reread them.

  22. I recently tried re-reading Stowall and Wahloo's MURDER AT THE SAVOY, but it was just too downbeat for me. All that northern European angst is not for me right now. I read these books years ago, but I don't think I'm going to go back. I did reread THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN and liked that one again, but that's it, I think.

    Oh, variety is key, I think. :-)

  23. My favorite debut books, Yvette: Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. Oh, and Evelina.

  24. Great choices, of course, Robin. But I doublechecked JANE EYRE (I was going to include it on my list) and it turns out it was not Bronte's actual writing debut. (At least according to Wikipedia.) That's why it's not on my list.

    I'm not as big a fan of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY as I am of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE which I would have included had it been Austen's first. :-)

  25. I also read Look Homeward Angel in high school and admit it made a big impact on me as well! I also enjoyed Watership Down.

    I'm curious, Yvette. Did you always keep a book journal/diary? How do you remember all the books that you've read and so many details about them? I am always so impressed by how much you recall!

  26. Pat: For last few years (before I began blogging) I kept small journals in which I listed the books I'd read. I'd give them stars (or not) so I could remember how much I liked them. My memory is pretty much shot, Pat. But I do remember the books I reread, more or less. And I always doublecheck everything online. (I have great trouble remembering character names.) I also generally have the books here, at least while I'm writing the review, so I can doublecheck details.

    Now that I'm blogging, I keep the list of books I'm reading here. If you look on the left sideboard, you'll see the Books Read in 2011 heading about midway down the blog. But I'm trying also to keep a written list, just in case. :)

  27. Here's a debut mystery novel that utterly floored me: STILL LIFE by Louise Penny. I think you'd like it, Yvette, since it's about a woman who was a secret painter. And there are two other artists in the book. It's the start of an intriguing series that has won Penny a trunkful of awards in the mystery field.

    Other amazing debut novels (just off the top of my head):

    BIRDY by William Wharton
    FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
    SARAH CANARY by Karen Joy Fowler
    THE LAND OF LAUGHS by Jonathan Carroll
    And this pretty darn good private eye novel
    HALO IN BLOOD by John Evans (AKA Howard Browne)

    OH! how could I forget my all time favorite novel in the English language? TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

    I probably could come up with a list of over 100 if I took longer than 5 minutes to mull it over.

  28. John: Great list! I'd forgotten Louise Penny's amazing debut. Yes, I've read her books: wonderful. Wouldn't you want to live in that small town? Well, except for all the murders. Ha!

    I haven't read any of the others you mentioned, John (I'll take a look except for the James Jones book, I'm not sure I could read that now), except, of course, for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD which I read quite a while back. I could have kept going too, but had to stop somehwere...!


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