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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.