2.01.2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Debuts

Fail: I forgot a link. Update: Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Thanks for hosting, team!

This topic required so much research that I had to limit it. After cutting it down to the top ten best debuts on my bookshelves, and spending an hour on Wikipedia, I have still not come up with ten. Ender's Game wasn't Orson Scott Card's first, Little Women wasn't Louisa May Alcott's, Ben-Hur wasn't Lew Wallace's and Inkheart wasn't Cornelia Funke's. I have a number of Dickens novels, but not Pickwick Papers. I don't have the first works by Fyodor Dostoevsky or Frances Hodson Burnett or Mark Twain or Johanna Spyri or Elizabeth Goudge, and in some of those cases, it would have taken too much extra time to discover whether some of their earliest works actually qualified as books. And I haven't read The Pilgrim's Regress, so my especial apologies to C.S. Lewis.


But with that disclaimer out of the way, here are a handful—not ten, unfortunately—of the best debut novels on my bookshelves, which I can claim with any confidence were their authors' first published full-length works of fiction.

1. Sense and Sensibility [Jane Austen]
Jane Austen had to pay for the publication of this one herself, if I remember rightly from her biography—but it did so well that when she submitted Pride and Prejudice, she did not have to pay again. While I think it lacks a little of the spirit of Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, it is a brilliant book from concept to completion. As a daughter, a sister, an introvert and a wife, I love it to pieces.

2. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [J.K. Rowling]
Deathly Hallows may be my favorite, but I have a special place in my heart for this book. Short of a knock on the head, I'll never forget my breathtaking first week with it. For sheer creativity and humor and symbolic glory, I'd never met its equal. It remains the one in the series that I've re-read the most times.

3. Jane Eyre [Charlotte Brontë]
'Dark am I, yet lovely,' says the Shulammite, and the tale of Jane could say it, too. While I don't often take to very dark books, I love this one from cover to cover. It's one of the most satisfying works I've ever read, it's beautifully written, and as Elizabeth Baird Hardy recently pointed out, the entire tale is underscored by the sense of a pause on a threshold, a waiting with held breath. Liminality (is that a word?), romance, Gothic imagery, intense and subtle beauty—what more could anyone want?

4. Anne of Green Gables [L.M. Montgomery]
I've loved a set of these books nearly to death, and while I adore every last one of them, perhaps the last most of all, the first has a special brilliance. From Anne's captivating of Matthew Cuthbert through her wild imaginings with Diana Barry through her tempestuous-but-satisfying relationship with Gilbert Blythe, there's not an off note in the sonatina. It's a perfect book.

5. The Hobbit [J.R.R. Tolkien]
Inasmuch as I've only read this once, and years ago, I might not be able to rhapsodize so long or so passionately—but the journey of Bilbo Baggins, and the elves, wizard, dwarves, Gollum, and dragon he gets to know, is a beautiful thing. I should probably read it again one of these days.

6. Catcher in the Rye [J.D. Salinger]
I only liked one paragraph, but it was a darn good paragraph. And this is considered such an important novel that I felt it worth mentioning despite my rather personal dislike for the way Holden Caulfield chooses to relate to the rest of humanity and the world. I do, however, love Salinger's Franny and Zooey. But that wasn't his debut.

7. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland [Lewis Carroll]
As a child, I used to daydream about the little garden that Alice could see under a crack in the door. Too bad it had a head-chopping queen in it... but that image of a beautiful place, just out of reach, stuck with me for a long time. Besides, the book is hilarious and contains all the ethereal, bizarre meanderings of a dream. Through the Looking Glass may even be better—I'll have to read them both again to remember which I liked most.

8. Twilight [Stephenie Meyer]
The concept of a vampire whose conscience refuses to allow him to drink human blood... well, it's brilliant. And it just gets better: the vampire falls in love with the human girl whose blood is more desirable to him than any other. Whatever anyone thinks of the prose, the idea is spectacular, and Meyer brings some beautiful symbolism out of it. Keep dreaming, Mrs. Meyer.

...and Ivanhoe wasn't Sir Walter Scott's debut, and Uncle Tom's Cabin doesn't appear to have been Harriet Beecher Stowe's, and A Walk to Remember wasn't Nicholas Sparks', and The Testament wasn't John Grisham's, and I have a lot to do this afternoon, so I'm stopping here.

What are your favorite debut novels?

9 comments:

  1. Thanks for visiting my Top Ten blog. Great list...I chuckled when I read your closing comment. I can so relate as there are many books that I've loved that aren't first books!!!

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  2. You know, I don't think I really loved Alice in Wonderland all that much, which makes me so sad because it's supposed to be like this beloved fairy tale. :(

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  3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    Watership Down by Richard Adams

    You've already got Rowling & Tolkien on your list; they count for me too.

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  4. You have some great picks! HP and Twilight made our list too.

    Reading Lark's Top 10

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  5. I forgot about Alice - that should have been on my list!

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  6. How about "To Kill A Mockingbird"? Not only Harper Lee's first, but her only. (Which still boggles my mind, that she hasn't published since.)

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  7. Thanks, everybody, for visiting and commenting! George, I haven't read Hitchhiker, but I have read, and loved, Watership Down.

    Chris, the one and only reason To Kill a Mockingbird isn't on my list is because I limited the list to books I actually own, and as it turns out, I'm not the one who ended up with the family copy! Before I decided to limit the list (a time-saving device), it was right up at the top. :)

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  8. I second To Kill a Mockingbird! Woot!

    And please read Hitchhiker. You won't regret it, and you can pretty much read it in a day or two.

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  9. Thanks for coming by, sinceaustin! Sounds like I'm going to have to add Hitchhiker to my reading list. :)

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