Gateway Books

A fine notion from Angie: Gateway books. The ones that open up a new genre or subgenre for you.

I actually agree with several of Angie’s choices. Sarah Addison Allen wasn’t my actual intro to magical realism, but she made me a fan of the genre in one quick book — for me The Peach Keeper.


Historical — for me it was probably The King Must Die by Mary Renault:


For mysteries, it might have been Rex Stout:


For fantasy, I have no idea, but Robin McKinley probably played a role. BEAUTY, sure, as Angie says but also The Blue Sword.


I must agree that for UF / Paranormal, it was Mercy Thompson:


Laura Florand opened up romances for me, no question. I basically never used to read romances — I mean contemporary romances — until I started reading Florand’s chocolate romances.


Pretty sure no one is ever going to offer me a gateway book for grimdark or really creepy horror like Lovecraft, though.

How about you? Did you start reading any new-to-you genre or subgenre because of an identifiable author or book?

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9 thoughts on “Gateway Books”

  1. Just last week I read the first Shadow Unit collection, which is a paranormal police procedural series by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette and Will Shetterly. I tried it purely because of the authors. Monette has long been a favorite of mine, and I’ve liked everything by Bull and what I’ve read of Shetterly.

    Now, this is not a genre I have any desire to read at all. I will put on a TV procedural when I’m looking for something mindless, but reading is not a mindless activity. I thought, surely, if I were going to read a procedural and enjoy it, it would be by these authors.

    Alas, even they couldn’t make it happen for me. It wasn’t the writing at all, which was perfectly each author. It was the narrative & linguistic vehicle that was used, which had to be used because that was the point of the exercise. I just don’t speak that language.

    So, from this, and other past experiences, I know even a beloved author can’t help me grok a genre. (Catherynne M. Valente made me enjoy reading a ship’s cargo manifest. Does that mean that I enjoy cargo manifests more than procedurals, historicals or romances? Apparently so.)

    Aside: I adore Lovecraft. He never met a polysyllabic adjective that couldn’t use to elevate the most simple and mundane noun. He’s got the intellectual, introverted horror down pat, sure, but I always smile like a lunatic when I read him because it those adjectives make me so happy.)

  2. I just read that that SFWA has decided to give C.J. Cherryh the Grand Master of SFF award: well-deserved recognition of an outstanding author.

    As to the answer to your question, I remember reading The Hardy Boys when I was about 10 years old led me into a decade of reading detectives, though they didn’t hold up to rereading at a later age. Or maybe I should blame Astrid Lindgren’s “Superdetective Blomquist” and his “White Rose Gang” which I read a year earlier for triggering my childish interest in reading detectives.

    For fantasy it was MG authors like Tonke Dragt (the only Dutch fantasy author at the time, and still very good) and C.S. Lewis’ Narnia that got me hooked at an early age.
    For SF it was my dad’s shelf of Heinlein’s juveniles.

    More recently, it was The Hob’s tale that got me reading Patricia Briggs, which led to her Mercy Thompson series of werewolves stories, which led to Eileen Wilks’ Lupi stories (still the only two werewolf/vampire series I can stand to read, though I did read another one I liked with going werewolf being linked to menopause, with older women protagonists; but I forgot the author and title and can’t find it again).
    Reading Eileen Wilks led me to her earlier romance works (I tend to be a completist, if I like an author’s voice and style), which for the first time since reading Mary Stewart’s romance-adventures as a teenager got me into reading romance. I’ve since gone on a bit of a romance-reading binge, but find I don’t like above half of what I’ve read. Still, it’s led me to give Sarah Addison Allen and Laura Florand a try, and led to others which I like as easy relaxation for a tired mind.

    Here follows an extra explanation for Rachel, about why I liked the Eileen Wilks books.
    Yes, the Lupi world has an occasional (rare) occurence of insta-attraction, but an adequate-for-me underpinning for it:
    – it’s caused by the Lupi’s Lady, a supernatural/alien entity in a war with her equally supernatural/alien enemy; a war in which the Lupi play an important role, and she only puts this irresistible-attraction geas on a couple if she knows the woman’s talents and/or the bond itself will be essential to her war efforts later.
    When Lily decides to accept that she’s “been drafted” for a good reason, when she decides of her own conviction to opt into the Lupi side of this war, this leads to her accepting the bond and starting to work on making the relationship work, instead of fighting it or planning to get out of it later. This slightly softens the involuntary part of the being-drafted-by-a-geas aspect. I still think it would be better to ask people first, but with the Lady being unable to work in our world exept through the Lupi She can’t ask directly, and linking a non-Lupus to the Lupi by this geas is apparently the best she can do.
    – It isn’t an instant-love-solves-all sort of solution, but it comes with built-in drawbacks and doesn’t always end well. Benedict’s wife as good as commited suicide because she couldn’t get out of the geas, nearly killing him in the process. This has apparently made the Lady more careful in using this method of coercing allies to her cause, realising she can’t force love even with this geas, and geased attraction without love can destroy the people she needs most in her war. In 10 books or so, the geas has been used twice; in both cases it made the geased look at & consider the other party, but love still had to grow, and they still need to learn to adjust to each other and life as a couple.
    There are considerable drawbacks associated with this geased link; fainting when going beyond a certain (but not fixed, and unpredictably changing!) distance from the other half is dangerous (especially when driving) and necessitates a lot of adjustments in the protagonists’ lives. And then there is knowing that if one dies, so does the other, most likely – for people in a dangerous job (like Lily in the police) that means quite a mental reassessment.
    All together, that was enough to balance out for me the unlikely and unpleasant instantly-in-lust-against-her-will attraction in the first book – they still have to deal with the repercussions of that, and in the following books adjustments are still being made, and the relationship grows and matures.

  3. Interesting! And too bad! I really liked the Shadow Unit stories, definitely because of the authors, but I enjoy police procedurals in general. Whereas no polysyllabic adjectives could ever make me tolerate Lovecraft’s insanity-centered horror.

    Please tell us what story involved the cargo manifest. I’m *dying* to read that.

  4. Hanneke, I’m so glad about Cherryh getting the recognition she deserves, and definitely not before time!

    I did think that maybe the Heinlein juveniles were what got me started on SF, but maybe not. I know that when I was a kid, I bounced off some SF novels that my brothers liked and that I also liked later, and I almost think it might have been Heinlein.

    I had forgotten Mary Stewart; I read and liked many of hers, so I guess it’s more correct to say that Florand got me back into reading the occasional contemporary romance. Emphasis on the contemporary, because by now Stewart’s novels are pretty dated, though I suppose not enough so to seem like historicals.

    Thanks for the detailed description of Wilks’ Lupi world. I read the first one and liked it okay, but just okay — but I do plan to go on with the series eventually. I like the idea of the Lady finding out that sometimes the geas screws everything up and learning to steer clear of using it. Because, really, ugh.

  5. @Rachel — I really want to like the Shadow Unit stories too. I may try again in a few months and see what happens.

    The cargo manifest was a two or three page chapter in Radiance, Valente’s most recent novel, which is an extended version of one of her short stories. I imagine for most people it’s the kind of book where, after reading the description, you’re either on board or you’re not. “Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own.
    (It also has interdimensional space whales!) It’s a non-linear mishmash of words that somehow makes a narrative that discusses and plays around with genre in a meta way that I appreciated. It’s a also little bit horror, and a lot polysyllabic, but then, that’s one of the ways to my heart.

  6. That sounds really intriguing. A little bit horror is okay with me, especially if it’s polysyllabic *enough* — and interdimensional space whales? I will definitely look Radiance up.

  7. I don’t think I have a gateway book for any genre. I remember reading everything as a kid, and it included stuff like Matthew Looney’s Voyage to Earth, or the Lemonade Trick (a magic chemistry set book), and the Mushroom Planet stories, fairy tale retellings, myths, historical fiction, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Black Stallion…I just kept reading everything but somewhere in my teens started gravitating more towards SF/F and historicals than everything else.
    Somewhat late I developed a taste of popular historical science stuff like Longitude

    Which reminds me, I read a book review of something that may interest you… where did it go…. aha! The Road Taken by Henry Petroski. It reminded me of Tehre since it’s about everything that goes into making roads and bridges down through history.

  8. Perhaps the only gateway I remember clearly is a short story by Anne McCaffrey, “The Smallest Dragonboy”, which I read in a 7th grade textbook (outside of class, of course). That led me to Pern, Acorna, and Freedom’s Landing and thus SF.

    Not sure this counts, but my gateway from chapter-books-with-illustrations to any-and-all-books was Pierce’s Alanna. It’s falling apart, I’ve re-read it so much since that pivotal encounter.

  9. I regret not finding Tamora Pierce until I was an adult. I’d have been all over her books when I was a kid, I’m sure! I still like them, but I’m sure not as much as if I’d discovered them when I was twelve.

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