My Life That Books Built by Django Wexler
I'm old enough to remember a world of kid's books very different then what we have today. Frankly, at least in my memory, it wasn't great. I like to joke that all we had were numbered series by hack writers (think The Boxcar Children) and Newbery Award-winning books about dead dogs. That's not completely true, of course, but the genres we now think of as MG and YA were a lot less vibrant and fun than they are now. Fortunately, my first job was as a page at my local library, and I started blazing a trail through their science fiction and fantasy shelf early on.
While I ended up as a fantasy author, in my youth I was far more of a science fiction reader. The library shelf provided a lot of the classics: I loved Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, and David Brin's Earthclan series. I was a big fan of short stories -- while Asimov's Foundation books mostly leave me cold, his short fiction is amazing, packed with character, humor, and great ideas.
One book that particularly stands out is Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. One of the wonderful things about reading at that age was that I had no idea what was considered "great" science fiction and what wasn't -- I was picking things off the shelf essentially at random, and it's always interesting to me what lines up with the accepted canon. A Fire Upon the Deep was one of my favorites, which I relentlessly pushed all of my friends to read, and it's really nice to see how it's been enshrined in the SF canon. On the other hand, I loved some books, like Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg, that have now been mostly forgotten by modern SF readers.
On the fantasy side, my tastes were a little pulpier. I devoured the Dragonlance series, at least those portions of it that Weiss and Hickman wrote, and followed them to their excellent Death Gate Cycle and lamentably unfinished Starshield series. I read a lot of Piers Anthony, perhaps too much -- I remember one vacation where I'd equipped myself with a backpack full of Xanth books, reading maybe a dozen in two weeks, and I think I reached critical pun overload. Terry Brooks and David Eddings also made regular appearances on my list, although our library's collections of both were frustratingly incomplete.
I can remember a few books that came as revelations to me; the kind of thing that makes you think, "Wait, you can do that?" In addition to Vinge, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash was like this, as was Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I devoured Neil Gaiman's Sandman over the course of about a week, on the train to my summer internship in the city sometime during high school. Good Omens, too, was an eye-opener, and from there I got hooked on Terry Pratchett, who takes up several shelves in my personal library.
Basically, I read whatever I could get my hands on. By modern standards, it was kind of a strange mix of juvenile and adult fiction, but it was what was available in the genres I loved, and the distinction never bothered me much. As long as it was fun, I was on board! (And no dead dogs.)
Huge thanks to Django for taking the time to write this for us. The Mad Apprentice has already been released in the US, and it is due to be published in the UK next month.