The First Novel I Ever Read

boy reading

It was the summer of 1970…I was dreading a long family car trip mainly because I was 14, I had braces on my teeth and was starting high school in the fall.  I was required to be full of dread.

The big hits on pop radio that summer were “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (Three Dog Night), “Close to You” (Carpenters), “Everything is Beautiful” (Ray Stevens), “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles, “The Overture from Tommy” by the Assembled Multitude, “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago and “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  On and on the list goes…great stuff.  I still have some of the 45’s. (If you don’t know what those are, tough luck.)

But I had a long car trip ahead of me and I was miserable.  I couldn’t even drive yet.

To pass the time on the trip, I went to the library and saw a book that caught my eye…relatively new from Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain.   I checked it out and started to read.  I couldn’t stop reading.  I was transported to an underground virus containment facility deep in the desert and worked desperately to find a way to combat a subspace virus that threatened to destroy the earth.

It was the shortest car ride ever.  I don’t even remember Nebraska.  It was the first full-length novel I ever read.

Great stories can do that.  They don’t just pass the time, they transport you to a time and place where we experience things we could never do in our time and place.

Forty-three years later (go ahead, do the math), I have read a lot of great stories and been transported to any number of times and places I have never actually been.  And now I am working every day to find great stories to potentially give them a place in the world.

Story is not limited to fiction.  I’ve read great biographies that were great stories.  History is one long story. The Bible is a story of a people and their God.

While not intended for authors or publishing per se, I find great enjoyment each Monday from a marketing blog from “The Wizard of Ads,” Roy Williams.  He challenges marketers to tell stories rather than sell facts.  Stories are profound., they move emotions.  Let’s be story-tellers.

If you want to subscribe for free to his “Monday Morning Memo,” click here.

Read Steve Laube’s Monday blog post first, then read Roy.  You will be glad you did.

Your Turn:

What was the first great story you read?

26 Responses to The First Novel I Ever Read

  1. Ron Estrada September 3, 2013 at 4:11 am #

    Well, there was the required reading like Call of the Wild and Tom Sawyer (I was the kid who actually enjoyed these assignments). I think my first voluntary novel may have been The Shining. I would have been twelve or thirteen. Yes, I still have issues with shower curtains. Keep them open, please.

  2. Pamela S. Meyers September 3, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    From first grade on I was an avid reader. I quickly graduated to chapter books by the time I was in third grade. But the first “real” novel must have been around age 13 when I saw a book at the library called “Geneva Summer.” I lived in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and to read a story set in my home area looked like fun. It was a sweet romance about a college girl whose boyfriend just broke up with her and she came to the Lake Geneva area to work as a camp counselor at George Williams College Camp. Of course she meets a guy and they become an “item.” I loved that book because they went into town and went to restaurants and stores I knew. I quickly graduated to other stories a teenage girl would enjoy, but I never forgot “Geneva Summer.” I found a couple copies of the book online a few years ago and snatched them up. But who knew that as an author I would someday pen my own romance story set in Lake Geneva! I hope a girl perhaps has found a copy of my book in the same library and it has begun a lifelong enjoyment of reading…and maybe even penning a new story set in LG for the next generation of readers.

    • Dan Balow September 3, 2013 at 6:20 am #

      Your comment about George Williams College drove me to Google…GWC closed a number of years ago, but it is now a college within the Aurora University system here in Illinois. See this link for their conference ground…complete with pictures!

      • Pamela S. Meyers September 3, 2013 at 7:05 am #

        Yes, Dan, I was going to add that info, but my comment was getting too long as it was LOL. Thanks for looking it up. They still use the campsite all the time. We always just called it College Camp. I’ve been there on winter retreats a long while ago with my singles group from my church. (I live a little over an hour away from there). It’s a great facility. I didn’t realize you lived in Illinois. I’m in the Chicago northwest burbs :-).

  3. Pegg Thomas September 3, 2013 at 5:55 am #

    I’m impressed you can remember the first novel you ever read! I can’t. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read. I suspect it may have been Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard – but I couldn’t swear to it.

  4. Naomi Musch September 3, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    Great question. I think the impact of those early reads shapes our tastes and steers us toward the kind of novelists we become. I’m pretty sure the first full length novel I read was The Witch of Blackbird Pond when I was 10. By the time I was a teen I’d made forays into horror (The Exorcist) Mystery (Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None)and Suspense Thrillers (Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil). I think it taught me enjoy reading across genres. Years later, as I turned to writing historicals with a dash of grit, I read the Witch of Blackbird Pond aloud to my kids too.

  5. Deb Elkink September 3, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (Eleanor Cameron) captured me just before I threw myself into the NANCY DREW books–about age 9, I think–fantasy and mystery informing relationship. Hmm, that might actually say something about my writing approach today (as suggested by Naomi above)!

    • Jeanne Takenaka September 3, 2013 at 6:31 am #

      Deb, you and I read in the same strain of novels. 🙂 I loved the Mushroom Planet books, and Nancy Drew!

  6. Jeanne Takenaka September 3, 2013 at 6:33 am #

    I was a prolific reader as a girl, so I can’t swear to the absolute first novel I read. Early ones included the Trixie Belden series, the Phantom Tollbooth, The Madeleine L’Engle books and Nancy Drew.

    I fell in love with reading because of all the adventures I could have and places I could visit. I also became fascinated with how authors created story. 🙂

    • Pamela S. Meyers September 3, 2013 at 7:08 am #

      Jeanne, I loved Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, too! This weekend I was in a consignment shop in central Illinois and found the second grade reader I had, “Our New Friends.” Funny, as soon as I saw the title on the spine I knew what it was! It is a Dick and Jane book (the good old basal readers most every public school used back then). Flipping through it and seeing the pictures brought back the joy I felt when I was first learning to read.

      • Jeanne Takenaka September 3, 2013 at 11:17 am #

        Pamela, I remember the basal readers. How the times have changed…. I’m so glad to meet someone else who read Trixie Belden. 🙂

    • Meghan Carver September 3, 2013 at 7:49 am #

      Almost exactly the comment I would leave, Jeanne! 🙂 I just can’t remember many of the details, but I did love The Phantom Tollbooth and Madeleine L’Engle. Our only difference is Nancy Drew. My girls love her books, but I never could get interested or relate to her. She just seemed too perfect, and I knew I could never be that perfect. Now, I think I might like them.

      • Jeanne Takenaka September 3, 2013 at 11:19 am #

        Isn’t it interesting to see what drives our reading choices? It’s actually been years since I picked up a Nancy Drew book. Raising two boys doesn’t lend itself to female sleuths. 🙂

  7. Thomas Allbaugh September 3, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    During that same summer you describe, Dan, in 1970, with all those hits on the radio, I was transported by the translation of Pierre Boulle’s _Planet of the Apes_. The book the movie was based on was French, the astronaut’s name was not Taylor, and the final twist of the plot was not revealed by the Statue of Liberty jutting out of the muck. But the first person narrative was gripping and I forgot everything else and read it twice that summer.

  8. Nancy B. Kennedy September 3, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Boy are you in my wheelhouse! Loved this post… I want the soundtrack! (Yeah, you can do the math on me, too.) The first book I remember being emotionally invested in was “Johnny Tremain,” by Esther Forbes. I was reading in bed with all the furniture from the room piled up around me, because my parents were painting the bedroom. Typical lazy kid! Reading while my parents worked. As I got toward the end of the story, I felt like I wasn’t even in my room anymore. It was the first time I remember feeling sorry to close the covers of a book. I love it now when I have that feeling, because I recognize that that’s what great storytelling can accomplish.

  9. Jenny Leo September 3, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    I, too, had a long car journey in the summer of 1970 (Chicago to San Francisco and back), wedged into the back seat between two long-legged brothers, but I couldn’t read because reading in the car tended to make me carsick. (I’ve outgrown that, thank goodness.) I will forever remember “Close to You” as part of the soundtrack of that summer, as well as “Angel of the Morning,” which I sang along with until my mother firmly deemed it “inappropriate” for 10-year-old girls, lol.

    The first novel I remember reading to myself was Charlotte’s Web, followed by Stuart Little. Our teacher had read aloud E. B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan and I was so enthralled that I wanted to read everything he wrote.

  10. Janet Ann Collins September 3, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    I was seven years old when I read Black Beauty. When the horse died at the end I started crying and continued to sob for hours. My father had died about eight months before and I guess when I read that book I realized for the first time that death was permanent. Although it sounds strange, releasing my grief by associating it with the horse in the book was a great relief so Black Beauty was therapeutic.

  11. Leah Ness September 3, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    My first ‘chapter book’ was one about Annie Oakley. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read it, but I still have my copy. After that, there was an abridged version of ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ but most of all, there was Frank Peretti’s Cooper Kids series. Those were the books that first got me hooked on reading and I’ve loved it ever since.

  12. sally apokedak September 3, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Great post.

    Now I’m going to have “Close to You” in my head all day.

    My experience of falling in love with novels came in 1968 when I was eight years old. The book was Treasure Island. I took off from there and never looked back.

  13. Steve Myers September 3, 2013 at 11:42 am #

    I wish I could remember pre the 1980s. I graduated from high school in 1977 but it was not till the 1990s that I began to read fiction. It was during a postponed BA & MA (1994 & 2001) that I became so enthralled with Fiction and specifically Christian Fiction. A friend lent me Roger Elwood’s ANGEL WALK and that small work introduced me into Frank Peretti’s THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. From then on I was hooked.

    There were the Scholastic books of grade school but sadly few titles until high school that broke through. Yes, Tom Sayer, Huck Finn, Treasure Island that were required reading. I later came to love those…

    However…If we go back to the 1970s even though a Christian I was a steamy reader of sex-paperbacks that were either novelizations of films or films based on steamy novels such as Harold Robbin’s THE BETSY, Robert H. Rimmer’s THE HARRAD EXPERIMENT, Herman Raucher’s ODE TO BILLY JOE (Commissioned by Warner brothers as a novelization and screenplay of the song later made into a movie), and JORY by Milton Bass. Some called them ‘dimestore novels’ I found at a paperback store near my house (where I always hoped to date the cashier, a classmate of my sophomore year of high school). Ginny Guinn (still a friend now some 38 years later.

    For the record I also bought Billboard Magazine there, Mad Magazine and AFI (the American Film Institute). Also some older copies of VARIETY. But that was a different era and media influenced by a changing film industry and the perils of growing up there were those introductions to fiction. Jory was loaned by a friend (as were many books in those years).

    Something else (wonderful) happened as a counter balance: Earl Hamner’s THE WALTON’S on CBS opened titles and authors to my view and 1974 when probably the best version of THE GREAT GATSBY was made. I know I read the book over and over again. To this day it still IS my favorite work of fiction. I listen to it on audiobook probably 3-4 times a year whenever I get discouraged or need a boost of literary encouragement.

    But it was Elwood and Peretti who opened the door in the early 1990s. Followed by Rivers, in 2004 (And the Shofar Blew) to really Collen Coble in 2008 with Lonestar Sanctuary where the tumblers of Christian Fiction took root and I ventured into the waters on February 26th 2011 which I mark as my Anniversary or Birthday as a writer. That was when Deborah Rather organized a Christian Adult Book Fair at Rush Creek Disciples of Christ Church in Arlington, not a few blocks from my home and with the encouragement of my mother, brother, and sister-in-law I showed up with my laptop, a few chapters and met over two dozen authors. I bought books by all including Arlene James (aka DR), Ronnie Kendig, Lena Nelson-Dooley, and Terry Burns to name a few. They told me about something called the ACFW and in April after joining my professional life boosted substantially. Listened to the MP3 CD I purchased of the St. Louis 2011 Conference, attending the 2012 in DFW and working two WIPS now with hope of acquiring an agent and a targeted publisher in 2014.

    Many to thank both now and in heaven for the lamp unto my feet.
    Lonestar Sanctuary (2008)
    Lonestar Secrets (2009)
    Lonestar Homecoming (2010)
    Lonestar Angel (2011)

  14. Pat Jaeger September 3, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    I enjoyed the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew series (bought the sets I found at garage sales for the grandkids)but my first really memorable novel was “That Hideous Strength” by C. S. Lewis (final in that trilogy). It comes to mind quite often now days. It’s a great series, but that book really scared me, and gave me hope!

    Reading your blog made me sift through my brain and recall so many wonderful, life-shaping novels. Thanks!

  15. Jenni Brummett September 3, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    As a child I preferred stand alone books rather than a series.
    Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
    Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
    I reread Tuck Everlasting as an adult in my Children’s Literature college class. It was fun to analyze it from a different season in life.
    In my early teens I devoured Gothic romance novels by Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney and Dorothy Eden.

  16. Steve Laube September 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

    I grew up a voracious reader. Anything I could put my hands on. I’d even walk to the public library to pull books off the shelf to see what was in them.

    My mom reminded me that at one point all I would read were sports books, in particular the Chip Hilton novels (all of them).

    But one book in particular stands out as capturing my imagination. THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne. Read during a family vacation I still remember the tension as that story unfolded. And I had not read 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA so had no idea who Captain Nemo was…

    • sally apokedak September 3, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

      Yes! Mysterious Island. Loved it so much. And I hadn’t read 20k Leagues Under the Sea, either. Oh man, it was such a good book. I wanted to be on that island.

  17. Kathy N. September 4, 2013 at 5:22 am #

    “I don’t even remember Nebraska.” That could be the greatest review ever.

    The first novel that ever impacted me that way was “Mrs. Mike,” the story of Katherine Mary O’Fallon by the Freedmans

  18. Peter DeHaan September 4, 2013 at 3:54 pm #

    Wow, that song list was a trip down memory lane!

    The first novel I read was Treasure Island. I was too young for it at the time and it wasn’t until a couple years later that I reread it an actually followed it.

    I now make sure to watch every movie based on the book — and then grumble because they don’t follow the story line closely enough!

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