Personal Canon or the books with damaged spines.

So books that are part of who I am... books I have read and re-read and sometimes now don't agree with but books that are pivotal in making me who I am.

 

Well three foundation texts are:

 

The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis (younger me used to love The Last Battle, these days not so much) - got it as a gift at about seven as a boxed set.  They're read to bits.

 

Witch-World by André Norton and Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey were both given to me when we ran out of age-appropriate books in the house for me and I was bored (and unbeknownst to my parents reading some of the adult stuff and definitely not getting a lot of it).  A neighbour, Betty, a Librarian on a sabbatical, the wife of a college lecturer from America, and avid SF reader gave these to me.  I devoured most of both series that were available in the early 80s.  These days the Dragon/Rider sex makes me a little twitchy.  I'm much more likely to recommend DragonDrums to a new reader.  They're SF because Anne said so.  They contain fantasy elements but the books are core SF, yes Dragons but Science Dragons.  There's also a minor debate about whether or not it's because Anne was female that the books have been "relegated" to the less serious fantasy realm.  André Norton is sadly sidelined.  Hugely successful in her day and I still grab books by her when I find them.  We have always been here, muddying SF with our femaleness.

 

I will also argue, until I'm blue in the face that Juveniles by André Norton and Heinlein were the precursors of YA.  Judy Blume was the first to write mainstream Teen but SF was there first.

 

Betty did give me others but André Norton and Anne McCaffrey have always been staples in my re-read shelves, and most of what I remember from then.

 

So yes, my first experiences of Fantasy and SF were largely female.  

 

Then there was Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising where I liked the first few books but felt betrayed by Under Sea, Under Stone.  The film wasn't the books and held none of the numinous otherness I felt while reading.  That feeling of legendary other that was just around the corner. That was the year I went to my grandmother's in Dublin; at about 15 and despaired of reading any of my English Teacher's dry list of classics.  A girl, a neighbour of my grandmother, was reading it from her English Teacher's list.  I finished it in a few days.  In retrospect I should have got the rest of her list from her.  At about the same time Robin the Hooded Man was on TV, it made me think about religion in different ways.  I have always been a person of trees and forests.  One of my favourite reading places was in the crook of an old Chestnut tree opposite our house where there was a little platform and I was surrounded by green.

 

I spent a lot of pocket money in some excellent bookshops in Galway. Charlie Byrnes' is probably the only one left.  The Pedlar and the Mill Bookshop were places I regularly visited.  The Mill bookshop used to go to Germany, to the US army bases and buy up their discards, 

 

Julian May's The Many-Coloured land (deft interweaving of myth, time-travel and complex politics) ;

Judith Tarr's Isle of Glass (Elves in medieval history);

Katherine Kurtz's Deryni Rising (magic in a vaguely european past with complex politics, and sadly neglected for GRRM);

David Zindell's The Broken God (which made my mind stagger in a good way)

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sharra's Exile (alien planet with people with psychic powers who have built an interesting society and I really should do a re-read, Darkover is good, MZB's politics and personal stuff not so much)

Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen - horses, adventure, magic.

Tamora Pierce's Alanna: The first Adventure (the UK covers were horrible) a girl fighting for her right to be herself.

Georgette Heyer's Black Moth - ah, finely crafted romance with research.

Richard Hooker's M*A*S*H* - yes the sexism is very very dated but the comment to Spearchucker stuck about how Hawkeye was entitled to not like some black people because they were people he didn't like, not because they were black.

and Terry Pratchett's Mort (my favourite suggestion of where to start in the series) all date from then, my college years.  Along with several other writers, many of them female. 

So, looking at this, you might understand why I look at people a little askance when they tell me that they only read men at the time.  This was the 80s and the 90s when I was doing all this reading, this formation of my roots in genre.  I was well known in college for having a locker full of books that I was willing to lend to people.

 

This will get more editing later and links to the books.

 

 

 ETA: How could I forget Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, I had a copy that had some very nice somewhat woodcut-esque drawings inside that I copied and The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S Tepper.  And Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Blue Sword - oh man I wanted to be Harry so hard. I also had read M M Kaye's The Far Pavilions at about the same time and I got the Indian colonial aspects of Blue Sword.  I liked The Far Pavilions but much more enjoyed The Ordinary Princess. 

Another work I really liked was Ngaio Marsh's Light Thickens.  I read it the year I did my Leaving Certificate and Macbeth was on the curriculum, that book saved my sanity during study and helped me understand more about it.

 

 ETA 2: Noel Streatfeild's Ballet Shoes - I still say that this wouldn't be written today. A Girl! A Mechanic! with no romance or bonus makeover to get her out of her overalls to clearly announce that she's really female. Nope, can't believe it would happen.