Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week we’re talking about the books for our younger selves…
I’m using this prompt as an excuse to look back at books I loved when I was younger, but I that I hesitate to revisit. While many of my childhood favourites stand up well to a reread, my adolescent faves tend to disappoint. It’s hardly surprising: my tastes have changed significantly over time, and as a teenager living abroad with limited access to books in English I was often just happy to lay my hands on a book I hadn’t already read half a dozen times.
So here’s to the books that I retain some nostalgic affection for, but doubt I’d love if I read them for the first time now. Let’s start with a few that I’ve tried to reread relatively recently and have decided were much better in hindsight.
Dragonlance – Weis & Hickman et al
I still get a thrill from Dragonlance artwork, but I didn’t relish revisiting Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It is a fun pastiche of a D&D game for anyone who has played in one and my attachment to the characters endure, but I find the execution unbearably clunky now. Kit tho. She might still tempt me into another reread.
The Wheel of Time – Robert Jordan
The tropes are strong with this ageing giant of the genre, which bothers me less than Jordan’s irritating take on gendered behaviours. But it goes on and on and on. And on. And on. And on. And on. I outgrew them before Jordan died, so I’ve never read the final book… but I want to see the show. The casting gives me hope they’ll improve on the source material.
The Apprentice Adept – Piers Anthony
Oh, my teenage self, I won’t judge you too harshly. This blends an SFnal game narrative with a fantasy whodunnit and had bonus unicorns, so I understand the appeal. I also had so much yet to learn about SF, but WOW THIS IS SO BAD. And it’s probably still the best of the Piers Anthony I read. The best thing about it is the spectacularly pulpy cover art.
Shannara – Terry Brooks
The original Shannara books are unavoidably derivative – enough so that I recognised it as a kid, although it didn’t bother me then. As an adult, it’s harder to find much to be engaged by; plus Brooks is terrible at writing women and great at patronising them, which (surprise!) just annoys me.
The Mayfair Witches – Anne Rice
I’m not sure you could be a teen girl in the 90s without reading Anne Rice. I was a Mayfair Witches girl (sorry Lestat), completely unphased by the fact that Basil Exposition is practically a character and the narrative is, well, wildly problematic. I would worry about my teen self, but she seems to have turned out okay (I may be biased).
But here’s the thing: you can never be sure. There are some books I adored as a teen that look like clangers on paper but still just about fly for me as an adult.
The Cats of Seroster – Robert Westall
Yes, it’s a Chosen One narrative, BUT Cam is a Super Reluctant Accidentally Chosen One and there are magic cats (spot the hook). In spite of some recognisable tropes, this is far from derivative; almost teen grimdark rather than the epic fantasy I typically consumed. If human women are poorly represented, the no-nonsense female cats more than make up for it. The Michael Praed-a-like cover art doesn’t hurt either.
The Warriors of Taan – Louise Lawrence
Gender wars and culture clashes dominate this YA SF title, which doesn’t bother to disguise its politics (green, feminist, pacifist, and deeply anti-colonial). It’s horribly gender essentialist, but I like that it focuses on teens figuring out what future they’re prepared to fight for rather than the inevitable conflict itself. Surprisingly resilient.
Let’s finish up with a few that I’m tempted to reread on the basis of those successes. The nostalgia is strong with these, which of course just makes the risk of a regrettable encounter with the suck fairy that much higher.
Duncton Wood – William Horwood
After Watership Down, I couldn’t resist an adventure with animal protagonists, so William Horwood’s tales of epic romance and religious persecution with moles were a shoe-in. I learned the hymns. I made fan art. I’m terrified to revisit these and discover they were terrible.
The Weathermonger – Peter Dickinson
A weather worker and his sister go on a dangerous quest to discover why Britain has embraced a new Dark Age after magic supplants technology (and sends our terrible British weather to wreck French harvests). Each book of The Changes focused on different protagonists and themes – I always loved the mythic adventure and magic of the first.
The Belgariad – David Eddings
Another pillar of the genre, Eddings was one of my go-to authors as a young teen. Looking back, it’s guilty of the gendered behaviours that annoy me about Wheel of Time, and Eddings basically rewrote the same story repeatedly so ended up being derivative of himself. But I recall the first two series had a lot of charm, and… well, I’m tempted. Although Ce’Nedra may make me gnash my teeth as much as she does.
What were your teen faves? Would you reread them now?