I'm a comfort zone reader. I learned to read at age 4, but I didn't even find out the YA section of the public library existed until I was 11, and all the way into my mid-20s, YA remained my almost exclusive domain. I simply could not shake the certainty that outside of The Classics, adult fiction was all dreadfully boring, a conclusion I had drawn from basically everything that had won a literary prize and/or been assigned in school that was published after about 1950.
However, here and there I'd stumble upon a plot summary so irresisitible that I had to give it a try, even if it WAS a stupid adult book, and gradually I did that more and more until the balance shifted. I still avoid the heavy literary novels, but there are so many kinds of adult fiction that I have been able to establish a new comfort zone, mainly in thrillers and what you might call women's fiction. I never would have gotten there without the help of these "bridge" books.
It is worth keeping in mind that, TXF aside, I still did not try any of these prior to age 19.
(I did read some actual current adult books in high school, but none were transformative or stayed with me over time)
1. TV tie-in novels, specifically X-Files and CSI
One surefire way to get my attention? Extra "episodes" of my favorite TV shows.
2. A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle
Compulsively readable adventures of a British expat living in the south of France. While nonfiction in general was always more approachable for me than fiction for an adult audience, my interest in memoirs had previously been limited to the pet and vet variety, so this was a pleasant surprise. Aided in part by the fact that French was my language of choice in school.
3. Flying Changes - Sara Gruen
Thought I'd died and gone to heaven when I found a real honest-to-goodness horse book for adults. It is still my favorite of hers, even over the book that this is a sequel to (which I read second). I don't care how many people who fell in love with her big-name books come back to disparage it.
4. The Lost Diaries of Iris Weed - Janice Law
I only read this because it was mistakenly reshelved in YA by a library page, but I got sucked into the mystery right away and have never forgotten this title.
5. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - Marina Lewycka
It's not that this is a super special book so much as that this novel was assigned for a sociology class in my final semester of college, and I was shocked by how easy and fairly fun it was to read compared to the novels I was usually assigned. I genuinely didn't know adult fiction could be this way.
6. Model Student: A Tale of Co-eds and Cover Girls - Robin Hazelwood
There are some dark bits in this, but it was surprisingly engaging for a book my mom had checked out of the library. For a while, I thought that chick lit* was going to be my adult-fiction wheelhouse (*a distinct, younger-skewing and less serious subsidiary of the women's fiction I now enjoy).
7. The Shopaholic series - Sophie Kinsella
Speaking of which: I was inspired by the movie first, but out of all the books on this list, these read like fluffy YA novels the most. (I only read books 3-6 before feeling like I'd outgrown them, but 4 grown-up books by a single author gave me a significant push along the path forward.)
8. The Devil Wears Prada - Lauren Weisberger
But now that I think about it, the whole reason I felt like I could read the books in the two previous numbers was because earlier, I had tried this one on a whim -- if I recall, it was because I'd wanted to see the movie but missed my chance to do so -- and was, once again, surprised by how easy and fun it was to read.
9. Paper Hearts - Debrah Williamson
I picked this one specifically because it was recommended on a list of "adult books teens will love." I wasn't a teen, but I figured I still thought like them, so close enough. It was wonderful -- an elderly widower with a dog takes in a homeless runaway teen, and they learn to depend on and help each other to keep social services for both at bay -- and I still own it.
10. The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
A single sample chapter of this hooked my attention at age 24, and by the time I'd read the entire book, I emphatically declared it the best book I'd read that year and also the best grown-up book of all time, so I consider this the most major turning point in my willingness to examine adult fiction.
Your turn! What titles first or most helped YOU transition into the world of grown-up books?
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