The First Book You Fell In Love With

Parinita Shetty

May 08, 2018

Do you remember the first book you fell in love with? Was it as a child – when every idea was fresh and you were excited about experimenting with stories and writers you had never heard of? Was it as an adult – after several doomed attempts at finding The One before finally stumbling upon a book which set your brain alight? Since I’m a certified Book Person, I often find myself speaking to both friends and strangers about the books they love. Favourite books indicate pivotal points in a reader’s journey. But the very first book which expands your mind – in the way only certain books can – plays a crucial role in shaping your reading life.
first book
For me, it was Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series. Before I read The Enchanted Wood, my story diet had been limited to fairy tales, folktales and fables, mythological narratives, and the anonymous assortment of moral stories which populated most shelves. Blyton showed me the possibility of stories, of the “Wait, stories can do that too?!” variety. Even now, my favourite kinds of books are those which turn my brain upside-down; the ones which evoke wonder and delight at their sheer audacity either of format, style, the combination of ideas, or just an all-around sense of bonkersness. Which is why, despite all the arguably valid criticisms of Blyton’s writing and worldview, her books are still my preferred comfort reads.

Lubaina Bandukwala, wearer-of-several-book-related-hats, also lists Blyton as a significant influence. She credits Blyton not only with transforming her into a lifelong reader – “I don’t know if I would have picked up books in the same way if I’d stuck to The Panchatantra” – but also with sparking an interest in food and cooking. Blyton’s culinary descriptions are legendary. Bandukwala loved The Secret Island and continues to keep it at her bedside to occasionally dip into. “The idea of escaping to an island, living by yourself and being resourceful always appealed to me,” she says. Growing up in Hyderabad with a bunch of Blyton-loving friends, Bandukwala lived the books – be it by forming secret clubs which met under the local mango tree or by reimagining the massive boulders which dotted the landscape as abandoned ships to be explored.

Sports journalist Tanuj Lakhina wasn’t an avid reader growing up but can still remember reading Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series. “It was the sheer imagination and easy reading that kept me going,” he remarks. “As a reader back then, and even now, the author’s style and pace of writing makes a lot of difference in whether I will stick with the book(s) or not.” Voracious reader Esha Rihal remembers reading several of Blyton’s short stories before discovering The Famous Five. “My favourite bits were the adventures of the five in strange, remote places,” she explains. “George was my favourite because I was pretty much a tomboy like her.”

Writer-illustrator Lavanya Karthik’s earliest book-sweetheart was an English translation of When Daddy Was A Little Boy by Alexander Raskin. “But that affection was nothing compared to the feeling of discovering the books of James Herriot when I was twelve,” she gushes. Herriot led her to other beloved authors such as Gerald Durrell and Nevil Shute. She continues to pick up Herriot books to relive their humour and the quiet life he so lovingly documents. “Here was a man writing about what he knew and loved deeply, and it shows in every book in the series,” she explains. “But the stars of the books are the animals he treats, or meets, in his line of work. Each one is a character!”

Editor Nimmy Chacko was a painfully shy and lonely child for whom books became her refuge the moment she learned how to read. She has vivid memories of two early titles. “One was a book of short stories called Snip, Snip, Snip and Other Stories,” she recalls. “That was my first encounter with realistic fiction. They were about bullies, tuition teachers, sibling rivalries, friendships, navigating parent-child relationships … fun to read and extremely accessible.” The other one – a big hardback named Troll with dark watercolour illustrations – was vastly different from anything she had previously encountered.  “I remember not liking the stories first – this alien world of troll folklore that didn’t seem to have any type of magic that I recognised or even names that I could pronounce,” she describes. “But I continued in morbid fascination and curiosity until I was rereading bits hungrily. I still don’t know if I loved the book. But my mind was certainly blown.”

Interestingly, teenager Teesta Rawal doesn’t have a childhood favourite despite being an avid reader while she was growing up. “When I was younger I just read what my mother recommended,” she explains. “I didn’t fuss much and there was rarely anything I didn’t read.” Reading, however, came to a grinding halt during her last few years in school. “As an adult I picked up reading again only in the second semester of college after having stopped for nearly four years,” she says. It was My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff which finally managed to break through her sudden disinterest and rekindle her love for reading. “It was one of the most beautiful books I’d ever come across,” she enthuses. It also resulted in her being drawn to memoirs in general along with a newfound preference for nonfiction books.

So why would you want to reread long-ago favourites you’ve most likely outgrown? It could just be in a burst of nostalgia, as Rihal acknowledges. It could be to question aspects which made you exclaim as a child, as Lakhina points out. It could simply be because you still enjoy reading them, as Bandukwala and Karthik assert. Or it could be, as Chacko maintains, “because there’s just so much joy in rediscovering the things that shaped your childhood.”
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Parinita Shetty likes books, board games, blanket forts, and cake. She dislikes procrastinating but not enough to actually stop doing it. She works with children's books in different ways and has managed to write a few too. She should currently be writing but is probably watching Doctor Who. You can reach her on Instagram.