When I write about an author, people often ask me where would be a good place to start with reading them, and these posts are an attempt to answer that. These are personal recommendations—I’m not trying to cover every writer in the world, just the ones I’ve read and have suggestions for. I’m pretty much going along my bookshelves in order. Please do add your own suggestions in comments for authors I don’t mention, and feel free to argue with me, and with each other, if you don’t agree.
This is the third in an ongoing alphabetical series—previous letters can be found here.
My C shelves begin, controversially, with Orson Scott Card, who was one of my favourite authors for a long time but whom I can no longer read. I started reading him with Hot Sleep and A Planet Called Treason in the early 80s, and I stopped in 1997, so I have read absolutely everything up to then and nothing since. I stopped reading him because he said in his book on how to write that the best way to get readers engaged was to have appealing innocent characters and torture them, and after that I kept seeing that he was doing that and it kept jerking me out of the story. Probably his best book, certainly his best known, and beginning a series, is Ender’s Game. It’s probably fair to say if you don’t like that you won’t like any of his work. If you prefer fantasy, Seventh Son begins the Alvin Maker series which is an alternate early America with folk magic. If you want a standalone, The Folk of the Fringe is a fix-up that contains some of his most powerful writing.
Terry Carr was an editor more than a writer, and while he was a pretty good writer he was one of the greatest editors the field has ever known. His taste is best represented in the anthology series Universe.
Lin Carter was also primarily an editor, though he wrote some fantasy which I cannot recommend at all. What you want is his anthologies of pre-Tolkien adult fantasy, fantasy from before fantasy was a genre. Start with The Young Magicians, if you can find it.
I’ve written about Raphael Carter’s incredibly brilliant The Fortunate Fall, which is the only place to start because it’s the only novel Carter has published. I hope there will be more one day.
Lewis Carroll—I think everyone starts with Alice in Wonderland.
Sarah Caudwell wrote four funny clever mysteries about barristers in contemporary London, which I read in entirely random order and came to no harm thereby. The first is Thus Was Adonis Murdered, but don’t hold out for it, as they’re not the kind of thing where order matters. You can read any one you happen to find.
Now we come to the immensely prolific C.J. Cherryh, one of my favourite writers who is still writing. Cherryh has written some difficult books, and some very odd ones, and she’s written a number of series, some of them with loose chronology. I’d suggest starting with either Rimrunners or The Paladin, depending on whether you like science fiction or fantasy. Rimrunners is part of the Union/Alliance series but it’s a standalone self-contained book. The Paladin is entirely standalone, and relatively upbeat. Another good place is The Pride of Chanur, which begins a series but has good closure.
G.K. Chesterton—for genre readers, definitely The Man Who Was Thursday. But what I really like is his poetry.
I started reading John Christopher when I was a kid, and I started with Beyond Burning Lands, the middle book of the Prince in Waiting trilogy. If you are 10, you could do a lot worse. I also loved the tripods books, which are sort-of sequels to a variant War of the Worlds—with mind control for all adults, so only teenagers can hope to save the world. Unlike every other writer in the world, when Christopher wrote a trilogy the middle book was always the best. These are definitely Young Adult or even younger, but none the worse for that. For adults, Christopher wrote a lot of cosy catastrophes, of which you should start with The Year of the Comet since it has the inestimable advantage of being in print. The best one is probably The Death of Grass.
With M. Tullius Cicero, the best place to start is the Selected Letters. Most editions of his letters arrange them by person, which is just annoying, but Selected Letters puts them in chronological order and is almost like reading someone’s blog. You definitely want to start with his letters rather than with his speeches or his moral pontificating, because you really need to be his friend—in all his pompous slightly uncertain vanity—before you’re prepared to put up with that.
I also began reading Arthur C. Clarke as a kid, and I can’t think it’s possible to do better than start where I did with the collection Time and Stars, or failing that with his Collected Short Stories. His most famous book is certainly 2001, and indeed so much Clarke is classic that starting with anything he wrote alone and before 1970 is going to work.
Susanna Clarke has so far written one novel and one short story collection. I first read her story The Ladies of Grace Adieu in Starlight and that made me eager for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell when it came out.
James Clavell—well, genre readers will certainly enjoy Shogun. There may be problems with cultural appropriation and with Clavell getting Japanese culture wrong, but as a portrait of a man utterly alone in a strange culture and coming to like it more than his original culture, it’s amazing. Shogun reads best as a first contact novel.
Michael Coney is easy—start with Hello Summer, Goodbye, which is just so good it’ll make you want to read his others. I should do a whole post on Coney soon.
Glen Cook—The Dragon Never Sleeps. And it’s back in print, huzzah. This is SF, and it’s excellent. He has also written lots of fantasy of a kind which I mostly don’t care for, but if you vastly prefer fantasy start with Chronicles of the Black Company.
Susan Cooper, well, the first book in the Dark is Rising series, Over Sea Under Stone, is considerably more childish than the books that follow. I generally suggest starting with the second, The Dark is Rising, which gives a much better feel for what you’re going to get. They’re all YA, but OSUS is the kind where you have to make allowances for that, and the others aren’t.
Jennifer Crusie, either Welcome to Temptation or Faking It. Both of these are funny, clever, and have enough other things going on that you won’t gag on the fact that you’re reading a romance. She’s amazing at dialogue and at the kind of humour that arises out of situations. She’s also good at things most people aren’t, like friendship, and kids, and what it does to family dynamics when your sister’s husband happens to be a drag queen.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.