OK, where do I start with that?

OK, where do I start with that? D.

One of the questions I often get asked when I talk about a writer is where would be a good place to start reading them. This series of alphabetical posts tries to answer that in the form of personal recommendations, working along my bookshelves in alphabetical order. Please add any writers I’ve forgotten or don’t know, please feel free to argue with my choices and with each other’s if you don’t agree.

A is here, B is here, C is here.

D begins for me with Roald Dahl, and has since I was eight years old. If you are eight years old, or perhaps anywhere under twelve, you can begin as I did with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or these days I’d suggest Matilda, the book that makes the ideal gift for a reading child in a non-reading family. If you are over twelve, especially if you are a young adult, his Tales of the Unexpected is the best place to start. But the book of his I have most enjoyed as an adult is his autobiography, which begins with, Boy.

Ellen Datlow is an editor who has produced many excellent anthologies. Probably the best place to get a good feel for her is with her series of adult fairy tale anthologies, and I suggest starting with Black Thorn, White Rose.

With Avram Davidson, who was primarily a short story writer, you absolutely have to start with the Avram Davidson Treasury.

Grania Davis—it has to be The Rainbow Annals. It’s a very sweet fantasy from Indian mythology.

I joked that Anne de Courcy was my research assistant when I was writing the Small Change books, because she kept doing the research and writing the books that I absolutely needed. She’s a very good writer of biographies and social history. I recommend everything, but you might want to start with The Viceroy’s Daughters, about Curzon’s daughters, which has everything.

Most people should start Pamela Dean with Tam Lin. But you could do a lot worse than reading the Secret Country books first, and you must read them in order—The Secret Country, The Hidden Land, The Whim of the Dragon.

With Samuel Delany, I think his best book is Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, but it was written in the expectation of finishing the story in a sequel that isn’t going to happen. So I’d suggest starting with the brilliant and self contained Nova, or Babel-17. Actually, I think I’m going to say the same thing I do with Heinlein—feel free to start with anything where the book is less than an inch thick.

Charles Dickens—don’t start. No, that’s unfair. Great Expectations and David Copperfield are his least unbearable books, and where you should start if you feel you have to. The reason they’re less unbearable is because they’re first person and not the horrible version of omniscient he uses for most of his books.

Peter Dickinson—anything. He’s brilliant. OK, his terrific SF novel Eva, or his alternate history King and Joker. Most of his work is either mystery or children’s books. But you can’t go wrong with him.

For Thomas M. Disch, I’d suggest starting with Camp Concentration, arguably his best book and certainly a good test for whether you’re going to want to read more.

You can start Cory Doctorow pretty much anywhere, but I suggest Little Brother, because I like it so much.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, definitely Crime and Punishment. He’s one of those classic writers where the consensus canon-formers were right.

Margaret Drabble is a British women’s writer, by which I mean she’s a feminist writing about women’s lives and loves over the last forty years. I’d suggest starting with The Realms of Gold, which is actually literally about adultery in Hampstead, but it’s also about class, family, depression, Africa, and the pleasure of chopping vegetables.

Diane Duane, definitely definitely So, You Want to be a Wizard?

Alfred Duggan wrote historical novels in the second half of the twentieth century. Most of his work is medieval, with one Hellenistic and a handful of Roman novels. I like his Roman ones best, and would suggest starting on The Little Emperors (the end of Roman Britain) or Three’s Company (The second Triumvirate.) They’re in print in nice editions after years of being hard to find, buy them while you can.

Most people probably start Daphne du Maurier with Rebecca, but I usually suggest starting with The Scapegoat, a book that does everything right. It’s about a man with a double who takes over the double’s life, and I can’t believe I haven’t written about it yet because I read it all the time.

Back to science fiction with J.R. Dunn, who wrote the excellent and almost unbearable Days of Cain. That’s definitely the most memorable, and so probably where you should start.

Most genre readers should start Dorothy Dunnett with King Hereafter. It’s fantasy to the point of having accurate prophecy, it’s a historical novel set in Orkney, Scotland, Scandinavia and England in the decades before 1066, with Vikings, Canute, and nation-building. It’s also based on the true story of Macbeth. The other advantage over Dunnett’s other work is that it’s complete in one fat volume. Otherwise, start the Lymond series with Game of Kings. If you like Guy Gavriel Kay, you will like Dunnett. She’s been very influential on historical fantasy in general.

You should start Lord Dunsany with his short stories. If you like them, you can find the novels later.


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.

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