OK, where do I start with that?

OK, where do I start with this? P.

This week our look along my bookshelves with recommendations for where to start with different authors gets to the prolific letter and fascinating letter P.

This is not a comprehensive list of all the writers who begin with P, or even all the genre writers. It’s a set of personal recommendations about where to start reading writers you may have heard about but never picked up. I welcome additions with recommendations, but please don’t just list names without suggestions—that’s pointless. I also welcome disagreement if you disagree about my suggestions, but please explain why you think your starting point would be better.

My P shelves begin with Susan Palwick, one of my favourite writers. If you prefer fantasy, start with The Necessary Beggar, if you prefer SF, start with Shelter (post).

Next comes Edgar Pangborn. If you haven’t read his classic A Mirror For Observers you’ve missed a treat, and I notice that the lovely small press Old Earth Books have an edition in print.

Alexei Panshin—definitely start with Rite of Passage (post).

For Dorothy Parker, try to get a collection that wasn’t edited by someone who hated her, the old Penguin one I own has an introduction that needs to be disregarded with extreme prejudice. Parker didn’t, as far as I know, write anything in genre at all, but she wrote astonishing sarcastic reviews and some lovely poetry. You can start anywhere. She’s well worth seeking out, even though I can tell you from experience that she was wrong about the glasses bit.

I started Tamora Pierce with Alanna: The First Adventure and wished I was eleven. My son loved these, and took all of them with him when he moved out. They are YA fantasy with good girls parts.

Marge Piercy is an American feminist writer and poet who has also written SF. Genre readers probably want to start with Woman On the Edge of Time (post). I’d start her poetry with Stone, Paper, Knife which is still my favourite collection.

I know books on bookshelves don’t really have conversations with each other, but if they could, I wonder what Piercy’s books would make of their long time companions on my bookshelves, the works of H. Beam Piper? It’s interesting to imagine their conversations. An imaginary alphabetical order dinner table starts here. With Piper, start with Little Fuzzy (post) or Lord Kalvan (post).

On the other side of Piper and considerably more laid back sits Robert Pirsig—start with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is surprisingly readable and surprisingly thought provoking. But you know how I sometimes say I loved something when I was twelve? I loved this when I was seventeen, and have no idea how it would read for the first time now.

Alphabetical order really works for me on this section of the shelf, because all ready to argue with Pirsig we have Plato. Start with The Symposium, which is fun and interesting and readable, and work your way up to the science-fictional Republic (post).

Plutarch’s Lives have been really stupidly published by Penguin Classics, putting them in historical order instead of matched pairs. Plutarch intended them to be read as one Greek and one Roman biography commenting on each other, and they work much better that way. MIT has them all online in alphabetical order and in Dryden’s translation. Start with someone who interests you, but do read them in their pairs.

Frederik Pohl, one of this year’s Hugo nominated fanwriters, has written and edited a lot of wonderful SF. Start with Gateway or The Space Merchants (with Kornbluth) (post).

I started Rachel Pollack with Unquenchable Fire, an astonishingly weird fantasy that’s like magical realism only with worldbuilding.

Definitely begin Jerry Pournelle with Janissaries (post).

There aren’t really many bad places to start with Tim Powers, but it’s hard to beat The Anubis Gates (post).

I’m going to let fans of the Discworld books slug it out in the comments, while I suggest that you start Terry Pratchett with the Johnny Maxwell books (post) or with Good Omens (post).

With Anthony Price’s Audley books you can start in publication order with The Labyrinth Makers, or in chronological order with the Hour of the Donkey, or with Other Paths to Glory or Soldier No More (post on the whole series). Those seem to me like the four sensible entry points.

Christopher Priest is a difficult one. He writes difficult literary British SF, and I haven’t read all of it. My favourite is Inverted World, which is very odd indeed.

Start Phillip Pullman with The Golden Compass.

Barbara Pym was an English writer of the later 20th century who wrote about villages, curates, middle aged ladies and other typical subjects of this kind of story with a kind of biting sarcasm that, at its best, became tragic and at its worst became catty. I’d start with Quartet in Autumn, but strongly do not recommend reading her complete works all in one week.

There will be no Q post, as my shelves have no Q authors. (If I ever had a nom de plume it would be in Q, for this very reason.) If you have any Q recommendations, this is the place for them.


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.

62 Comments

Subscribe to this thread