In the April 2023 newsletter, I asked readers what the first adult book they had read was.

Here are the responses:

Kenicia: I think the first grown-up books I read were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights by the Bronte sisters. Wuthering Heights was my favorite of the two, but I enjoyed both. Most of my early “adult” books were classics. I did read many of Janette Oke’s books in high school, though. The first grown-up mystery I read (which is my go-to genre now) was Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters. I had started working part-time at my local library, and our head librarian introduced me to Elizabeth Peters’s books.

Jon: The first adult book that I remember reading was Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. My family has always been big readers and I inherited the fondness for books, and had read Tom Sawyer previously. I considered it at most a YA novel (to use the modern term). I was about 11 or 12 when I read Tom and was maybe 13 when I read Huck. Huck was much more mature and dealt with mature themes. I was kind of shocked at some of the words and descriptions that Mr. Twain used. It was years later that I realized what he was actually writing about in terms of inequality and racism. I loved the book and have read it several times over the years. The other adult book that I remember reading was The Deep by Mickey Spillane. This was about the same time as Huckleberry Finn. I remember taking it to school and getting told by my Study Hall/Home Room teacher that it was not an appropriate book to be reading at school. The book belonged to my Dad and he knew I was reading it, but should have warned me about taking it to school. I do think that by today’s standards, it was not all that bad (although the cover may have been a little risque). I don’t remember any really bad language or profanity, at most a few very mild curse words. It was probably the book that inspired me to begin my life-long love of mysteries and detective novels. This all happened in about 1962 or ’63 when I was in Jr. High or Middle School as it is called now.

Tracey: The King! Stephen, that is. And Agatha Christie. These were my mom’s books, so I would read whatever she did. I still have them all too

Christine: Hi Graeme,
I would have to say it was a handful of the Agatha Christie Murder Mysteries. I was reading them starting at age 16 and since I was living on my own by age 17 I would consider those my first adult reads 😊

Chris: I distinctly remember a couple of the first adult books that I picked up: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann and The Godfather by Mario Puzo. I don’t think my mother even paid attention to what I was reading, but one of our neighbors was pretty shocked to see me reading The Godfather. He felt that I was too young, at 13 or 14, to have a book like that. My best friend then borrowed the book and quickly returned it the very next day, as her parents, unlike my mom, were definitely paying attention to her reading choices! I don’t even know if she read it when she was older. Neither book was my cup of tea-I went on to discover historical fiction, which is still my favorite genre.

Vicki: I believe the first adult stories I read were Zenna Henderson’s The People science fiction series. I probably read the book as well, The People: No Different Flesh. I don’t know how many times I’ve re-read those. My aunt and mom were reading them, so of course I had to.

The other first book I remember from about the same time was one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. The lady I babysat for lent it to me. I can’t remember the title and haven’t found it again. I remember the plot and scenes that keep me looking for it, and thought I had found it recently. No, it was just a very similar plot

Louise: I cannot remember when I could not read. I loved to read and I would read anything, even the dictionary or encyclopedia after I started school. We were kind of poor and didn’t have books at home. When I was about 5, I decided I’d read my older sister’s school book. It had some awesome stories in it. However, because I was so young, some of the words I did not understand. I recall asking my Mom what pregnant was, and she wouldn’t tell me. That story didn’t make much sense to me cause I didn’t understand what pregnant meant. That’s the first time I remember being really, really angry with someone. And that was my first foray into adult books. After I started school, I read what we had to read in class, but I always went into the adult section in the library to get books for entertainment. I believe I started with Andre Norton’s books and went on from there.

I tell people this little story, and they don’t believe me. They say it could not possibly have happened that way. It is true. I swear it is. What makes the story even more weird is what happened much later. My sister was nine years older than me so she was in high school at the time. What completely floored me was the fact that when I was a senior in high school I had that same literature book. Honest. Course, I knew what pregnant meant by then. No surprises second time around. 😉

Jessica: My mother loves Stephen King and Dean Koontz. So she always had horror books laying around. My grandmother loved Danielle Steel books. I can’t remember my first adult book. I think it may have been The Client by John Grisham. Although I did try to read Christine when I was a teenager, but I never got to finish it. I also read a Danielle Steel book because it had the same name of a story I wrote. I didn’t like the book though. When I was tween, I read Sweet Valley High books and a college saga book series.

Ed: That thought takes me back a few decades. I must have been ten or eleven the first time I read an adult book. I have a wonderful memory of getting up on a Saturday morning to read “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank. The book is one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age (1959). I found the story fascinating and enthralled by the characters and the decisions they had to make to survive. Another book that made a memorable impression on me was 1961, “The Carpetbaggers” by Harold Robbins. I thought the whole story was a grand adventure, and the part about Nevada Smith is still one of my favorite reads today. For years, I could not get enough of Robbin’s writings.
I read anything James Michener wrote in my early twenties and still have great memories of the Centennial, Space, and Poland.

Vic: At my 3-to-the-fourth birthday dinner, my 22-year-old granddaughter asked for suggestions for her own “2-b-read” list and I went “old school” on her suggesting Rex Stout’s “Nero Wolfe” series. She’s bit of a mystery buff and I encouraged her to read them in order, starting with the first, “Fer de Lance.” She was taken by the fact that Wolfe is an orchid grower and that each book features a description of a fancy dinner meal. (I always enjoy henchman Archie Goodwin’s take on the leftovers.) As many times as I’ve read the series, each one easily holds my attention. The writing is skillful in construction and there is sufficient attention to detail to enable the reader to visualize the scenes. One of the most fascinating things about these books is that, despite having been provided all the clues, Wolfe is able to assemble them in a fashion that always confounds me. It’s also worth noting that, as much as I’d like to hurry through and find out “whodunnit,” I restrain myself in order to make the experience all the more enjoyable. I should note, too, that the continuation of the series by Robert Goldsborough is, for me at least, not as enjoyable. Although the writing is similar, there is a notable difference in the “flavor.”

Phoenix: The question this month had me stumped for a while. I’m 74 years old, so remembering back to the first adult book I read was a bit of a stretch. But, I’ll give it a go.
I read “Children of the Twilight,” by Emma-Lindsay Squier, published in 1924. That was a book of short stories about Alaska. I read “Silent Guests” by A. E. Forrest, published in 1927. A book featuring automatic writing.
Mostly, I was into poetry. I discovered Edna St. Vincent Millay and devoured everything she ever wrote. And Poems of Passion, by poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I still own all of these books, by the way.
I was greatly influenced by “St. Elmo,” by Augusta Jane Evans, published in 1866. Today, the quote at the beginning of the book makes me cringe, but back then…oh! Back then I thought it a lovely sentiment.

“Ah! the true rule is-a wife in her husband’s house is his servant; it is in his heart that she is queen. Whatever of the best he can conceive, it is her part to be; whatever of the highest he can hope, it is hers to promise; all that is dark in him she must purge into purity; all that is failing in him she must strengthen into truth; from her, through all the world’s clamor, he must win his praise; in her, through all the world’s warfare, he must find his peace.”
-John Ruskin”

Joann: Wow, this query brother back memories!
My first adult book was Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. My mom had finished reading and left it in the kitchen. I picked it up and was dumbfounded. It had sex in it! ( I was a preteen from a very conservative religious Maine family. The story was set in Maine, bonus! )
My aunt and uncle were visiting from away and my aunt came to say goodby. She saw me reading Peyton Place and was incensed. She blustered that it was an improper book for my age and she was informing my mother! Man, was I mad. Mom very said a word, I finished the book and a whole new world was opened beyond Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew.

William: My first adult book was Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. It was a gift from my Aunt Vicky. Now at 79 , I can still remember Lassiter returning for the showdown.

Sherri: Every Louis L’Amour book I could get my hands on. Was, and still am, a huge fan of westerns. At one point, years ago, my ex-husband installed shelves to house all of my books. We had an entire wall from top to bottom completely filled with paperbacks, almost all of them westerns. Years later I boxed them all up and offered them up at a yard sale my in-laws were hosting. Those books were the first thing to be snatched up.

Thank goodness for the invention of the Kindle. I do love an actual book in my hands, however, I can now re-read all of my favorites without the loss of space.

Rhea: Wow! My first adult books! I used to scour the Young Adult section, reading the classics by Judy Blume and others. When I read “Forever” by Judy Blume, I felt I had crossed over into another age group, probably because it had “adult content,” though the characters were teenagers. Later, I read “Wifey” and that seemed scandalous at the time. Having loved the movie, I read “Rebecca” by Daphne du Murier when I was around 12. Of course, there were the books assigned in school but these were of my own choosing.

Naomi: Well the first “adult” book I read was Gone With The Wind,
I was in seventh grade. Way too young.
I didn’t understand a lot of the situations. Then
I moved onto Harold Robbins. Way too young.
Warped me for life😂😂.

Barbara: Thank you for your work for book lovers. When I was in high school, I read “The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck for Junior English. My mother was a reader and had a good collection, so I chose it from her shelves. Since I was a teenager, I did not read the book. Only hit the “high spots” so I could make my book report. Once I grew up I learned I really loved reading. While I was working and had disposable income I bought books. Now that I am near 80, I borrow books from the library. I have 5-8 on hold at any given time. I use a lot of your recommendations for my selections. Many have become favorites but it’s about 50% that are never finished because they don’t hold my interest.

Brian: My uncle used to drop off books at our house when he finished them. The first “adult book” I can remember reading was “Ghostboat” by George Simpson. (The book name I remembered the author I had to look up). It was about a WW2 submarine it had everything a kid (in the 70’s) could like mystery, war, ghost and time travel. It opened a lifelong love of submarine, history, mystery and paranormal reading. I should look for a copy and reread it

Deana: My first adult book was a Mills and Boone romance, given to me by my Nan. I enjoyed the ones set in hospitals. I soon progressed to Agatha Christie again with my Nan’s guidance. This ignited my love of murder mysteries.

Joyce: Gone With The Wind. I was about 15 and was entranced by the strong female character. (Those were the days of “Father Knows Best” and subservient females on tv.) The book happened to end on the last line of the page and I was so engrossed that when I turned the page and realised it had ended, I was gobsmacked. Still am frankly!

Kelly: How about the first adult book that I ever tried to read? That would be The Fellowship of The Ring by JRR Tokien at the age of 8. (I was 8, JRR Tolkien was dead.)

The long description at the beginning of the book bored me. So I looked through the table of contents and saw a chapter called The Knife in the Dark. That sounded more like it, so I jumped to that. I was totally lost. I gave up. (I laugh now at the idea of anyone trying to read that chapter with no background on who the hobbits or the Nazgul are.)

I came back later in high school and have since reread the entire series several times, plus devouring The Silmarillion for the back stories.

Linda: Good question for this month. What is the first book you read as an adult? Now I guess you have to define adult? lol I am 74 and have been an adult for a really long time. I would say that I considered myself an adult when I was a teenager. I read adult books from then on. Hard to remember for sure, but I think the first book I read was “Snowfire” by Phyllis Whitney. From that point on I read all of her books, then all of Vicoria Holt books, then Mary Higgins Clark books and then all of Dorothy Eden books. Then I graduated to the adult library in school. Then came all of the Stephen King books. My diet of books kept advancing to more mature and more thrilling books.

Jenny: The best I can remember (this is going way back) some of the first adult books I read when I was a pre-teen were The Three Musketeers, The Grapes of Wrath, and Atlas Shrugged. It also seems to me some books are presented as children’s books and just aren’t, such as The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down.

Phil: Hi Graeme. The first adult book I ever read was John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-by. I liked the Travis McGee series so much that I went on to read all of the books in the series. MacDonald was a great storyteller. I’ve read a lot of his other novels as well, but the Travis McGee series books are my favorite of his.

Order of Books » Newsletter » Reader Mailbag: First ‘Adult” Books You Read

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