Being snobby about books might be my fatal flaw but if I’m going to spend so much time committed to reading, then I want it to be worthwhile. Sometimes you can just tell that a book needed more time to mature or that the author is good but shouldn’t have made this their debut. The books I think make the best debuts are the ones that are so good I’m shocked to find out that it’s the first book an author has published. Those are the books that make this list.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book can be polarizing because Safran Foer's writing style is not run-of-the-mill, but that's one thing I always liked about it. He has an incredibly unique voice and I like how it changes throughout the chapters. The history of how the novel came to be is also really interesting—it's loosely based on Safran Foer's own experience, but largely fabricated because his own trip to Ukraine wasn't particularly fruitful. When it was published, it was captivating that a young writer was able to develop such a clear and unique voice and it earned him a lot of acclaim for this story about one man's search for the Ukrainian woman that saved his grandfather from the Nazis.
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels
Michaels was a published poet before taking on prose with her debut novel. And it shows. The language used to set the story is, simply, poetic. It’s a fictional account of a boy who escapes Nazi persecution, so, from the get-go, it's an emotional book, but it's one worth reading. It's well-developed and captivating.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
If nothing else, The Hobbit has to be appreciated as the beginning of what is arguably the greatest fantasy series of all time. But on its own, it's a great story and a much more accessible read than The Lord of the Rings trilogy and an impressive first novel at that. Bilbo Baggins goes on an adventure that takes only the bravery of stepping out his front door to begin. It has dragons, trolls, wizards, and is a finely crafted tale. Tolkien technically wrote material before The Hobbit, but it was published posthumously, making this his first published novel.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
I love the way Smith tells stories about relationships and White Teeth was a stunning way to kick off a career doing just that. The way the stories intertwine hark to the way our lives intertwine in reality, even if the book itself does feel very novel. Set in North West London—where the author was born and raised and still lives—it charts the connected lives of two families and the discovery of family secrets that bring false realities crashing down. Another family history of sorts on this list (sensing a theme), but it's surprising and lovable and so are the characters that plod the story along.
The Weight of Silence by Catherine Therese
As a non-Australian, it can be difficult to understand the very regionally specific lingo, but the author is talented and takes you on a journey through her childhood that was impacted by anxiety, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy. Some chapters are almost onomatopoeic and others are very stream-of-consciousness, but there’s an obvious clarity in the writer’s voice and what they mean to convey on the page. It was only published in Australia and is no longer in print. Because of this, or maybe because I am a book hoarder, I bought multiple copies from Amazon, which is the only place you can get it.