When I was a junior in high school, we got a new drama director. She was young, just out of college, and full of ideas and enthusiasm. She also taught English in a bohemian basement classroom, huge and cavernous with tapestries lining the walls and bean-bag chairs. One day she handed me a book, Ender’s Game, and told me “don’t be put off by the cover — this is one of the best books you’ll ever read.” She was absolutely right, and I paraphrase her words to me daily as I try to hand-sell that modern science fiction classic to customers at my bookstore.
Her gift to me was two-fold: One, she introduced me to a book I loved instantly and which continues to be on my Top Ten List as an adult (along with its sequels, the Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind) and two, she opened the door for me into an entirely new genre which has shaped which books I seek out and directed which subjects interest me, even outside of literature.
Before I read Ender’s Game, I had no idea science fiction could be, should be, anything more than aliens and spaceships. I didn’t disdain sci-fi — I loved fantasy growing up and I often considered them brother and sister in the literary world — but I certainly was intimidated by it and had tried my hand at reading maybe half-a-dozen novels in the genre before: Asimov, Bradbury, with nothing really ever quite sticking. Suddenly I saw these stories in a new light, in a way that made them appeal to me. I saw how the fantastical and fictional elements combined with the real to create portraits of the world not as it is, but as it might be. I saw myself in Ender, in Petra, in Valentine and even in twisted Peter, and suddenly science fiction seemed like a world I understood, that spoke to me.
I am forever grateful to that teacher, who probably has no idea how much her off-handed recommendation meant and still means to me. The right book being handed to you at the right time in your life — there’s a strange and exciting alchemy in the creation of a book-lover.