Discovering Diana Wynne Jones

This one day when I was in middle school (I can’t remember if I was twelve or thirteen or eleven or what), I was at the public library looking through the plays, which were located near the young adults section. I used to feel terribly grown-up and sophisticated looking at the plays, which were mostly Chekhov, Shaw, and Shakespeare. I rarely checked any of them out, except for this copy of Romeo and Juliet that also contained the book for West Side Story, and this copy of Pygmalion that also contained the book for My Fair Lady. As I was sauntering casually away with Pygmalion, reading it while I walked, I glanced up to see if anyone noticed that I could walk and read classics at the same time, and my eye fell on this book on the display shelf called The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

I read a lot of fantasy at that time in my life, most of which I was a bit ashamed of because I thought it was too young for me or else way too old. I ever-so-quickly snatched The Tough Guide off the display shelf and slipped it into my bag. Quickly because I was at that age where you feel like you are constantly being watched by a snide, unhelpful version of yourself that does not think much of you and will probably tattle. I got it home and read it straight through. Twice. Completely ignoring Pygmalion and laughing my head off. Then I started writing a story that was more or less completely stealing from Diana Wynne Jones (I am, to steal a phrase from her again but at least acknowledging it this time, bleached full of shame that I did this, and then showed it to people); and I also went back to the library and ran a search to see if she had written anything else.

Back in the day, before my library switched to a fancy new computer system, they had a fairly simple computer catalogue. You typed in your search terms, and the computer brought up a list of books they owned that would fit the terms. Any book held at the branch you were at would be highlighted in yellow.

I have this very clear memory of seeing the results pull up for “Jones, Diana Wynne”. There was a full page of results, all highlighted in yellow, which is the kind of thing I always hoped for with new authors but rarely got. My finger hit N accidentally, for Next, and the computer pulled up another full page of results, and then another one after that. In retrospect, this was one of the most good moments of my reading life, but I was fairly blase about it at the time. When I was younger, it seemed like there are a limitless number of authors to be discovered, with limitless backlists of books for me to read; it’s only as a grown-up that I’ve noticed what an amazing event it is when this happens.

It’s a shame you can’t know straight away when an author’s going to be your new favorite, and savor each moment accordingly. I almost never feel, looking back, that I welcomed my favorite authors with anything like the enthusiasm they deserved. But I do remember that moment at the computer (I remember which computer!), with all those books highlighted in yellow. For a small moment, it is extremely distinct in my mind.

For those of you who know Diana Wynne Jones already, how did you find her? Or do you cherish a memory of discovering a particular author for the first time?