Childhood/teenage (when we we very young...)
What Katy Did, Susan Coolidge. Our copy was old and it might have been one of the books that Mum had acquired second-hand when she was much younger. And now I think about it (and have checked out a few reviews and synopses), gosh it was so preachy and moralising! Perhaps it should be called 'The Taming of the Tomboy'. I don't think I'll be suggesting this one to my niece. I've included this more as an example of many quite old books I read which included words, places and situations that were hard to understand. I remember often reading and rereading books that had these little mysterious bits in them that I couldn't solve (or sometimes misunderstood), and it sort of made them a bit magical. That's why I think it's sad that they translate books like Harry Potter into American English. That's a missed opportunity to learn about cultural differences, and preserve a bit of mystery.
Edited after more thought:
I've thought a bit more about this - considering the Harry Potter series were books that got a lot of people of all ages reading, some who otherwise didn't read much, perhaps there is a place for this sort of thing. One person's fun challenge could easily be another's insurmountable barrier. And I know lots of keen literary types in North America just made sure they ordered the British versions.
Boy, Roald Dahl. One of those ones everyone at school was talking about. I doubt anyone who read this has ever forgotten the scene where he had his tonsils removed in the dentist's chair, brutally, without any anaesthetic. Lots of blood. Harsh times.
Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park. With a girl from the present being drawn into the past it was so exciting. I also remember the spooky feeling of present day Sydney (specifically the Rocks district) being lightly overlaid over the past - probably more from the movie, which I remember Grandma taking me and my sisters to. In the movie Abigail was played a bit older and the romance side was more prominent.
The Changeover, Margaret Mahy. Teen supernatural romance, but nothing like Twilight. I think. I maintain that it was much more classy.
Z for Zachariah, Paul Beadle. I can't remember if this is any good but it gave me a taste for post-apocalyptic survival stories. (later favourites include the heartbreaking A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Stand, The Passage, Wool...I could go on)
Forever, Judy Blume. Another one of those books everyone at school was talking about! Educational. Mm hmm.
Swords and Crowns and Rings, Ruth Park. Beautiful, epic, heartbreaking, tragic and romantic story, dealing with tolerance and intolerance.
Either Christine or Cujo would have been my first Stephen King, the first of many scary books I have adored. It's a bit strange as I never liked/tolerated scary movies or TV shows as a kid/teenager. Throughout childhood I was terrified of Dr Who, even the sound of the theme music. I think my visualisation skills aren't that strong, so I don't scare myself too much when reading. And I am drawn to supernatural and other quirky stories. (I still read King, and these days a good example of quirky/scary stuff I love is Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series.)
Later on (now we are
Animal Farm, George Orwell. Sure, it's one we all probably had to "do" at school. I don't think I've read it since, but I plan to pick up this as well as 1984, again soon. And it turns out to be one of those 'how the world works' books. The punchline, 'all pigs are equal, but some are more equal than others' comes to mind so often. I may be over simplifying but I don't think it's just about communism or any particular political structures, but about human nature. We humans have to keep on grouping ourselves and defining who doesn't belong and isn't as good.
My traitor's heart, Rian Malan. The Power of One triggered a fascination with South African apartheid, then I came across this devastating book, where Malan uncovers many horrible things and tries to come to terms with his heritage. It used to seem easy to feel morally superior to the Boers and at one stage every Hollywood movie seemed to have a bad guy with an Afrikaans accent. But since then I've learned more about our own white settlement history (not least via the TV series First Australians) and can see the bigger pattern.
Guns, germs and steel, Jared Diamond. - a real a-ha moment, big picture of how and why 'civilisation' started and spread unevenly through the world.
The Gold Coast, Kim Stanley Robinson. In the opening scene, the characters travel on a highway system with linked driverless cars, and the idea has always stayed with me. The future takes so much longer to arrive than to imagine.
Death: the high cost of living, Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, Dave McKean. Intro to reading comics and intro to Neil Gaiman too.
Wonder Woman, George Perez, Len Wein, Greg Potter. Their run on the comic relaunched the character in 1987, and although I started collecting in the mid 90's, I also bought a lot of back issues. The look and feel and storytelling of this period of Wonder Woman (the first few issues are collected in a trade paperback called 'Gods and Mortals') is the best. How comics should be.
The Mirror of her dreams/A man rides through (Mordant's need), Stephen Donaldson. The first fantasy novels I was able to get into and it was thanks to the device of the main character starting out in the recognisable real/modern world and being pulled into the fantasy world. No idea if I would like it if I read it now, I haven't read Donaldson's other work but have been put off much more recently by hearing just how unlikeable Thomas Covenant is. A bit later on, I got deeply into Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionvar Tapestry which also used a similar device bridging the 'real' world and the fantasy one.
Electric Eden, Rob Young. Right time, right place - a growing interest in folk music of many kinds, a trip to the UK, and there was this book, on the shop shelf, calling to me. So much in it, I loved exploring all the connections as he casts a very wide net. I must reread it soon. Also probably find something along similar lines based in the US. (Any suggestions?)