A Look Back at First Novels

Booklist’s Spotlight on First Novels has me feeling nostalgic. Long before I ventured into world of librarianship, I was an independent bookseller in the late 1990s. My naiveté allowed me to ignore the imminent threat that Amazon posed (and still poses) to my then-chosen profession.

Books had always been in my life, and recommending them for people to purchase seemed a natural fit. At the time, my partner and I knew we could never compete with the big chain stores virtually giving away the bestsellers at lower-than-wholesale costs. Instead, we decided to thumb through publisher catalogs and pick out gems we thought might do well. In most cases, these selections were debut novels from little known writers. Three titles in particular proved to be solid recommendations in the store and informed my drive to become a librarian. The authors themselves became widely known, and illustrate the struggle from first book to second.


The Archivist, by Martha Cooley
I read this nightly, fascinated with the workings of a closed, special library that kept the writings of T. S. Eliot and the story of the man hired to be in its care. The romantic in me reveled in the partnership formed between the archivist and a poetry student equally fascinated by the locked-away materials.







The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

By the time I ordered this now-classic title for the store, it already had a following. Eugenides’ prose filled my head with oddly atmospheric suburbs, moody walks, and unattainable relationships. One review publication (cough Booklist) pondered whether this first-time novelist could write outside his generation. I do believe we know the answer to that now.


In the Drink, by Kate Christensen

Christensen’s first novel may have been lost in the Bridget Jones’ Diary craze at the time of its 1999 publication. However, the story of a 30-year-old woman struggling live in New York while consuming copious amounts of alcohol hit closer to home for many readers. Consider this title the foundation for such current popular books as Sweetbitter and  Modern Lovers.



About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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