Are You a ‘Gateway Reader’?

My high school’s D.A.R.E. program (a well-meaning, misguided, state-funded attempt to keep kids off drugs) used to use the term ‘gateway drug’ to describe any drug that appeared harmless (cigarettes, pot, leaning in too close to one’s magic markers), but inevitably led to other, more dangerous narcotics (crack, crystal meth, permanent markers). In recent years, I’ve begun to rework the ‘gateway’ moniker to fit the needs of my own vice of choice — books.

Gateway Books are books that are so darned good that they make you want to read any and all the other books name-dropped within.

One of the first gateway books I remember coming across was S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’. Not only did I pick up some random Robert Frost in hopes of finding ‘Stay Silver’ and ‘Stay Bronze’ (his lesser works), I also rented the videotape of ‘Gone With The Wind’ (the book looked too long and too boring to my fourteen year old self — and still does!). A decade or so later while reading all of the Elmore Leonard novels, I had an ongoing ‘secondary syllabus’ made up of all the crime fiction paperbacks Leonard had his characters reading.

The ultimate Gateway Book for me, though, has been Mike Davis’ ‘City of Quartz’. Davis, a Los Angeles historian with a photographic memory and a gift for finding the threads that bind seemingly disparate subjects together, had me watching film noir classics like ‘Detour’ and ‘The Big Sleep’, gobbling up the South Central-centered pulp fiction of Chester Himes, the dark, satiric, science fiction of Aldous Huxley, and becoming a salivating fan boy at the altar of Joan Didion’s 1960s suicidal California travel lit. I’m not exaggerating — I literally spent an entire year exploring the books, movies and music mentioned in ‘City of Quartz’. If that ain’t the obsessive-compulsive behavior of an addict, I don’t know what is. [we have since ordered ‘City of Quartz’ for the library, and hope to have it soon!]

How about you? Do you have any ‘Gateway Books’ that sent you tumbling deeper and deeper down the reading rabbit hole? If so, please share them in the comments!
This blog written by Josh M.
Link to eBooks in Overdrive where available, here!
Elmore Leonard (some available in Overdrive, via CLAMS or other MA library networks!)
Robert Frost-bio, and links to some of his poems, here.
Aldous Huxley, ‘Brave New World’ ebooks here.




3 comments on “Are You a ‘Gateway Reader’?

  1. Laura Ford, Youth Services Librarian says:

    Hi Josh! I am totally a gateway reader, love your terminology. Children’s book often mention other books, and we’ve done book club reads that way. For instance, in Rebecca Stead’s absolutely fabulous book “When You Reach Me,” the main character is constantly reading “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. We read one, and then the other and it was fabulous to talk about them both in the second meeting. Along with being a gateway reader, I’m a serial reader. If I stumble upon a new book I’ve never read before, I will read everything that writer has ever written, starting with the first published. Sometimes you can notice the writer improving at their craft that way, which is wonderful. Thanks for your great article.

    1. Sue Henken says:

      That is great! That is true on children’s books-and those are two great ones

  2. Laura Ford, Youth Services Librarian says:

    AND of course I forgot to mention that both A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me are available in Overdrive!

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