My husband, Gary, said if he hadn’t read Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) and The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway) when he was young, he might never, as an adult, have read his other two favorite books so far: The Shipping News (Proulx) and Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God (Coomer).
Why? Those books don’t really, on the surface, have anything to do with each other. Because, he said, the first two showed him what literature could do; they made him a convert for life.
Using Gary’s criterion–book(s) that first showed him what literature could do–I’ll name mine, discovered at an earlier age: Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, both by E. B. White. I got a booster shot in fifth grade from The Secret Garden (F. H. Burnett). So, still following Gary’s logic, I can say if it hadn’t been for those books, I’d never have read/enjoyed, for instance, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Foer) or Life of Pi (Martel).
I’m almost physically restraining myself here from naming additional favorite works of literature over my life. You have, I’m sure, gotten the drift. Feel free to be restrained or unrestrained if you want to name your lit-starter book(s) and/or recent fave(s).