Well, you knew I’d have to do this, and you knew it would be a weird list. But here goes, in no order and without overthinking it:
THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE by Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser). This made me a fan of the Shayne series, which I continued to read for years. That came in handy later on. Also, it was the first hardboiled private eye novel I ever read, before Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Richard S. Prather, and a host of other authors.
HOPALONG CASSIDY by Clarence E. Mulford. The first real Western novel I ever read.
HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL by Robert A. Heinlein. The first real science-fiction novel I ever read.
FANTASTIC FOUR #16 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I’ve told the story before about how a couple of my cousins gave me a stack of comics they didn’t want on Christmas Day, 1963. I loved them all, but this was my favorite, the issue that turned me from a comics reader into a full-fledged comics fan.
BABYSITTER’S GUIDE BY DENNIS THE MENACE by Hank Ketcham. The first paperback book I ever bought, in the pharmacy of the old Medical Arts Building in Fort Worth, sometime in 1961.
BIGGER THAN TEXAS by William R. Cox. The first adult paperback I ever bought, in a drugstore in Goldsmith, Texas, in the summer of 1963. (There’ll be a Forgotten Books post coming up about this one in the relatively near future.)
THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway. One of the few books I’ve read multiple times.
THE ROCKET’S SHADOW by John Blaine (Hal Goodwin). The first Rick Brant novel. I’ve posted about it before.
CONAN THE USURPER by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp. The Lancer edition that I bought brand-new in Barber’s Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth. When I read de Camp’s introduction and realized that a real author came from the same part of the country where I lived, it helped convince me that I could write books, too.
LONGARM by Tabor Evans (Lou Cameron). To bring this full circle, like THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE, LONGARM turned me into a fan of a series that has been very important to me. As in, more than two and a half million words important.
I could come up with others, but some of these would remain constant no matter how much the rest of the list changed.