My first experience with the magic of being swallowed by a book as a child was with "Paddle to the Sea" by Holling Clancy Holling, written in 1941! . It told the simple story of an Indian boy in Canada who carved a toy Indian in a canoe out of wood and placed it in a snowbank next to a river in the spring. The snow melted, and the wood toy was released into the river. The story follows the journey of "Paddle-To-The-Sea" down the river, through all five of the great lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, and finally onto the beach in Newfoundland. The toy is retrieved and brought to France by a journalist, and the Indian boy, now grown up many years later and living in Europe, recognizes his creation in a newspaper story he reads in Paris. The illustrations were simple, yet beautiful, and I read this story over and over!
As a teenager, I read all I could get my hands on when it came to the Golden Age of Science Fiction: Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury. As I got older, my tastes broadened, but I never lost my attraction to the strange and surreal. Haruki Murakami, the Japanese surrealist, currently tops my list. His "Kafka On The Shore" and the "Wind-up Bird Chronicle" are post-modern masterpieces. Ursula Le Guin's EarthSea cycle, written for young readers, captivated me years ago with a story of the original boy wizard, and her final novel "Lavinia" is a lovely, poetic recreation of an ancient Roman foundation myth told from the point of view of the Trojan Aeneas' daughter. Barry Unsworth, Margaret Atwood, and Philip Roth have all caught me in their webs; One of my favorite non-fiction titles of all time, written in 2001 by Nathaniel Philbrick, is "In the Heart of The Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex", a riveting account of true events in the 19th century that inspired Herman Melville's Moby Dick."
On my 'must read' list are "Shakespeare's plays! All of them. King Lear and Macbeth tower over all of Western literature, transcendent works which are of a piece with the greatest accomplishments in human history: Mozart's Requiem, Bach's Cello Suites, Michelangelo's David, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity.Perhaps more accessible are the works of the inimitable Dr. Seuss. If you haven't read him, you don't know children's literature!