Books + Comics

In With the New

Books and comics about change, growth, transformation, transmogrification, transfigurement, transmutation, and stuff not staying the same.

White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
Joe Boyd
2007, Serpent’s Tail

This book is not really an account of music in the ’60s for a fan, or even a fan who loves music but is also OK with learning about some of their favorite musicians’ flaws; it’s an account for a historian, or a pretentious fan, or someone who never really got that the main guy in High Fidelity is supposed to be kind of lame. I wish I could love this book! I really do! But I think what’s nice about this time for music is that it was very much about people coming together, and White Bicycles makes it feel more like a club. A KERAZY club, where ROCK ’N’ ROLL things happen, and Joe Boyd fills you in on the JUICY DEETS, but doesn’t really describe what it was like to see or know musicians like Nick Drake or Eric Clapton do that thing that makes the rest of us their fans. Also, Boyd has a tendency to write about musicians’ girlfriends in this way where you can practically hear his eyeballs rolling, as if they were all awful Yoko stereotypes. To which, I roll my own eyes. —Tavi

Tamara Drewe
Posy Simmonds
2007, Jonathan Cape
2008, Mariner Books
2009, Jonathan Cape
Ongoing, The Guardian

Tamara Drewe is a weekly comic strip in the UK Guardian newspaper, about a journalist who returns to her childhood village after the sudden transformation of a facial feature (nose job). In this update of Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd, the British sensibility remains intact but becomes pretty damn funny, tender, and slightly less depressing than the 19th-century version. It’s hard to know whether to hate Tamara or to love her, and this is what makes it fun! Even more interesting are the people who surround her and how they react to her transformation—the side stories are perfection. I absolutely love Posy Simmonds’s illustrations, Tamara’s wit, and the accurate picture of English village life and all the gossip and middle-class scandal that can go with it. There’ve been three book-form collections made (see list above), but you can also read the strip for free on the Guardian’s website. —Naomi

Beebo Brinker
Ann Bannon
1962, Gold Medal Books

Beebo Brinker is considered an icon of lesbian fiction, and for good reason. A lot of pulp novels from the 1950s and 1960s had lesbians in them, but they were basically there to turn on straight guys. Lesbian characters weren’t allowed to have real, loving relationships without getting “saved” by a man at the end and/or being described as conventionally gorgeous and feminine. Until Beebo! Beebo Brinker was a full character—she was butch, and she was also witty and loving and vulnerable. She fell in and out of love and worked as a pizza delivery person, even though she was too smart for it, because they let her wear pants and she would rather do that than be forced into someone else’s idea of womanhood. Since this is a pulp novel, it’s also very DRAMATIC and amazing (at one point, Beebo has an affair with a movie star named Venus Bogardus). This book is the perfect mix of touching/important queer history and campy romance novel. —Amy Rose

A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan
2010, Knopf

This book bills itself as a novel, but I got more out of it by reading it as a series of interconnecting short stories. Egan follows, over the course of several decades, the lives of a vast expanse of characters who lives intersect in a bunch of big and small ways. She switches voices and format with ease—there’s a whole chapter told through PowerPoint, which sounds gimmicky but turns out to be weirdly poignant. Depending on your state of mind, this book might make you nostalgic for the past, anxious for the future, or wanting to savor the present; it might also inspire you to look up everybody you went to kindergarten with on Facebook. —Anna

Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties
Joyce Maynard
1973, Doubleday

As a teenager, Joyce Maynard wrote articles for Seventeen magazine. In 1972, The New York Times published her piece “An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back On Life,” which prompted a letter from J.D. Salinger. They became…penpals (he was 53). She moved in with him and finished her first book, this book, and she used the proceeds to buy a house (hello, how awesome is that?). This memoir is all about growing up in the 1960s. Doesn’t all this info make you want to read this book? —Sonja

Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman
Bill Zehme
2001, Delta

Andy Kaufman was (and remains, decades after his death) comedy’s ultimate weirdo. If you’re a Saturday Night Live buff, you might know him from that show’s very first episode, where he did a bit involving a record player and the Mighty Mouse theme song. The most amazing thing about Andy Kaufman, according to many of his fans, friends, and family, was that he was basically never out of character, ever. He transformed himself into his characters fully, to the point where people were never sure if one of his more famous personae, Tony Clifton, a cigar-huffing, tuxedo-ed Don Juannabe, was actually another real person or not. His imitation of Elvis was so spot-on that he was the King himself’s favorite impersonator. Author Bill Zehme does a beautiful and poetic job telling the story of this incredible person who could be just about anybody but himself. If you’re like me, you’ll cry at least four times while reading this book. —Amy Rose

Cracked Up to Be
Courtney Summers
2011, St. Martin’s Griffin

Parker Fadley is perfect: honor-roll student, cheerleader, incredibly popular. She’s a combination of the girl I wished I could be in high school, the girl I acted like I hated (because of the stupid law there seemed to be that punks like me couldn’t be friends with the cheerleaders), and the girl I really was. Like Parker, I was obsessed with getting the best grades and trying to make my life perfect. Eventually I snapped (I had a total nervous breakdown junior year over not feeling prepared for a history test), and so does Parker. She proceeds to drink at school, push everyone who cares about her away, and is on the verge of getting expelled because SOMETHING HAPPENED at a party that resulted in Parker’s friend Jessica disappearing. We get answers little by little, mostly through flashbacks. It’s an intense, page-turning, psychological read—like Stephen King except not a horror story, just real-life drama that could happen to any of us when the pressure gets to be too much. —Stephanie

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Judy Blume
1970, Yearling

Did your mother give this book to you when you were 10? Mine did. She was like, “I think you’re old enough to read this,” and I was like, “Whoaaa what IS this BOOK?” I loved it then and I still do! I love the dramatic conversations with God about Margaret’s daily life (ugh, like God cares about your period, I mean really now?), the “bust-increasing” exercises, the “Favorite Boy Books” (I keep a mental one), and Margaret’s funny commentary on being a sixth-grader. The book maintains this weird parallel between physical puberty (what’s happening to my body?!) and religious puberty (what is religion anyway?!). It’s hard enough to write a book about a girl going through puberty; but Blume raises the bar by taking on religion as well. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. is also sort of this cult classic, with the cult being ladies only. I feel like every girl has read this book, whether she had it handed down to her by her mother or she discovered it secretly in her middle school library one day. It’s a literary rite of passage that never ages! —Hazel

Will and Abe’s Guide to the Universe
Matt Groening
2007, Harper Design

Okay, so we know that Matt Groening is brilliant, given the fact that he is the guy responsible for The Simpsons. But were you guys aware that he’s been making something even more amazing, a comic strip called Life in Hell, since 1977? It’s sardonic, hilarious, and just wonderful overall – even Rei Kawakubo agrees with me! It’s been one of my favorite things on the planet since I snuck my aunt’s copies into bed when I was six. More recently, some of the best strips have been about Groening himself, as well as his two young children, Will and Abe. In this collection, you get to see them go from tiny babies to real little PEOPLE over the span of a few years. It’s actually pretty poignant, when it’s not busy being gross and hysterical—unsurprisingly, it turns out that kids like to talk about poop and monsters, a LOT, which is one of the few constants during this study of their growth. Definitely read this, for the funny and the moving. —Amy Rose

Native Funk & Flash: An Emerging Folk Art
Alexandra Jacopetti and Jerry Wainwright
1974, Scrimshaw Press

Someone asked me once, “Who is your style icon?” I blinked a “WTF?” and then said, “What the hell is that? ‘Can I wear these clothes biking in the rain?’ That’s my idea of ‘style icon.’” INVENT YOUR OWN STYLE. The beautiful people in this book (including a man named Pristine Condition!) will guide you. They are all so freaking original! Published in 1974, this rare book is PEASANT POWER TO THE MAX. It is page after page of psychedelic garment inspiration that will make you cry (and that many designers have helped themselves to, FYI). It doesn’t stop with handmade garments—there’s also a child’s playground made of macramé! —Sonja

The Book of Other People
Various
2008, Penguin

The Book of Other People is an anthology of 23 short stories by different artists (including Miranda July and Daniel Clowes), selected and edited by Zadie Smith. The assignment was simple but brilliant: “Make somebody up.” Some of the stories are great; some are just OK. But the book is SO PRETTY (the cover was designed by Charles Burns), and proceeds from its sale go to 826NYC, a group that teaches creative writing to kids. And there are comics! Pretty + noble + comics + Zadie Smith = all the reasons you need. —Emma D.

Freaky Green Eyes
Joyce Carol Oates
2003, HarperTempest

I’ve read this book so many times I can’t even count. It’s about Francesca (Franky) Pierson, a meek and naïve 15-year-old with a brave and impulsive alter-ego called Freaky. The novel follows Francesca as she copes with the relationship between her famous, abusive father and her quiet, artsy mother. Her mom grows more and more fragile, and her father more aggressive and dangerous, and then one day her mom just disappears. Then it’s up to Francesca and Freaky to piece together what really happened. I love this novel to death. Freaky is this cackling, snarky, no-bullshitting force inside of Francesca whom she discovered on the night of her 14th birthday, when Freaky gives her the strength to break free from an older boy who’s about to rape her. I think we all have an inner Freaky, but sometimes it takes something dark to unleash her. —Hazel

Drag King Dreams
Leslie Feinberg
2006, Seal Press

A confessional, first-person story about a drag king working at a downtown NYC club in the early 2000s, when the weirdo-queer scene was exploding there—sounds awesome, right? But I had a really hard time getting through the first 20 pages—the writing felt a little overwrought. I kept reading, though, and slowly, I felt it. I felt, deeply, the story of the narrator’s day-to-day transformation into a drag king, and how that wasn’t, to this person, a transformation, but just becoming who they really were. By the end, I really loved Drag King Dreams. I think you might too. —Amy Rose

41 Comments

  • fung-eyed April 12th, 2012 11:30 PM

    nice list! ‘take the canolli’ short stories by sarah vowell =;; (!)

    • rhymeswithorange April 14th, 2012 8:19 PM

      I love that one!! The Partly Cloudy Patriot is pretty awesome as well

  • anisarose April 12th, 2012 11:32 PM

    I’m tired of teens being expected to read books about other teens. Our lives are stressful enough so why would anyone want to read about more high school problems? I would recommend reading something that gives a very different view of life. Some of my favorites are The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Both amazing and the second one is true!

    http://anisarose.blogspot.com/

    • Tavi April 12th, 2012 11:42 PM

      i don’t feel very pressured to read about other teens at all. actually, i think i’m tired of being expected to only read/watch things about adults, because it’s all aspirational. i like reading about characters who i can relate to over teenage-specific things, too.

    • Yellie April 12th, 2012 11:44 PM

      Oh god I know!
      I’m all ready sick of my own contrariness and complaining… I’ve never identified with a teenage characters in a positive way, so I just tend to navigate away from the young readers section unless something finds its way to me.
      I think I’ve heard of The Glass Castle…not too sure though.

      • guiltfreedonut April 12th, 2012 11:57 PM

        The Glass Castle is one of my favorite books of all times. I totally suggest reading it to everyone!

        And Tavi, I completely agree with you. Thats why I love and relate to Rookie so much.

    • Tyknos93 April 13th, 2012 12:34 AM

      Ironically I had to read the Bluest Eye my sophomore year of high school. I’m not sure how I would have felt if I didn’t have to analyze that book to death, but being forced to read it made me despise that book and I LOVE Toni Morisson.
      I do love the film it’s based on, The Imitation of Life (both versions).

    • rhymeswithorange April 14th, 2012 8:24 PM

      I can see where you’re coming from but a lot of reading for me is connecting other’s lives to what I’ve experienced in my own life. Sometimes “teen books” can be a little trite in that way. I wholeheartedly recommend Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty for a hilarious, honest portrayal of being a teenager. And this sounds way cheesy but they really helped me be me- realize that being myself (my CHANGING self) and showing that to others was okay!
      They’re in my top 5 favorite books, ever! I would give these out to everyone to read if I could!!
      Man this is a novel- to everyone who read this, good day.

  • TheAwesomePossum April 12th, 2012 11:41 PM

    I want to write something for this month’s theme, but it kind of has a lot to do with Tavi. I mean, there were a lot of other influences that led to this change in my life, but I don’t want it to sound all “HOW TAVI GEVINSON CHANGED MY LIFE”. So would you guys be willing to accept something like this? (and are you even accepting entries any more for this month?)

    • Tavi April 12th, 2012 11:42 PM

      well gee, i’m flattered! we’re still accepting april submissions, but i don’t think i’d want us to publish something that self-congratulating. thank you though, yeesh!

      • dianeisnotmyname April 13th, 2012 6:08 AM

        Tavi, whenever people ask me who my inspiration is, I always sat you! This website is seriously one of the best things I’ve ever encountered (yes the word thing is vague).

      • 3LL3NH April 13th, 2012 9:34 AM

        Well, gosh Tavi, it’s true!

  • Adrienne April 12th, 2012 11:49 PM

    Yay! I’ve been looking for new books. :) All of these sound really good! And I wow until now, all I thought Judy Blume wrote was the Fudge series (which I love!!!).

    May I add “Flowers for Algernon”? Okay, it’s a short story, but I love it and some of it is about transformation!

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

    • taste test April 13th, 2012 12:09 AM

      oh my god, flowers for algernon is so sad though. so good but so sad. anyway, the main reason I’m replying is to say the author actually expanded the short story into a novel. I’ve never read the novel version, but I’ve seen it several times in bookstores.

    • qcam April 13th, 2012 12:53 AM

      I read the novel when I was in middle school. It was beautiful, heartbreaking, and moved me to tears, which is rare for a book. I haven’t reread it since then, though, so I don’t really know what my older self would think of it. :)

  • kittenmix April 13th, 2012 12:10 AM

    unrelated, but because you amreekans write your dates mm/dd/yyyyy instead of dd/mm/yyyy like us ‘strayans, i just looked at the top left corner and had a little ‘I SLEPT TIL NOVEMBER!?!?!’ moment. All good now though guys, dw.

    • anonymouse April 13th, 2012 2:01 PM

      Haha! You crazy aussies (?), writing your dates all wrong! Gah Bless ‘Merca! ; )

      • koolkat April 14th, 2012 3:59 PM

        nah americans do it wrong–us brits and aussies do it right :P

  • Chimdi April 13th, 2012 12:16 AM

    Stargirl needs to be on this list.

  • Pashupati April 13th, 2012 12:52 AM

    I remember reading Wally Lamb’s She’s come undone and this just made me think of it… Can be triggering, just as Amélie Nothomb’s autobiographical books and some non-autobiographical (Robert and Hygiène de l’assassin)
    The “quality” varies a lot between her books, though, but I just realized it was a lot about transformation since it’s a lot about growing up. I suddenly feel like I publicly admitted I have very melo tastes!
    Though, one thing I can’t be ashamed of liking is Hourou Musuko! (yes, I shouldn’t ever be ashamed of liking anything, I know.)

  • Yellie April 13th, 2012 1:27 AM

    This suddenly reminded me of Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka…. because sometimes you feel like a gigantic bug…

  • mayaautumn April 13th, 2012 3:05 AM

    ughh these look so good. but i NEED to read more…i will start now by finishing the hunger games.

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com

  • megantron April 13th, 2012 3:23 AM

    When I like Joyce Carol Oates, I really, really like her. When I don’t, I hate her. I know her stories and novels tend to be ripped from the headlines, but they sometimes border on the exploitative IMO. I remember reading one of her short stories that was told from the POV of a black teenage girl and I could not stop rolling my eyes. I’m not saying that she should only write about things she knows about (i.e. old white women) but there was absolutely nothing authentic or honest about that story.

    But Hazel, your review has definitely piqued my interest. So I will give it a try :) And a lot of the other recs seem really interesting too!

  • ali April 13th, 2012 3:49 AM

    about zadie smith – i honestly cannot stand her characters. kill me now? but i love the book of other people. although sometimes i hate the zadie smith influence on those people.

  • caro nation April 13th, 2012 8:12 AM

    Girl, Interrupted!

    The Bell Jar!

    I love books about girls in asylums.

    FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH! (THE BOOK!)

    That is all.

  • 3LL3NH April 13th, 2012 9:32 AM

    I was scared of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” when I was in grade 6, because out library copy had a bra on the front and, you know, I just wasn’t ready to get that personal.

    Second note, “Freaky Green Eyes” looks super good.

  • aliastro April 13th, 2012 12:41 PM

    Cracked up to Be looks really good! Adding it to my list…

    I’d add The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Weetzie Bat books (I think that was on another Rookie book list maybe…). Oh and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld!

  • Aislinn April 13th, 2012 1:55 PM

    I had nightmares for months after reading ‘Freaky Green Eyes’. Probably because I read it in a dark corner of the library when I was about 11. NOT a good idea!

  • desertboots April 13th, 2012 2:05 PM

    i adore posy simmonds! i really loved her take on madame bovary, gemma bovery

  • anonymouse April 13th, 2012 2:11 PM

    Cool, cool….wait, I’ve never read “Are you there God, It’s me Margaret” Does that mean you guys are gonna evoke my girl card?… Well, Good Luck I Hid It! You’ll never find it in…the.. damn. Where is that thing, can one of you come over and help me search?
    Hm, new thought. I could read “Are you there God…” and hope they (the Universe? Cosmos? Aliens?) reissue me one on completion…

  • katie April 13th, 2012 4:36 PM

    Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides is my favorite book and I recommend it to everyone!!

    Its about family and sexuality and just growing up. Its also a bit long but its totally worth it.
    You’ll all love it i promise

    • MechaMech April 13th, 2012 6:16 PM

      Middlesex is one of my favourite books EVER.

  • Vladimir April 14th, 2012 7:57 AM

    lullabies for little criminals is a must read!

  • caro nation April 14th, 2012 1:01 PM

    Rookie ( I speak to you as a collective), could you make one very long list of zines?

    I know nothing about these zine-things.

    Old zines, new zines, I KEEP HEARING ABOUT THESE ZINES!

    In fact, a post on the history, philosophy, and influence of zines.

    Or just a list.

    • Anaheed April 14th, 2012 1:16 PM

      Emma D. is working on this very thing!

  • rhymeswithorange April 14th, 2012 8:31 PM

    I would just like to plug my favorite book ever: Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes by Louis Sachar. I read it in like 2 hours, I must have read it a hundred times. OH and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom as well!
    Also, Karen Russell! She’s like my favorite writer. Especially St. Lucy’s Home For Girls Raised by Wolves.
    And just one more, I know this was on Rookie earlier but Girl (and particularly its sequel Dream School) are really great as well!

    • rhymeswithorange April 14th, 2012 8:33 PM

      Really last one..
      The Picture of Dorian Gray (even though I had to read it for English) is a fantastically twisted, dark transformation that was SO GOOD.

  • Kate April 17th, 2012 7:20 PM

    Paper Towns. Or anything John Green, really.