Books + Comics

Quiet Riot

Books about doing things your way.

Hons and Rebels
Jessica Mitford
1960, New York Review Books

If you’ve never heard of the Mitfords, here’s a bare-bones introduction: the six sisters—among them an author, a Fascist, a Nazi, a duchess, and a farmer—were daughters of a prominent British family that found its fate tied to the biggest events of the 20th century. Then there was Jessica “Decca” Mitford, the second youngest of the sisters and a communist to boot, who eloped with her cousin at age 19 and became a political activist. Hons and Rebels is one of many books she wrote; it’s a memoir that chronicles the first part of her life, from growing up in an eccentric household to developing her political ideologies to running away from home and living in Spain and America. Decca has a real way with words, but what I love most about her is her honesty; she’s completely candid about the conservative beliefs she held growing up and her complicated relationship with her sisters. (Unity, the sister with whom she was probably closest, was one of Hitler’s biggest fans. Needless to say, the two had some political differences.) Her story examines what happens when political ideologies constructed in the abstract intersect with the hardships of life, like the struggle to make a living or the challenge of getting along with the ones you love. Reading this, you will wish you had Decca as your best friend—or better yet, your sister. —Anna

I’ll Be Your Mirror
Nan Goldin
1996, Scalo

Before there was Tumblr there was Nan Goldin. Goldin’s photos of her friends aren’t always flattering, but they are always real, depicting bodies blemished, gorgeous, skinny, corpulent, or otherwise. Lovers curl up together; friends laugh and cry; sometimes people have unexplained black eyes. Goldin’s photos are unflinching in the best way, and will make you want to pick up a camera and take pictures of everyone around you, because you will have remembered that they are the most beautiful and important people on earth. —Emma

Maniac Magee
Jerry Spinelli
1990, Little, Brown and Company

I always feel like summer is the perfect time to bust out all of my old kid lit—the greatest hits from childhood—or check out classics that may have slipped past me when I was younger. Flipping through a chapter book intended for fifth graders is so unbelievably soothing. I always come back to Jerry Spinelli’s Newbery Medal-winner, Maniac Magee. After running away from the feuding relatives he’s been living with since his parents died, Maniac Magee spends a year on his own. He eventually arrives in a racially segregated town called Two Mills. Maniac, a sweet kid who doesn’t seem to grasp the division, is the only one who freely crosses the imaginary boundary that separates the black families from the white families and, in doing so, forces the town’s children to confront their prejudices. It’s part folk tale (Maniac is a larger-than-life figure who can unravel giant, gnarly, seemingly untiable knots, among many other impressive feats), and realistic drama (tackling racism and the importance of home), and completely charming. When I was 10 years old, this was my absolute favorite (it was the first book that I ever loved that had themes and meaning and symbolism!) and it’s still as poignant and engrossing today as it was back then. —Amber

Archie: The Married Life
Michael Uslan, Stan Goldberg, Dan Smith
2011, Archie Comics

If, like me, you have spent many, many hours wondering what Archie Andrews’s adulthood might look like, this is the book for you. In the first half, Archie marries rich girl Veronica, works for Lodge industries, and has twins. In the second half, he marries Betty and teaches at Riverdale High… and has twins. It scratched a very, very deep itch to see Archie settled down, no matter who I think he should have ended up with (Betty, obviously). —Emma

The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
1985, McClelland and Stewart

I’ve always been a fan of dystopias, and so the theme of “freedom” immediately made me think of the opposite—a society without freedom. There are a lot of great books that explore this theme, but The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is one of the most chilling. It takes place in the near future, after the collapse of the United States and the rise of a new nation called the Republic of Gilead. The story follows the life of a woman called Offred, named “Of Fred” after the high-ranking man that owns her. Before Gilead, Offred had a normal life and a family, but after the revolution she was arrested as a “gender criminal” and forced into service as a handmaid—her only purpose to conceive a child for Fred and his infertile wife. Offred’s situation is horrifying enough on its own, but what really got me about this book was the depiction of society as a whole. This isn’t Lois Lowry’s The Giver, in which no one has ever experienced freedom. These people used to live lives just like ours, and then suddenly everything changed. One day the woman who-would-be-Offred went to the ATM and no money came out. Shortly afterwards, she lost her family and her name. We even see camera-toting tourists from another country, a free country, ask Offred if she is happy, and hear them assured by their tour guide that all of Gilead’s women are content. Eventually, Offred risks her life to connect with others who yearn for freedom, and I’m not giving away anything by saying that The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t about happy endings. Still, depressing as it is, everyone should read this book at least once. Margaret Atwood is a genius, and once you’ve been immersed in her world, you won’t soon forget it. —Rachael

Make Me a Woman
Vanessa Davis
2010, Drawn & Quarterly

This book starts getting good with the front endpapers, which are covered with all different illustrations of topless cavewomen, and doesn’t stop being great until you reach the back endpapers, which depict sexy lady legs of many shapes and colors outfitted in tube socks. In between, you’ll find narrated drawings that explore what it’s like to be a woman, particularly a young, Jewish one living in a city. The humor of Davis’s comics is sweet and so truthful to everyday life. Also, I like the lady legs. —Amy Rose

Lost Souls
Poppy Z. Brite
1992, Delacorte Press

I read this book when I was 17 and it made me want to become a vampire and run away to New Orleans. Instead I went to college, reread Lost Souls about a hundred times in one year, and wrote my favorite line on the back of my door in my dorm room: “The night is the hardest time to be alive… it lasts so long, and 4 AM knows all my secrets.” Lost Souls is filled with intriguing characters, including a 15-year-old goth boy who calls himself Nothing and runs away after learning that he is the son of a vampire; a posse of vampires, among them the violent and wild Zillah with “brilliant eyes as green as the last drop of Chartreuse in the bottle” and the more reserved Christian (think Angel, but working as a bartender); and the members of the band Lost Souls?, Steve and Ghost (so named because he sees them and talks to them through his visions). Their lives collide in New Orleans, which is so vividly described that you’ll be transported there as soon as you open the book. Fair warning: this is a gorgeously written but very dark horror story, so there is blood and lot of sex, some of which is really um… well, let me just say that this definitely isn’t Twilight; in fact it’s probably more hardcore than True Blood. Hanging out with these vampires is a hell of a rush. —Stephanie

Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Douglas Coupland
1991, St. Martin’s Press

Andy, Dag, and Claire are stuck in dead-end jobs with no idea where they’re heading or what they want from life. Their stories—anecdotes from their own lives or urban fables they’ve created—comprise the better part of this novel, and give a surreal twinge to an otherwise bleak story of directionless ennui. Generation X could easily fall into the tropes of privileged post-grad stories (and maybe for some, it still does), but Coupland treats his protagonists’ everyday lives as a springboard for more ambitious ideas. I read this book after graduating high school, and was frustrated with how accurately it pegged aspects of what I was going through. Is this the sign of a good book? I’m not sure. But it did get in my head, and I’m still talking to you about it a several years later, so that counts for something. —Anna

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Women Archetype
Clarissa Pinkola Estés,
1992, Ballatine Books

I found this on my parents’ bookshelf when I was in junior high and picked it up because the title intrigued me and I loved mythology. This is a big book—my copy is 500 pages, with a 10-page bibliography and a 10-page index—but don’t let that intimidate you. You can totally skim and read out of order. For example, when I was 13 I was really into the chapter called “Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing,” which talks about how “wild women,” who Estés defines as people who embody an intuitive, strong, and creative spirit—are often shaped by an “ugly duckling” experience as children. Then, the summer I turned 17, I got really into feminism and the book became my bible. I read the whole thing from front to back, and Estés uses an incredible compendium of multicultural fairytales to psychoanalyze women and how we fit into society. I have gone back to different sections over and over throughout my life, depending on what I was going through. Much like a bible, the book has become my touchstone. —Stephanie

Dispatch from the Future
Leigh Stein
2012, Melville House

The first poem in this hilarious new book starts like this: “There are better ways to break a heart than Facebook / such as abandoning your pregnant girlfriend at Walmart / like that guy did to Natalie Portman. If you read this book / sequentially, bad things may happen to you, but only as bad / as the things that would have happened to you anyway.” BOOM. These poems make me want to draw hearts in the margins. They are that good. —Emma

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain
1996, Grove

Reading an oral history can be like intruding on a chaotic conversation among old acquaintances while each jockeys to recount their own “definitive” version of the same story. This book is filled with contradictions and more than a little romanticizing of a bygone era, but damn if it doesn’t make for entertaining reading. This isn’t a comprehensive history by any means—the book is focused on events that happened mostly in the ’70s, mostly in New York City, mostly at famed venue CBGB. There’s a lot of waxing poetic about the “good old days,” stories of overdoses and riots, descriptions of Patti Smith’s endearingly awkward moments, and gossip about what everyone thought of the Sex Pistols when they arrived in the U.S. As someone who is neither male nor white, I don’t know how I would have put up with the dude-heavy punk scene; instead, I’ll just settle for reading about it. —Anna


  • Tyknos93 July 19th, 2012 11:14 PM

    I’ve never seen a book list where I’ve read nearly half the novels! I wanna have that Nan Goldin book so bad. I did a photography project based on her in 10th grade she’s like a modern day Diane Arbus, but even more gritty. Handmaid’s Tale made me real sad (we read it in school), it’s like the second half of 1984 from a woman’s perspective.

  • floralgore July 19th, 2012 11:18 PM

    I think the punk scene can be liberating no matter your gender……

    • Anna F. July 20th, 2012 12:17 AM

      Oh, definitely! I identify with a lot of the aspects of the punk ethos and ideology (especially as someone who has worked with a lot of indie/alternative/diy publications). And there were lots of parts in Please Kill Me that made me wish I was there, and I don’t mean to erase the presence of the women who were part of the early punk culture.

      Yet still I couldn’t help but grow frustrated with how exclusive this one specific era of punk could get. There were cool people involved, sure (love you, Iggy Pop!), but there were also a lot of dudes who would embody the aesthetic aspects of punk while upholding the status quo.

      Of course, punk didn’t end in 1980, and this book isn’t a comprehensive history (nor does it aim to be). I read Sarah Marcus’s Girls to the Front a couple of years ago and identified with that much more – Riot Grrrl wasn’t perfect and it still alienated some people it tried to include (which Marcus’s book discusses) but I could relate to most of the people involved with it more than I could 90% of the people in Please Kill Me.

      TO SUM UP: Please Kill Me = entertaining look at a fascinating segment of music history, but I’m not sorry that I wasn’t there. I’d love to hear other people’s take on the book though!

      • VeronicaLake July 20th, 2012 4:09 PM

        New York punk, how I saw it anyway, was for mostly white boys. It’s true that all races and genders were part of the punk scene but not so much from New York City. idk

  • Moxx July 19th, 2012 11:28 PM

    oh my god Poppy Z. Brite is my absolute King

    love until the end of time.

    • Moxx July 19th, 2012 11:29 PM

      it makes me want to write so badly!
      I wish I could do this thing where you read the thing and it’s just aaaaaaaa
      oh love love love love love

  • missblack July 19th, 2012 11:36 PM

    I lovelovelove Maniac Magee. I remember it blowing my mind the first time I read it – probably five or six years ago, after I -giggle- heard about it on Zoom (the best TV show EVER).

    Also I must read Women Who Run With The Wolves ASAP. Mythology is one of my favorite things and I am totally obsessed with wild warrior women (or rather, I want to be one).


    • AlisonR July 24th, 2012 9:55 PM

      ahh Women Who Run With the Wolves have been on my to-read list for ever! mythology is so cool.
      and by the same author as maniac magee is the book stargirl. absolute favorite. the sequel, love, stargirl, is wonderful also

  • caro nation July 19th, 2012 11:54 PM

    Considering the fact that punk and its alumni for me was like Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood and its body count for Marie, Please Kill Me was the only account of anything that truly mattered during my rebellious phase. It was my Hollywood Babylon. And then, of course, I came across L.A. Punk. We Got The Neutron Bomb by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen is the ad hoc west coast equivalent of Please Kill Me. HIGHLY recommended.

    Generation X was what Reality Bites WANTED to be. And it takes the cake for best depiction of 90′s post-grad malaise.

    Jerry Spinelli was a childhood favorite.

    When I read the Handmaid’s Tale, I pictured Moira as A.J. Langer.

    • rhymeswithorange July 20th, 2012 2:25 PM

      Hahaha that is so great about picturing AJ Langer as Moira!

  • katrinaexplainsitall July 19th, 2012 11:54 PM

    Yay! I’ve been looking for new books to read :3 Dispatch From the Future seems interesting!

  • Sputnick July 20th, 2012 12:43 AM

    The Handmaid’s Tale is so freaking good. Margaret Atwood has delicious writing.

  • Adrienne July 20th, 2012 1:22 AM

    Woahhh Hons and Rebels kind of reminds me of the (also) true story of the Soong Sisters! The three of them were one of the most prominent figures in early 20th century China. One of them married the finance minister of China, another actually married Sun Yat Sen, and the youngest married Chiang Kai Shek!

    Anyways, I love Maniac Magee! That book brings back memories. :) Oh I highly recommend Stargirl, also written by Spinelli.

    • Anna F. July 20th, 2012 10:14 AM

      That sounds amazing! I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • rhymeswithorange July 20th, 2012 2:27 PM

      YUS THE SOONG SISTERS! Also their brother TV was a businessman and politician.

  • Harley July 20th, 2012 3:05 AM

    I feel great because I’ve seen so many of these titles before!
    I am currently reading The Handmaid’s Tale as a summer assignment for an AP Lit class that I am taking when school starts up again. I’d been meaning to read it for a year, and having it be homework finally gave me an excuse to buy it.
    Please Kill Me is getting more appealing by the minute, I think Cat Marnell may have mentioned that one in one of her articles on xojane. All of these awesome people keep writing about it, I should check it out as well.

  • giov July 20th, 2012 6:22 AM

    I loved please kill me when I was in high school, and I read it in Italian which I am sure took half the fun away. Also, Vanessa Davis is lovely and amazing.

  • karastarr32 July 20th, 2012 6:32 AM

    Ahh two of my favourite things together- books and Angel-like boys! Must read Lost Souls

  • Lillypod July 20th, 2012 6:38 AM

    two of my favourite writers, Atwood and Spinelli…

  • Emma S. July 20th, 2012 7:27 AM

    Anna, I LOVE the Mitfords. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

  • Katie E July 20th, 2012 10:04 AM

    I’ve always wanted to read Please Kill Me because Jess and Rory talk about it in an episode of Gilmore Girls. Love these suggestions.

  • rainysister July 20th, 2012 11:00 AM

    I love Lost Souls! I read it when I was 17 too and it blew me away. It’s a beautiful horror story. And for me it’s the one and only when it comes to vampire-novels.

  • Emmy July 20th, 2012 12:59 PM

    I just love how Anna used the word “ennui.” I finally learned what it meant a couple of weeks ago and now it is popping up everywhere! On a different note, I am obsessed with the Mitford sisters and their stories, so I’m so excited Anna included Hons and Rebels!

  • Giulia Lain July 20th, 2012 1:54 PM

    Oh, great! I loved these. I want to get I’ll Be Your Mirror and Make Me a Woman so bad. Great books, but I don’t know how to find them in Brazil. :(

  • spatergator July 20th, 2012 6:23 PM

    LOST SOULS !!!

    I remember constantly reading that on the floor of an old Southern mansion one terrible swampy summer, while playing my way-older boyfriend’s Skinny Puppy/Clan of Xymox/Current 93 records.


  • paleophelia July 20th, 2012 6:38 PM

    Is there anywhere online that it’s possible to buy I’ll Be Your Mirror ? It sounds wonderful.

  • Luce July 21st, 2012 6:12 AM

    I had a little heart attack when I saw this was the first book on the list.
    I think I’ve read it maybe a hundred times.

    May I recommend Nancy Mitford’s novels, especially The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate? She basically novelized her childhood and adolescence, especially her father Lord Alconleigh who became the explosive Uncle Matthew.

    Also, if you enjoyed Generation X, Coupland’s next novel Shampoo Planet is utterly amazing and oozes with lethargy and hair products.

  • Hannnah July 21st, 2012 7:50 AM

    The Handmaid’s Tale is RIGHT on this month’s theme. I read it a couple of months ago, and it still haunts me (probably because I watched the film straight after too, which is a little different from the book but brought to light all of the violent scenes that I’d kind of dimmed down a bit in my head when I read them). Every time I hear about something getting worse for women, by law or however, it feels like inching towards a Handmaid’s Tale-esque dystopia, the slide towards which Atwood makes seem so easy and unnoticeable until it actually happens.

    I don’t even think of myself as particularly pessimistic, either. srsly.

  • sparklybandit July 23rd, 2012 10:40 AM


  • EmilyBurke September 25th, 2012 1:53 PM

    My reading shelf is just filled with your suggestions, and it is amaaaazing.
    Keep posting!