These books span the decades (not hyperbole—one of them is from 1813) and were chosen because they are great and because they’re all, in their own ways, about beginnings.


What It Is and Picture This
Lynda Barry
2008 and 2010, Drawn and Quarterly
Look at yourself! You’re young, you’re confused, everything is new and full of—wait for it—beginnings! You’ve got all these thoughts ’n’ things you need to sort through and express somehow, but sitting down to make something that you know can be great, but not being sure how to get there, can be awkward. If you don’t know where to—wait for it—begin, these two books will get you started. They’re not a complete handbook to being an Artistic Genius, but that’s why they’re so helpful—Barry doesn’t give you the answers, just encouragement to find them yourself, plus a few nice pointers before you fly, fly away from the nest, into the wilds of your imagination!!!!! (Or something.) If you’re not looking to make something epic and everlasting, but just need to exercise your creative muscle, both of these books will help you find ways to just make writing and drawing and creativity part of your day, through doodling, jotting, and lots of whatnot. Technically, What It Is is for writing and Picture This is for drawing, but both are great in general for life inspiration. P.S. Beginnings. —Tavi


Just Kids
Patti Smith
2010, Ecco
It’s unlikely that there’s a more persuasive argument for being a poverty-stricken struggling artist in love than this book, Smith’s deeply romantic and powerful memoir of her friendship with her partner-turned-best-friend, the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, back when they were a couple of post-teen weirdos set loose in New York City at the dawn of the 1970s. Each had moved there to make it as an artist. They wound up becoming each other’s lifelong muses and inspirations. Just Kids isn’t straight autobiography, with everything happening in linear fashion—Smith is first and foremost a poet, and so what’s missing in detail is made up for in the derailing magic of her prose. She tells the story of figuring out who exactly she was, flitting between drawing and writing until she figured out she was fated for rock music. She doesn’t skimp on gossip, dissing and discussing all the major figures she rolled with as a too-cool 21-year-old living in the Chelsea Hotel—Janis and Jimi, Warhol and scores of poets, drag queens and sundry rock and art-world legends who, like her, were still becoming. It’s an amazing and inspiring story, even before you get to the part where she changes rock ’n’ roll forever. —Jessica Hopper


Blake Nelson
1994, Touchstone
This is one of those cases wherein a female voice is expertly expressed by a male writer (it’s as good as it gets, like the print version of Ghost World). Nelson has said he cobbled together his Girl heroine by studying his girlfriend’s Sassy magazines. In turn, excerpts from Girl were later printed in Sassy. The mail the magazine received in response was key to the book’s eventual publication. The story chronicles a Portland teenager as she pieces together an identity while navigating high school and the local rock scene. In a profile on The Millions, Nelson talked about this period in his life and the culture at large: “We were in the second wave of feminism—that was the place everybody was curious about. Boys weren’t really the heroes in the ’90s. Girls were heroes. They were being brave and changing the culture. And the culture wanted to hear about girls.” —Sonja


Judy Blume
1975, Bradbury

There are people in the world who would like to see Forever… banned for that amount of time, due mostly to its willingness to take an honest look at what it means to be a 17-year-old girl on the brink of losing her virginity and taking control of her sexuality. Blume remembers what it felt like to be a teenage girl, and she uses that knowledge to take Katherine Danzinger’s story out of after-school-special territory and make it something sweet, sad and still relatable today. Katherine’s relationship with her boyfriend, Michael Wagner, evolves realistically, sex and all, and Katherine’s choices reflect her need to be mentally, emotionally and physically prepared before she says yes. Though the book promotes taking control of your sexual health by visiting organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Blume is never preachy. Nor is she afraid to write graphic scenes that depict Katherine and Michael’s time together. The result is a book about love, sexuality and loss, and about discovering new parts of yourself while leaving other parts behind. And thanks to Michael Wagner, you’ll probably never look at someone named Ralph the same way again. —Pixie


Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence
Paul Feig
2002, Three Rivers

In this rollicking memoir, Feig—writer, director, actor, creator of the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks, and, this month, Rookie contributor—captures all of the confusion, vulnerability, humiliation, and occasional terror of puberty. He’s so candid about his youthful blunders—reflecting upon unrequited loves, the perils of gym-class showers, and experiments with cross-dressing—that you almost feel guilty for reveling in it all. Almost. It’s been said that Feig’s own harrowing youth provided source material for the most cringe-inducing scenes on Freaks and Geeks—reading this book, you totally believe that. —Amber


Black Hole
Charles Burns
2005, Pantheon

The Pacific Northwest never looked quite so rainy and grim as it does in Black Hole, originally a 12-part comic book series, published collectively in 2005 as a graphic novel. Set in 1970s Seattle, the story follows the spread of a sexually transmitted disease so gruesome it sounds like something made up by Coach Carr in Mean Girls to scare students into abstinence. “The bug” infects a group of high school students, leaving them with grotesque mutations and deformities. The origins of the STD are unclear; Burns focuses instead on its psychological effects. As the infected students struggle to cope with their imposed segregation from the uninfected, a mysterious killer begins to pick them off one by one. Black Hole’s best feature, though, is not its plot, but its pervading mood of ennui and isolation. The book’s ambiguous twists and moody, black-and-white aesthetic give it a Lynchian vibe. If you like the atmosphere of Twin Peaks, you’ll probably be into Black Hole. —Anna


How to Be a Woman
Caitlin Moran
2011, Ebury

Part autobiography, part feminist manifesto and mainly hilarious, this book does not shy away from any subject. Moran covers all the bases of womanhood (e.g., discovering masturbation, bikini waxes, having kids) and their attendant humiliations and confusions—but also their joys and triumphs. This book reminded me how cool it is to be a woman. —Cynthia


Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen
1813, T. Egerton; published today by Bantam, Dover, Norton, CreateSpace, and others

Sooner or later, this novel is going to show up on a reading list for your AP English class, and nothing kills the magic of a good book more than being forced to read it for school. Therefore, you have a duty to yourselves to seek out Jane Austen’s 1813 work and read it on your own time, when you can really enjoy it. The subject matter will be familiar to many of you: overbearing parents, sibling rivalries and societal pressures run rampant. The plot revolves around the reluctant romance between the witty Elizabeth Bennett and the wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy. Originally called First Impressions, this book sets out to prove that initial appearances can be deceiving—that the pompous guy at the party might turn out to be an all-right fella once you get to know him. (Oh, and when you’re done with the book, be sure to check out the movie Bride and Prejudice, Gurinder Chadha’s 2004 Bollywood version of the story. It’s not the most faithful adaptation, but it does involve the most dancing!) —Anna


Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie
Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Victor Bockris
1998, Da Capo

I love this book. It is a perfect, glossy combo of text and imagery: part tour diary, part biography, and part documentary of late ’70s New York punk and Blondie’s rise to fame. Making great use of Blondie ephemera and Debbie Harry’s own stream-of-consciousness writing, the book is a wonderful collaboration between Harry and Stein, and a testament to the music they made together. My favorite line in the book, from Harry: “Being obsessed got me through hard times.” All hail the queen and her consort! —Sonja