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