Jenny & the Jaws of Life
Jincy Willett
1987, Thomas Dunne

Do you guys love David Sedaris? I bet most of you would say yes, right? Well, he adores this book of immaculate short stories almost as much as I do. But you can read all about that in his introduction to the current edition when you buy the hell out of it (which you completely should). In the meantime, I’ll give you a little introduction of my own: When I discovered this collection as a teenager, I would use paragraph-long excerpts of it as my away-message on AIM. In retrospect, this seems kind of obnoxious, but I wanted everyone on my buddy list to be confronted with at least a snippet of the beauty of these stories. Every single one is a knockout, but a specific favorite of mine is “The Best of Betty,” which is structured as a no-nonsense, Dear Abby-style advice column. It’s as if we’re reading Betty answering letters in the newspaper—which eventually goes to pieces and becomes an unhinged, poignant masterpiece. Another is “Melinda Falling,” which tracks the thoughts of a man who falls viciously in love with a woman whose clumsiness is so profound that it becomes elegant to him. YET ANOTHER is “Jenny,” named for the character whom we see deal with constant, destructive self-consciousness from childhood on. I honestly could keep starting sentences with “AND ANOTHER” until I had described every story in the book, because they’re all that marvelous, but I’d rather you guys experience all the wonderful wildness of this thing with as fresh a take as possible. Just trust me (and David Sedaris) on this one. —Amy Rose

The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My
Tove Jansson
1952, Ernest Benn Limited

EVERY Moomin book is good, but Moomin, Mymble and Little My has paper cut-outs, so I chose this one to recommend. It is a Finnish picture book from 1952 about these little hippo-looking trolls who live in a tall house with ghosts and a brat named Little My, to whom I was constantly compared as a 50% Scandanavian child with older sisters. The COLORS are such a delight, and the handwritten text gets all topsy-turvy, and it’s just SO GOOD-LOOKING. It is the Channing Tatum of Finnish children’s books, and I’m sure Tove Jansson would be psyched to hear it. I also know it’s for children, but it’s so lovingly written and illustrated that I end up letting myself get lost in it each time without even a pinch of irony. —Tavi

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Deborah and James Howe
1979, Aladdin

My obsession with this book in second grade was probably an early sign of my impending goth-dom. Bunnicula is told from the point of view of Harold, the Monroe family dog. He and the cat, Chester, get very suspicious when their owners come home from a screening of Dracula with a bunny that has oddly cape-like markings and…OMG, are those fangs? Suddenly, colorful vegetables like tomatoes and carrots start turning up white, like they’ve been drained. Chester freaks: “Today vegetables, tomorrow the world!” It’s a hilarious little mystery that spawned a series (see also: The Celery Stalks at Midnight), and I still feel an incredible, childlike joy every time I read it. And since it’s only 128 pages in that big, young-reader font, it takes all of half an hour or so. Silly as it may sound, put it on your Halloween reading list. —Stephanie

Scott Pilgrim
Bryan Lee O’Malley
2004-2010, Oni Books

To say that the books are better than the movie is such a cheap shot—they are two different mediums that are hard to compare. That being said, if you had even a casual interest in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you OWE IT TO YOURSELF to check out the books. Scott Pilgrim is a six-volume graphic novel series with loads of characters in a world that is way more extensive and detailed than the 100-minute movie. The title character is a 23-year-old slacker who starts crushing on Ramona Flowers only to find out that, in order to date her, he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes in video game-style combat. And while describing Ramona might make her sound like a manic pixie dream girl, she is so much more fleshed-out in the books than she was in the movie (as are all the female characters). And it’s set in Toronto! Key plot points happen in Honest Ed’s, Sonic Boom, Casa Loma, and Lee’s Palace. If you live in Toronto (like I do), you have a civic duty to get into this series. —Anna

Everything: Volume 1
Lynda Barry
2011, Drawn & Quarterly

Everything is a compilation of Lynda Barry’s comics from 1978 to 1981, which are sometimes so sincerely goofy and innocent that they’re heart-warming, and sometimes so bitter and cynical that they make living actually feel less lonely. There are also a number of pages in her collage-paint-handwriting mishmash style, which sets her apart from other comic artists. She’s just telling her life story and casually including handwritten comics that her BFF Matt Groening sent her, while they were in college together and after. —Tavi

Tina Fey
2011, Little, Brown and Company

As I’m someone who quotes Mean Girls on what seems like a daily basis, who has obsessively watched 30 Rock from its humble beginning, and who is an all-around supporter of funny girls, particularly those that frequently share their love for the worst junk foods (how are Cheesy Blasters NOT a real thing?), my love for Tina Fey is pretty obvious. Her memoir, Bossypants, offers advice and life lessons acquired from her college years, her time as a cast member and head writer for SNL, and her dealings with entertainment industry shenanigans, and it is a total treat. Whether she’s talking about being a young writer or breastfeeding, she is hilarious and sincerely insightful. My favorite parts of the book are her behind-the-scenes stories from 30 Rock, including a section where she attributes specific jokes to the writers who penned them. (Did you know that a young Donald Glover used his Georgia upbringing as inspiration for a lot of Kenneth’s absurd Southern colloquialisms? I didn’t!) I also loved this tidbit from her experience on magazine photo shoots: “Sometimes they ask if you want to hook up your iPod for background music. Do not do this. It’s a trap. They’ll put it on shuffle, and no matter how much Beastie Boys or Velvet Underground you have on there, the following four tracks will play in a row: ‘We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover’ from Annie, ‘Hold On’ by Wilson Phillips, ‘That’s What Friends Are For,’ Various Artists, and ‘We’d Like to Thank You Herbert Hoover’ from Annie.” This is why I do not put my iPod on shuffle ANYWHERE. —Hazel

The Shining
Stephen King
1977, Signet

You probably already know the story, but just in case you don’t, I’ll give you the basics: Jack Torrance—a recovering alcoholic whose temper cost him his last job, and has seriously strained his relationship with his wife, Wendy, and five-year-old son, Danny—takes a job as a winter caretaker at the creepy Overlook Hotel in Colorado, effectively isolating himself and his family. But you know, there’s no booze, so it should be fine, right? But Danny knows right away that it won’t be, because his telepathic abilities—the shining—allow him flashes into the hotel’s gruesome history. Maybe you’ve seen some of these famous scenes from the movie. I watched that Jack Nicholson/Stanley Kubrick classic like every weekend in eighth grade, but two years before that, I stole the paperback from my father’s shelf and let Stephen King paint horrific pictures in my mind. It scared me more than anything ever had before—as well as teaching me the importance of PLAY—and I freakin’ loved it. I devoured every Stephen King book I could throughout junior high, but The Shining remained my favorite. I never did give my dad back his copy. —Stephanie

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Mindy Kaling
2011, Crown Archetype

You know the cliché that comes with describing memoirs: “I feel like I know them!” Well, reading Mindy Kaling’s book didn’t make me feel like I knew her—it made me feel like we had some magical kinship. This is based on a bunch of minor similarities on a sliding scale of triviality: We were both uncool nerds in high school! Our mothers are from the same part of India! We like the same bits in Anchorman! But her words filled me with admiration. Picture me sitting at her feet, gazing up adoringly as she speaks. I loved when she talks about forming her comedic sensibilities. I love how honest she is about her love of shopping, or romantic comedies. I love when she talks about her work, because you can tell she is just someone who loves writing, and loves making jokes, and loves collaborating with her friends. It actually inspired me to get my act together and start working more. I mean, how often does a book simultaneously function as a light read and a motivational tool? Oh, and her new show is great. That has nothing to do with this review, but it’s worth mentioning. —Anna

Bottomless Belly Button
Dash Shaw
2008, Fantagraphics

This three-part, cinderblock-sized comic book is one of my favorite illustrated stories ever. It tracks a family as they come together as adults in the home they once shared, and examines each generation, from the aging parents to their adult children to their noisy young grandchildren, intently and lovingly. The style in which it’s drawn makes it so much more than your typical, sappy family drama, though. For instance, Peter, the young-adult character, is portrayed as a frog, which is basically how he sees himself. And there are other weird, great idiosyncrasies, like a love letter written in a cryptogram—and when you figure it out, it’s totally worth it, because it translates into some of the most unexpectedly beautiful poetry. On the spine, Dash Shaw drew and wrote some practical information about how to file this book, and I think his description is a good one: “There are many different types of genres. This is: family comedy/drama/horror/mystery/romance.” If you like any or all of those things, plus illustrations of human-frog hybrids, I think you might really love Bottomless Belly Button. —Amy Rose

Wicked Game
Jeri Smith-Ready
2008, Pocket Books

The key to a good vampire story is coming up with a stellar twist on standard vampire lore. As a music lover, I’ve never appreciated any twist more than the one Jeri Smith-Ready came up with: her vampires “fade” if they don’t stay connected to their “Life Time,” or the period during which they were turned. And what better way to stay connected than by becoming VAMPIRE RADIO DJs?! Your ’90s vampire handles grunge, your ’80s vampire handles goth, and so on down the line to ’40s blues. (There’s a playlist at the front, and the chapter titles—like the books themselves—are named for songs.) But the vamps don’t become stereotypes. The details of their decade just enhance their personae. Main character Ciara is my favorite. She’s human, and it’s her job to promote WVMP and ultimately protect her vampire friends when another group of ancient vamps threatens them. It’s by far the most fun vampire story I’ve ever read—and believe me, I’ve read a lot of them. Also, for those of you who enjoy binging on a series like I do, this is the perfect time to pick it up, because the final book, Lust for Life, comes out next month. —Stephanie

From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines
Trina Robbins
1999, Chronicle Books

Shocking revelation: some women like comics. Some women even make comics. Though some people on the internet would have you believe anything nerdy is a male domain, there is a long history of girls and graphic novels, from the retro heroines that rivaled Archie on the newsstands to underground feminist publishing. Author Trina Robbins (herself a legendary artist) has always been a big promoter and supporter of oft-overlooked female cartoonists. In this book, she offers a quick survey of American women in comics. At the risk of sounding like a PBS advert, it’s both fun and educational! The pictures in this alone make the book worth checking out, but Robbins introduces the topic in a way that, even if you’ve never read comics before, you will become obsessed. —Anna

Daniel Clowes
1989-2006, Fantagraphics

As explained in the 2006 intro, the stories which comprise Pussey! were written when comics were considered sad, middle-aged dude territory, way before Avengers ruled the world or cartooning was a real thing at prestigious art schools. It is about a young cartoonist named Dan Pussey and his fellow losers and fellow cartoonists and fellow artists. It’s really funny, even if you don’t give a shit about comics or art or how people who made them in the ’80s acted, but you just think people are funny. People are so funny, you guys. Daniel Clowes is the best because there you are, reading his book about how weird and gross and depressing people are and how much they suck, not realizing that the whole time you might be secretly nursing an affection for them all. Then you finish Pussey! or Ghost World or Ice Haven, and your first instinct is to be like “I HATE EVERYBODY,” but then all the people you encounter from that point on are just so funny and weird and humanized that you can’t really bring yourself to. Read this book! —Tavi

Enter Talking
Joan Rivers (with Richard Meryman)
1986, Dell

A beautifully written account of what it takes to become successful at any art, full of perfect advice about professional humility, perseverance, fighting sexism in your field, knowing who your friends are, handling humiliation, handling success, and figuring out who you are as an artist. Essential for any comedian or performer but inspiring no matter what you want to do in life. Read this memoir, then see the incredible 2010 documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work—better yet, see it and Bill Cunningham New York back to back, for a double feature of work-ethic realness of a certain age. —Anaheed ♦