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Biblio File

Origin Stories


There are a couple kinds of origin stories. There are the backstories that super heroes have to explain how they got their powers. There are origin stories that describe how some reality came into existence. There is a lot of latitude for interpreting what constitutes an origin story; and our staff recommend some of their favorites here:

Fates & Furies

In Lauren Groff's new novel Fates & Furies, we meet Lancelot "Lotto" Sattlewait, the most charismatic man in any room, who was born "in the calm of a hurricane."​ He is tall and handsome and talented and adored and taken care of his whole life. —Lynn Lobash, Readers Services





Labor Day Cover

To be totally literal about it, Labor Day is a fantastic collection of true stories about childbirth experiences from 30+ amazing women writers. Cheryl Strayed, Heidi Julavits, Julia Glass, Lauren Groff... recognizable names lend their voices to this compilation (which is edited by more acclaimed authors, Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon). The essays are joyful and tragic and breathtakingly truthful, and the book as a whole provides a valuable, honest look at an experience that's often polished up and packaged too neatly. —Gwen Glazer, Readers Services




Bowie Cover

Bowie: the Biography by Wendy Leigh is a biography, of course, but I would include it as an origin story in the comic book sense because the writing wavers between the magical and the gushing. From the cover art that unabashedly changes Bowie's eye colors to the writing that details Bowie's beginnings as being born on the twelfth birthday of Elvis Presley and having a childhood heralded by the sound of rockets, Wendy Leigh skirts the definition of tabloid journalism and creates a mythos around Bowie that is uniquely hers. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market

This past spring I was in the middle of a "big history book" binge and I picked up William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is a terrific book about the origins (and demise) of Hitler's National Socialist Party. Of course there are more recent studies of Hitler and Nazism that have benefited from better historical resources, but the fact that Shirer was a reporter in Berlin from 1934 to 1940 gives his account a virtual "you are there" aspect. —Wayne Roylance, Selection Team




The Last Coyote

Michael Connelly's The Last Coyote is the fourth Harry Bosch mystery and takes a deep dive into the flawed, tenacious LAPD detective's childhood. Bosch's mother was a prostitute who worked to reclaim her son from the foster system. She was strangled before she could finish this and Bosch, years later, begins the hunt for his mother's killer while he's on psychiatric leave for assaulting his lieutenant. Harry is about to pull down the walls hiding secrets of LA's politically connected and powerful. —Joshua Soule, Spuyten Duyvil





Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths Cover

One of my favorite collections of all time is Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. I think this is a must-have in every child's library! Filled with beautiful illustrations, these are the stories of the Greek gods and goddesses we all grew up with—and from which so many stories are descended. When I open this book, I still get that visceral feeling of being a child poring over these stories of adventure, drama, violence, and love. —Susie Heimbach, Mulberry Street




Tango Cover

Wickedly funny and eternally endearing, Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels by Mx Justin Vivian Bond. Bond developed a huge worldwide following, first as a drag cabaret and concert performer and, more recently, as a transgender nightclub luminary. Tango opens on the awakening of Bond’s sexuality and coming of age. The voice is always Bond’s, which makes for a thoroughly entertaining read, even when the story is bringing us to tears. It will be wonderful to read the next installment, which, hopefully, will not be too long a wait! —Jeff Katz, Chatham Square



Nothing Like the Sun Cover

If any author is fit to put the enigmatic life of Shakespeare on the page, it's English novelist, screenwriter, linguist, composer, and comic, Anthony Burgess. Nothing Like the Sun is Burgess's imagination of Shakespeare's life, and focuses intently on the source of the Bard's creativity. (Spoiler: it's sex!) This book will feel delightfully familiar to Shakespeare aficionados, since it's filled with playful, bawdy language that recalls and alludes to many of his plays and poems. —Nancy Aravecz, Mid-Manhattan




Supergirl Cover

Supergirl: Last Daughter of Krypton, a graphic novel by Michael Green and Mike Johnson is a classic origin story retold for a modern audience. The story of Kara Zor-El is one of a mysterious past, loss of home, hostile aliens, and all of the things one might expect when reading about teenagers seeking to find their place in the world. Bright colors and a fearless new costume design pop off the page as we come to fall in love with one of our favorite heroines all over again. —Daniel Norton, Mid-Manhattan




The Affair Cover

Fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels will be delighted by the sixteenth book in the series, The Affair. Set at the crucial moment in Reacher's life when he and the U.S. Army parted company, it reveals the origin of a number of key Reacher leitmotifs, such as the folding toothbrush that was for a long time the only baggage the vagabond hero was willing to be weighed down by. —Kathie Coblentz, Cataloging






The Sword and the Stone Cover

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, was originally published as a stand-alone fantasy book before an altered version of the story appeared as the first part of The Once and Future King. The Sword in the Stone tells the story of the young boy Arthur, who learns lessons about leadership as the wizard Merlyn helps prepare him for his future role as king. This charming story is full of witty humor and moving portrayals of childhood. —Christina Lebec, Bronx Library Center




Homeland Cover

When speaking of fantasy, we can't forget Dungeons & Dragons, and one of the most popular and beloved characters in the D&D world is Drizzt Do'Urden, the dark elf created by R.A. Salvatore for the Forgotten Realms series. In the Dark Elf trilogy, Salvatore explores Drizzt's upbringing in the Underdark and the experiences that turned him into the unique dark elf we all know and love. The first book of the series is Homeland. —Leslie Bernstein, Mott Haven





There Is No Dog Cover

In There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff we learn the "real" story of Creation and, lo and behold, it all comes down to the designs of an erratic, self-centered, sex-crazed, eternal teenager named Bob. Who knew? A funny, off-kilter, thought-provoking, utterly brilliant tale by one of the best writers in the world of YA literature. —Jeff Katz, Chatham Square





Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to​ be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks! Tell us what you'd recommend: Leave a comment or email us.

For more recommendations see our monthly staff picks at


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origin stories

Somehow Gwen's mention of Labor Day and Susie's mention of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths made me think of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, a classic origin story featuring a different type of "birth" and child development path. Victor Frankenstein gives his creature life in the laboratory but does not prove to be an able father in other ways. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky is a spellbinding account of an essential mineral and the role it played in the human history in terms of settlement patterns, commerce, politics, wars. I also think of Salt as an origin story because it was one of the first microhistories examining larger historical trends through the lens of a single, everyday object to gain a wide popular readership.

In Lauren Groff's Fates and

In Lauren Groff's Fates and Furies, the main character's name is Lancelot Satterwhite. It is incorrect above!

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