When I first began cooking, I did it by wrote -- watching how my mom did it. I was probably 8 or 10 or so. She started me off on simple stuff, like PB&J sandwiches, toast, and then I graduated to oatmeal (the stuff out of the tube, not the microwave stuff). I can't recall usig a cookbook back then. But she did. She had the old Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook that she eventually wore out. I remember looking through it, but I don't recall using it. Several years ago, Betty Crocker did a reprint of the same book, and my mom bought herself a copy and a copy for each of us kids. It's cool having it in our collection, although I seldom refer to it.
I kind of cooked by the seat of my pants for years before I can recall getting my first cookbook, and it was one I inherited from my grandmother -- a 1940s edition of the Good Housekeeping Cookbook. I've had that book in my library for 35 years, and I still refer to it on a regular basis. It's spine has come off, but the binding is still intact and all the pages are there. So I handle it gingerly these days. When it comes to plain old American cooking, it's just simply a great book.